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A little bit of insight into Québec’s unique “Culture for Children” (#341)

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You might say that this post is “childish”, but that is exactly what I am aiming for.

(A note to readers outside Canada:  this post contains cultural references which are likely more familiar to Anglophone Canadians than to people outside Canada).

My last post on the small Francophone town of Debden, in northern Saskatchewan, was no accident.  In this post you will see why.

For those of you who grew up in Canada’s Anglophone experience, as children (from the time of birth to the age of perhaps 10 or 12), you were surrounded in a world of “Canadian pop-culture for children”.

It didn’t matter which of the 10 provinces or 3 territories you lived in – the experience was very much the same for children across the country (which is an amazing feat considering the distances involved).

  • Kids across the country played with the same toys (Mr. Potato head, Jenga, Star Wars action figures, My Little Pony, cabbage patch dolls…)
  • We listened to kids’ music which our peers listened to (The Chipmunks, Sharon, Louis & Bram…)
  • We watched the same children’s movies as our peers (Bambi, Snow White…)
  • We watched the same children’s television programs (Canadian Sesame street [which was somewhat different than the US Sesame Street], the Smurfs, Paddington Bear, Fraggle rock, The Friendly Giant, Polk-a-dot door…)

Of course, different ages had different pop-cultural references(toys, programs, and songs for a three year old toddler would be different than for a child 8 years of age).

But the experiences were generally the same for children who grew up in the same age bracket as you.

We can group such references from three different angles.

(1)  International children’s culture shared by children across borders (the Smurfs are Belgian, Paddington Bear is British, Fraggle Rock was a tri-way British/American/Canadian produced program, Snow White is American, etc).

(2)  National children’s culture (Polk-a-dot door was specifically Canadian, as were Sharon, Louis & Bram, Degrassi Junior High, The Friendly Giant, table top hockey toy sets are almost a uniquely Canadian-used toy, etc.)

(3)  And then there is localized children’s culture. I can offer you some of examples.

I remember as a young child playing with toy logging equipment when I lived in Northern B.C. (Yup!  Toy logging trucks and toy chain saws as I imitated what I saw around me in Terrace, BC).

Later, when I grew up on the Prairies, I recall I used to love to play with toy farm sets.  Around age 8, I would play for hours with my toy tractors and animals, imitating what I saw on the farms around the areas we lived.

(As an adult, I play with motorbikes… but they ain’t toys – hahaha — but on second thought, I suppose they are!).

I have friends from the Atlantic Provinces who tell me they played with “fishing” toys as children, such as toy fishing boats, nets, and toy lobster cages (It makes me wonder what toys kids in the far Arctic play with).

But have you ever wondered what children’s pop-culture might be like for children in Québec?

Many of the references I provided above are “English-language” references.

Granted, many of the international references exist for children in Québec, as they do for children elsewhere in Canada and in other countries (translation of Disney movies, the Smurfs and Tin-Tin from Belgium, Babar from France, Barbie Dolls, Star Wars and Superman action figurines, etc.)

Yet for Francophone children in Québec, many of the children’s pop-culture references at a “national level” are different from those of Anglophone Canadians.  In Québec there was no Polk-a-Dot Door, no Mr. Rogers, no The Friendly giant, no Sharon, Louis, and Bram.

Children and adolescents in Québec (and Francophone children elsewhere in Canada) grew up (and continue to grow up) with unique pop-culture references such as

  • Watatatow (sort of like a “Saved by the bell”)
  • Ramdam
  • Bobino & Bobinette (there’s an oldie for you!)
  • Sol, le clown (another timeless classic!)
  • a Québec version of Sesame street entitled “Bonjour Sésame”

Now for the shocker!

(Buckle up, because you might fall off your chair with this next one)

Over the years, when people in Québec have found out I have family roots in Saskatchewan going back generations, what do you think one of their first reactions and comments to me were?

Think about it for a moment…

Come on, what do you think it might be?

Perhaps a reference about the flatness of the Prairies?  The cold Prairie winters?  Wheat fields?  Come on, think hard…

Hint:  It’s not about being to continuously see your dog running away in the distance three days after having lost it…

I’ll give you one more second to think about it…

(Trust me when I say you’re not going to believe this one!)…

Can’t come up with the answer?  In fact…

One of the first sure-fire comments I routinely receive from Québécois when they discover my Saskatchewan roots is…

“Oh! Saskatchewan! That’s where Carmen Campagne is from!!” (I bet you didn’t see that one coming!)

Boy, if I had a dollar for every time I heard that statement in Québec… !!

I’ll make 2 bets with you:

Bet 1:  If you’re Anglophone Canadian, you likely have no idea who Carmen Campagne is.

Do you know who Carmen Campagne is?  If you do not, that means that many cultural aspects of the Two Solitudes remain alive and well (as you can see).

Bet 2:  I would venture to say that most people who grew up in Québec, and who are anywhere from 0 to 50 years of age knows who she is (they have either grown up listening her, or have had children who have grown up listening to her).  Likely there are hundreds and hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of Québécois whose first thoughts turn to Carmen Campagne when they think of Saskatchewan.

In fact, because there are so many Québecois who may know who she is, it is quite possible that in terms of real numbers alone, Carmen Campagne could be one of the most well-known Saskatchewanites outside Saskatchewan (and possibly in the world).

How is that for a jaw-dropper for you !!  (Hello Two Canada’s Two Solitudes!)

Carmen Campagne is a French language children’s singer & entertainer.  Perhaps the closest Anglophone Canadian equivalent would be Raffi, or the singers from the group Sharon, Louis and Bram.

Now you can see why I wrote yesterday’s post on Debden, Saskatchewan.

In the last post, I specifically wanted to emphasize that there are many towns and villages all across Saskatchewan with significant Francophone populations (as I’ve said before, everything in this blog all weaves together to give you a much broader and more complete portrait of Québec’s culture, its place in Canada, Canada’s Francophone culture in general, and often how it relates to Canada’s Anglophone realities.  (Funny how different posts keep “bumping into each other”, isn’t it?)

She is a Fransaskoise (a Saskatchewan Francophone) children’s singer and quite famous in Québec and all across French Canada.

She is from the Francophone town of Willow Bunch in Southern Saskatchewan – South of Moose Jaw

(BELOW is a map of the French sub-accent zone in Southern Saskatchewan which encompasses Willow-Bunch).

So Sk 4

For Francophone children in Québec, she is part of their childhood memories.  The songs she sings are part of Québec’s children’s references when growing up.

This is not only an example of Québec’s own culture for children, but it also serves to show how Canada’s overall Francophone society is tied together (across provincial lines).

Just as Anglophone adults might make quip remarks among themselves regarding their own childhood pop-culture references, such as saying “That guy’s beard is as white as Papa Smurfs”), adults in Québec also make everyday remarks regarding their own childhood references;

  • That lady there looks as sad as the clown Sol”, or
  • “Hey!  I told you to turn the radio to a hit-music channel… not something like Carmen Campagne!”

Children’s culture, for any society, eventually becomes part of our adult culture.  It is what makes a society unique, and reinforces societal bonds of having “grown up together”, and “experienced the world as one”.

It’s interesting, and it is something I feel more Anglophone Canadians should be aware of.

I’ll leave you with a couple YouTube videos of some of Carmen Campagne’s songs.   Now, you can also say you’ve experienced a little piece of what Québécois (and Francophones across Canada) have collectively grown up with as children 🙂

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