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Marina Orsini (#117)

The snow finally let up, and you know the sun is out when the sidewalks of Montréal are invaded by… well… holiday elves and raindeer (you know, just the usual same old, same old…) 🙂   (and no… the pic is not of Marina Orsini, unless you think I look like her… which I don’t!  lol 🙂 )


This post is about one of those actresses who has filled some of the best known roles in Montréwood television drama series.

Marina Orsini is currently a radio host of one of Montréal’s more popular easy-listening radio stations, Rouge FM.  But she’s better known for her roles in some of the hottest, and highest rated TV drama series of the past 20 years.

One such series was Lance et compte, about a fictitious hockey team and the lives of those associated with the team.  The series was aired over the course of two eras… an initial block of seasons on TQS (now Télé-Québec) in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and then as a come-back series on the TVA network from 2006 to 2012.   Its TV viewership rarely dipped below 1,000,000 viewers, and on occasion it would surpass 3,000,000 viewers.

Marina Orsini was also one of the main stars in the TV drama Les filles de caleb which aired on Radio-Canada in the early 1990s (as well as in France).   It was about a fictional family’s rural hardships in early 20th century Québec.   This program is said to have attracted one of the highest television viewer audiences of all time in Québec, surpassing 3,600,000 viewers (with only La Petite Vie, and Star Académie having garnered more viewers).  In France, an average of more than 4,000,000 people followed the series.

I personally was a big fan of her other series;  the Radio-Canada drama series Urgence which ran from 1995 to 1997.  These were my first couple of years in university and there was a small group of us who would occasionally get together in our university dorm to watch the weekly episodes back in Edmonton.   It was set in a Montréal hospital, and featured the dramatic lives of hospital staff.

Orsini also starred in many other television series of varying degrees of success.

In the “Qui êtes-vous?” family history program, she traced her family roots to Italy, the US, Ontario and Scotland.  This was one of the episodes of the program which, again, debunked the false belief that Québécois and  France geneology are synonymous with each other.  You can’t get much more Québécois than Marina Orsini, despite her having no French roots.   The episode of the program featuring Orsini was particularly touching – her mother was suffering from cancer, and just before her mother passed away, both Orsini and her mother made the on-camera trip to Italy to find their roots – one of the last major mother-daughter moments they spent together.

When Orsini was speaking to Scottish genealogists in the episode, I was surprised to notice that she didn’t have a French accent when she spoke English (she spoke with a Standard English Canadian accent).   Only later did I find out that she attended high school in English in Montréal – I found that quite interesting.  I’m always impressed when I see people who can effortlessly transcend the linguistic divide in this manner.


Pénélope McQuade (#116)

I may miss a couple of days of posts… had to drive to Montreal and Québec City for work meetings.  For those of you who are not from Canada (or even Eastern Canada), winter blizzards when driving can be interesting…

blzrd1 blzrd2

But I made it, so lets get into this next post…

If you go back to the first post in this series, “Our roots… “Qui êtes-vous?”, you’ll recall a major part of the idea is that modern Québécois roots are from everywhere – and this notion definitely comes through with a name like McQuade.

Pénélope McQuade has a popular evening television talk show named after her – simply named “Pénélope McQuade”, which airs on Radio-Canada It has been on the air since 2011, and for the average person, she is likely most associated with her talk show.  She interviews famous personalities (many of the subjects of my blog posts to date have been guests on her program at one point or another), and she relates their appearances to trending topics of the day.  In that sense, McQuade incarnates pop-culture.   However, her public career started many years before she became one of the Queens of late night talk.

Much of her career was spent on TVA’s television network.  In the 1990s, she was a host in popular TV shows such as Automag Plus, Salut Bonjour (TVA’s morning news and talk program), and Star Système (sort of like Montréwood’s equivalent of “E” or “Entertainment Tonight” in English Canada).  She also had prominent host positions on some of the highest rated hit-music radio stations in Montréal, such as Rythme FM, NRJ, and Rock Détente.

Even though McQuade was born in Québec City, she spent part of her childhood growing up in Toronto.  Her father, a relatively well known Francophone reporter for Radio-Canada was one of the network’s reporters for the French component of the network in Ontario.

Something that always strikes me is that even though she’s 44, McQuade looks more like 34 (I think most people are surprised to learn she is not much younger).

In the show “Qui êtes-vous?”, Pénélopé McQuade traced her family roots to Ireland, and physically travelled to both New Brunswick and Ireland in her quest.   She learned that certain branches of her family were some of the earlier colonialists of New France, but that the women at the time were practically slaves to their husbands (an emotional discovery for McQuade).    One of her great grandfathers won a Stanley Cup, and another ancestor was an Irish immigrant to St. John, New Brunswick.

The official website for her evening talk show can be viewed at:  http://ici.radio-canada.ca/emissions/penelope_mcquade/2014/

Dominique Michel (#115)

Although I wasn’t born yet, I, like most people, know that Dominique Michel was one of the two main actresses in the 1966 to 1971 sitcom Moi et l’autre (the other actress was Denise Filiatreault, also a very famous personality).   The show was kind of the like the 1960’sThelma and Louise of Québec — and thus has gone down in pop-culture history.

Since then, Dominique Michel has never left the public eye.  She was one of the main figures on television when I was growing up, and I would often see her doing stand-up comedy, acting in movies, or staring in various sitcoms.    Like most actresses of this league, anyone with such a far reaching career by default becomes a regular figure on the talk-show circuits, award gala ceremonies, and interview programs.

She acted in the very famous movies Le Déclin de l’empire américain and Les invasions barbares, and I specifically remember her as one of the main actresses in the early 2000s television sitcom Catherine (however, she acted in many other famous sitcoms, as well as other famous movies, such as Un zoo la nuit). 

She garnered much attention when she appeared a number of years back on Tout le monde en parle, after having lost her hair due to treatment for colon cancer.  I think it took a lot of people aback because society was used to always having Michel in the background when growing up – she was just always there – and then all of a sudden her illness was apparent and real.   Fortunately she has recovered, and at 77 years old, she is appreciated by everyone as being one of the central “rocks” of modern Québec and Montréwood pop-culture.

In the recent genealogical show “Qui êtes-vous?” she traced her roots back to France, and found out that her ancestor discovered Wisconsin (now part of the USA), and a descendant of one of her family lines is now the president of Bombardier.

Our roots… “Qui êtes-vous?” (#114)

There is a very interesting series airing on television named “Qui êtes-vous?” (“Who are you?”).   It’s a Montréwood adaptation of the British television program “Who do you think you are?”.

It’s a program which traces the family roots of some well-known Montréwood television personalities.   The famous personalities being featured work directly with genealogists, travelling around the world and tracing where their ancestors came from.

In Canada, and even in Québec, there tends to be a false belief that most white Francophones, are descended in full from the French colonialists of the 1600s and early 1700s.  This program debunks that false belief.  Even the personalities involved in the program are surprised to learn of their non-“pure laine” roots (an increasingly politically incorrect term meaning “pure-blooded” Québécois [literally translated as “pure wool”]  from the original French colonialists).   For example, Normand Brathwaite (the subject of an earlier post), born in Montréal in the early 1950s, unexpectedly discovered he was descended in part from African slaves in the Caribbean.

Québécois, just like any other Canadian, are descended from everywhere:  First nations, European heritage of all origins, African of all origins, Mid-Eastern of all origins, Asian of all origins, and Latin American of all origins.

We’re undergoing a period of tremendous demographic change in Québec and all over Canada.  In many ways, we’re moving in the direction Brazil took many generations ago:  that of many ethnic communities mixing to the point that many people in Brazil can now find their roots from multiple continents.   80 years ago it would have been common for people in Québec to say they were of French, and sometime Irish / British Isles decent.  But now people all over Québec can trace their backgrounds to many nations (such as mixed “Haitian, French, Irish”, or mixed “Vietnamese, Scottish, Italian”, etc.).   This is the new face of Québec and of Canada.   (I myself have ancestry from England, Germany, Scotland, Germany, Russia, France, Wales, Norway, Switzerland, Ireland, and the Netherlands, with most branches of my ancestors having immigrated to what is now Canada and the US in the 1600s and 1700s, I have cousins with Chinese ancestry, and I’m currently dating someone of Korean descent… this is the face of Québec and Canada today.  A large portion of my friends and people who I grew up with are Canadians of Indian descent, Arabic descent, African descent, Latin American descent, East and Southeast Asian descent, and many mixed-combination descents.  It’s the face of our Francophone and Anglophone societies, it reflects our common values, our common lifestyle, and our common outlook on life).

The highest per-capita immigration rates of all OECD countries are those in Canada and Québec.  Considering we have such high rates of immigration from all over the world, over the next 50 years the face of Québec will change even more, as people from South Asia, East Asia, Latin America Africa and the Middle-East mix and marry within Québec’s already diverse population.

This is one of the reasons I find “Qui êtes-vous?” such an interesting program.   The longer our ancestors have lived in Québec and Canada, the more surprises can be found with just a little investigation.

The show has been on the air for two seasons, and many of the people featured have already been the subjects of earlier blog posts.

But over the next few posts, we’ll look at a few of the personalities from the last two seasons.  These are people who are very well known in Québec, and it’s good to know who they are (everybody else in Québec already knows them).

The program’s website is found here:  http://quietesvous.radio-canada.ca/


Today, Statistics Québec (a provincial government statistics agency) published Québec’s most recent immigrant numbers.   The largest single source of immigrants for Québec in 2013 were:

  • 1st place:  China (9.9% of immigrants)
  • 2nd place:  France (8.7% of immigrants)
  • 3rd place:  Algeria (8% of immigrants)

In Québec, the children of these immigrants will be doing their school entirely in French.   These immigrants have chosen Québec in this context.

What I find interesting, however, are questions I receive from Chinese immigrants outside Québec, regarding French in Canada.  They’re very curious and it’s a topic of discussion many like to talk about.  I’m kind of in a unique position to be able to speak a bit about this.

When I entered private industry and went back to China as part of my second career, for all intensive purposes, I was only one of the 0.5% of foreigners in China who “immigrated” there – residency, house purchase, vehicle purchase, Chinese “job” and all (when most foreigners go to China, they are only there on a short-term basis on a working permit, with little or no integration into Chinese society).  As part of the process, I was given 2 years to get my Mandarin Chinese up to a level in which I could do all of my work in Chinese without difficulty (meetings, reports, email, giving training, everything really), or I’d have to leave.  That is a pretty blunt option – but I had been working on my Chinese for a number of years in my previous career, so I already had a pretty good base.  But it was a challenge nonetheless – and one which I did manage to overcome.  Overall, I was only one of two people who spoke English in our company of 350 workers.   It was quite an experience.   On top of that, I lived in a city and district with very few other foreigners (I would sometimes go weeks without seeing another foreigner or hearing English).   For many years, my friends, social life, and work were only in Chinese.

I say this because I can completely sympathize with new immigrants to Canada.  I have gone through the exact same experiences… perhaps even more extreme than what many of them go through (I didn’t have a lot of the same support networks around me in terms of foreigners who were going through what I was experiencing).

In Canada’s context, French and English, and Canada’s bilingualism must be a bewildering topic for many new immigrants, especially those who chose to immigrate to Anglophone regions and provinces outside Québec.   Not only do many immigrants come from multi-language countries where only one language has legal precedence over all the others (such as China, were Mandarin is the only language allowed to be spoken in education, health-care, or any official services, thus relegating other languages like Cantonese to being a non-protected folk-language, even in Cantonese-majority areas), but to be a immigrant to Canada and to be asked to learn two languages at the same time (French and English) must simply be out of the question for many people.  I can’t even begin to imagine what it would have been like if I was asked to learn both Mandarin and Cantonese at the same time, with the justification being that it was part of my “civic duty” to China.  I was having enough trouble just learning one language, Mandarin, in the first few years – let alone having to contemplate taking on another difficult-to-learn language.

Since moving back to Canada in 2013, I have met many Chinese immigrants whose experiences here are parallel with my experiences there.  When we share our stories, one thing that comes up from time-to-time is Canada’s linguistic duality.  You would think that if someone was going to pack up their life and start a new life in a country on the other side of the world, that they would do a lot of research beforehand – but surprisingly, many do not.  Therefore, many people who I speak with are at loss for how to view or understand Canada’s bilingual nature.  They come from a country with many languages (China is a country of many languages, with some having more than 100 million speakers), but they are only “allowed” to speak one language in anything government related – Mandarin.  Many people in China have lost their local languages because of this.   But China’s history and Canada’s history are very different.   The reasons behind the systems and cultural paths we chose to maintain are also very different.  It is this difference which is often poorly understood on the part of Chinese immigrants (as well as on the part of other new immigrants).  Chinese immigrants often assume Canada’s and the United State’s linguistic situation is the same, without realizing that English and French have equal status at a government level, and, depending where we live in Canada, at a societal level as well.   I’m told time and time again by newcomers that the idea of two lingua-francas has left them perplexed – especially when I speak with new immigrants who settle in areas where other people from their country also settle, thus giving them little exposure to Canada beyond those areas.   I suppose it’s natural – and I can’t fault them (heck… the number of Canadians I met in China who “refused” to live or integrate into areas or neighbourhoods of China without other foreigners would astound you — they looked at me like I was from another planet when they found out my own situation in China).

I know my blog is being read by some fairly new immigrants to English-speaking Canada — it’s a curiosity for them, and they’re trying to learn more about realities on the ground.  They know their children will be learning French at school, and they’re looking for a bit more context, considering their children will be exposed to a different reality (the second generation’s experiences are often completely different from that of first generation immigrants – which is why I don’t have problems with the concept of official multiculturalism… things work themselves out over the course of two generations).  They know the cultural differences between them and their children could be as large as the ones I had with my grandparents (or even great-grandparents), and so they want more information — they want to know what their children will be experiencing as they grow up… that’s natural and it’s a sign of good, concerned parenting.

Canada’s Chinese population is quickly approaching 2 million people (the United States, with almost 10 times the population of Canada, only has 3.5 million people of Chinese decent).   Chinese is the third most spoken language in Canada, and some large areas of Toronto are over 50% to 60% Chinese (some areas of Vancouver are also experiencing similar trends, and Canada’s other major cities are also receiving large numbers of Chinese immigrants).   The Greater Toronto Area has almost 1 million people of Chinese decent — the new beefed-up, super-sized 626 of the North (who needs the San-Gab Valley when you have the big TO!?).   With Toronto’s largest two ethnic groups being from South Asia (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka), and East Asia (China & Korea), culturally, Toronto seems to have more and more in common with Singapore.. well, a snowy one at any rate — with an increasingly similar demographic mix — than it does with Chicago (a city of a similar size — but… also a snowy one 😉 😉 😉 ).  I think it’s great – and makes the city so unique.

The rest of this post will therefore be written for first generation Chinese immigrants who are reading this blog outside Québec (see JD… told ya I’d throw one in here for ya)…  giving a bit of background and the lo-down on French in Canada, and using some comparisons between China and Canada as base reference points.



虽然在许多情况下, 这可能是适当的对策, 但每个国家的历史和状态,包括加拿大,不一样。

在加拿大,我们也有一种的“方言”情况,英文和法语,可是没有一个“普通话”。在这方面来看,加拿大的语言情况同中国的清朝那时语言情况非常类似(新中国以前的清朝也是一个无有普通话的时代)。英语和法语的差别同汉语和粤语的差别一样大,甚至也可能更大。所以呢,为什么加拿大没有推行一种公共语言计划,采用一种通用的普通话的政策? 英文不是加拿大的普通话吗? 实际上,不是。为什么?是一个历史的问题。我做些解释,你很快就会明白我的意思了。








如果你是新移民人,你可能住一个那儿有好多移民人的区域(比如万锦市 [Markham],列治文 [Richmond],等等)。所以,英法双语可能在你的区域里不太明显,可是十分可能你的孩子在学校里在学法文。那是非常好,一个非常“加拿大”的重要公民义务。你的孩子就业技能,国家意识,及公民义务意识会更好。这个是一个跟美国请款很大的差别,历史上是一个非常大的差别。这个方面,加拿大和美国完全不一样,所以,为了成功,这个情况我们并不能对待一样。




Nope… not Hong Kong… Rather Dundas & Spadina in Toronto