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

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 🙂


Portrait of a village: Debden, SK (#340)

Radio Canada International (RCI) is Canada’s public “international broadcaster”.

It’s sort of a smaller version of Canada’s equivalent of BBC International or Radio France International (RFI).

It falls under the umbrella of CBC – Radio-Canada, but it does not broadcast within Canada.  Rather it broadcasts to all corners of the globe.   It seeks to tell Canada’s story to the world.

This also includes many stories pertaining to Québec and Canada’s overall Francophone nature.

Here is one such story… The story of the Francophone village of “Debden“, North of Prince Albert in Northern Saskatchewan.

I’m providing this report to you because Canada’s Francophone communities outside of Québec often share many cultural traits and realities with communities within Québec – which, together, weave Canada’s overall Francophone nature into one pattern from coast-to-coast.

If you are working to improve your French, the following report is spoken in international, standardized French, albeit with our own homegrown accent.  The speed and accent in the report should be relatively conducive for language learners (one of the main reasons I chose to present you with this particular report).

Click the following link to listen to the 10 minute report from Radio Canada International:


As an aside, I added a little bit of information about Debden and its particular French accent in the post on Prairie & Western Canada French Accents (click the link).


(Photo Above:  Centre communautaire de Debden)

(Video Below:  John Arcand is quite a famous Francophone fiddler from Debden.  This is one of his songs)


A map of the French accent zone in which Debden is situated (You’ll see it on the right hand side of the map, near the top of the highlighted towns, a 2:00 hour drive straight North of Saskatoon)

Maritime population / community distribution based on language (#339)

An interesting map of population and community distribution based on linguistic lines (mother tongue) in the Maritime provinces.

It’s a bit older now, but the overall Maritimes population distribution has not changed very much since 2001, so it could still be considered reliably accurate.

I marked the credits on the map and added it to the post on Acadian accents as reference.

Pop dist Ac 1

Legendary loggers of a by-gone era – an online documentary from 1962 (#338)

This documentary is quite a time-capsule of a by-gone era, that of Québec’s legendary former loggers.

It is a lifestyle which no longer exists.  These days, logging camps are far and few between (modern loggers can “drive to work” from home), and logging methods are much different (there are no longer log-runs on rivers or lakes).

In Québec, there are many traditional stories, songs, poems and legends about this former life-style, which lasted from the 1700s until the mid-20th century.  That is why this documentary is quite special.  It is the last window we have into this former life-style.  Had television / film been invented even 15 years later, we may have missed the opportunity to have had a documentary like this (which is why I believe it is so special).

The documentary was made in 1962 by the National Film Board of Canada.

It is set in the Haute Mauricie region of Québec.   It is a region which remains sparsely populated.  The town of La Tuque is the only community of any notable size in the region.


Above:  Haute-Mauricie on a map

Below:  The town of La Tuque

La Tuque d'aujourd'hui

You can watch the documentary online, via the National Film Board’s website, by CLICKING BELOW


Some things in the film which stand out for me :

  • The men in the film are from all regions of Québec.  They congregated in the camps in search of work.  Thus, you can hear various different French accents in the film (from Gaspé, Lac St-Jean, Côte Nord, and La Beace regions).   These accents stand out because the documentary was from a time when regional accents continued to be much more prevalent than a standardized Québec accent.
  • On that same topic (of a standardized accent), in 1962 Québec had not yet achieved a point of speaking wth today’s standardized accent.  Thus, up until the early 1960’s, Québec’s television announcers and documentary narrators spoke with a very “European” intonation.  This documentary is a very good example of what I mean.  Narrators today would have a more noticeable “Québec” characteristic to their accent than this “faux European” accent with which the narrator speaks.  I spoke about this phenomenon in an early post on accents.  You can read it by clicking HERE.
  • The film makes me thing of today’s modern oil & gas camps in the West and North.  Especially the fact that the camps are filled from people from all parts of the country (much like these old logging camps were filled with people from all parts of Québec).

I translated the first part of the documentary, so that you can understand the generally meaning of what is being said.  Here is the translation (after my translation, the scenes in the documentary speak for themselves):

0:51 – Travailleur / Worker :  On dit que le thermomètre est à 23, 24 sur la route.   Plus que ça, 27.  Aïe, que c’est fort!   T’ends un peu là.  Entre 25 et 30.  Entre 25 et 30.  Comme la semaine passée.

Worker :  You’d think the thermometre is -23 or -24 on the road.  More than that, -27.  Wow, that hits hard!  Wait a sec.  Between -25 and -30.  Between -25 and -30, like last week.

2:42 – Sur la carte, un désert.  Une forêt à faucher, une forêt vierge continue qui couvrirait sept fois la France.  À vol d’oiseau, Trois-Rivières n’est qu’à 120 miles au sud, Montréal et Québec à 150.

On a map, it’s a desert.  A forest to fell, a continuous virgin forest seven times the size of France.  As the crow flies, Trois-Rivières is 120 miles to the south, Montréal and Québec City are 150 miles.

2:50 – Pourtant, avant d’atteindre la première route marquée sur la carte, il faut parcourir 140 miles de chemins privés, ou prendre le train. 

Yet, before arriving to the first marked road on the map, you have to work your way through 140 miles of private roads, or take the train.

3:02 – Pour moissonner épinettes et sapins, ce matin comme les autres matins de la semaine, 165 scies de cultivateurs ont quitté leurs baraquements à 06h45. 

To harvest spruce and fir trees, this morning like all the other mornings of the week, 165 harvesting saws live their camp barracks at 6:45am.

3:28 – Deux par deux, quatre par quatre, les Breton, Le Guen, Kérisoré et Naffe, venus de vieux pays du Morbihan et Finistère (des régions en Breton en France)… Et le cuisinier Émile, et l’assistant cuisinier Lucien dit Beau-Sourire, Alphonse Lacasse, Candide Malenfant, Julien Gagnon, Marcel Piché, Henri Frenette, Jean-Charles Charon, Guy Charon, Flavien Charon, Normand Lafontaine, Henri-Paul Labonté – tous venus de vieilles paroisses aux sols maigres et revêches…

Two-by-two, four-by-four, the (Family names) Bretons, Le Guen, Kérisoré, Naffe, from the old country of Morbihan and Finistère (regions of Breton in France), and Émile the cook, Lucien the assistant cook who is nicknamed Cute-Smile, Alphonse Lacasse, Candide Malenfant, Julien Gagnon, Marcel Piché, Henri Frenette, Jean-Charles Charon, Guy Charon, Flavien Charon, Normand Lafontaine, Henri-Paul Labonté – all have comme from parishes with poor and unproductive soil…

4:00 – … Des Laurentides à la Gaspésie, de la Beauce au Lac St-Jean, pour accomplir des travaux exemplaires. 

From the Laurentians to Gaspé, from the Beauce region to Lac St-Jean, they have come to do what could be held up as a model of work.

5:36 – Dallaire, il est canadien français.  Il ne parle pas anglais.  Il ignore Cuba et le marché commun, le Congo et l’Algérie.  Il coupe le bois pour six dollars la corde à neuf miles du camp. 

Dallaire is French Canadian.  He doesn’t speak English.  He knows nothing of Cuba or the free market, nor the Congo nor Algeria.  He cuts wood for six dollars a cord, nine miles from camp.

6:06 – Son ami A.S. Pérot (?) dépique les arbres et empile la pitoune de quatre pieds.  Une chorde, quatre pieds de large, 8 pieds de longue, quatre pieds de haut, cent billots et six dollars à partager entre deux. 

His friend A.S.(?) Pérot takes the branches off the trees and piles the pitoune (a 4 x 8 ft cord or wood). A cord, 4 feet wide, 8 feet long, 4 feet high, 100 blocks and six dollars to share between the two of them.

7:30 – Travailleur / worker :  Il y a des moyens l’bois ça vend.

There are ways to sell the wood.

7:37 – La Rochelle et son ami sont aussi entrepreneurs.  3,55$ par corde transporté sur une distance de six miles.  2,35$ pour le camion, 60 sous pour chacun.  Quatre cordes par voyage.  Et, avec de la chance, six voyages par jour.

La Rochelle (family name) and his friend are also entrepreneurs.  They receive $3.55 per cord which is transported at a distance of six miles.  $2.35 for the truck, 60 cents each.  For cords per trip, and with any luck, six trips per day.

8:01 – C’était le 1e février.  Le dernier voyage en bateau sur la (rivière) Manouane en aval du barrage.  En amont, sur la glace du lac Chateauvert, des tracteurs à chenille remorquaient des trainouches rangés de bois.

It was February 1st.  The last trip by boat on the Manouane River downstream from the dam.  Downstream on the ice of Lake Chateauver, tank-track tractors which were pulling chain-trains full of wood.

En aval, dans l’eau courante, 35 camions jetaient 52,000 cordes de bois à la rivière, de quoi alimenter en papier en 18 mois le quotidien la Presse, et pendant les deux mois le New York Times. 

Downstream, in flowing water, 35 trucks were dumping 52,000 cords of wood into the river, serving to supply 18 months worth of paper to the daily La Presse newspaper, and two months worth for the New York Times.

Flotterons ainsi sur la Manouane, puis sur la St-Maurice, et rejoindrons les deux millions d’arbres coupés pas huit mille bûcherons. 

Let’s sail down the Manouane, and then to the St-Maurice river to meet up with 2 million felled trees by 8000 loggers.

Les 125 million de billes de quatre pieds qui chaque année voguent vers La Tuque, Grande Mère, Shawinigan, et Trois-Rivières pour produire autant de papier que l’en exporte toute la Scandanavie.

The 125 bundles of 4 foot logs, which each year sail down to (the towns of) La Tuque, Grande Mère, Shawinigan, and Trois-rivières to produce as much paper as what Scandanavia exports.

8:58 – Vingt-deux indiens de la tribu des Têtes de bulls travaillent ici pendant quinze jours.  Ils vivent sous la tente.  Albert Connolly est leur chef et son jeune fils l’aide à empiler un bois dont la coupe est peu rentable car il est petit. 

22 indians from the Bulls Head tribe work here for 15 days.  They live in tents.  Albert Connolly is their Chief, and his young son helps him to pile wood which has little value because it is too small.

9:43 – Trente-cinq camions, soixante-cinq chevaux, huit tracteurs à chenille, 165 hommes pendant neuf mois, 22 indiens pendant 20 jours, et six ans de labeur pour jeter dans la rivière quarante miles carrés de forêt.

Thirty five trucks, sixty five horses, eight tank-track tractors, 165 men during 9 month, 22 indians during 20 days, and six years of (combined) labour to dump 40 square miles of forest into the river.

11:47 – Travailleur / worker :  En hiver dans l’bois on va manger de bonne viande.  À part d’t’ (de) ça un couple de bières tranquillement pas vite.  La première fois que j’étais en chantier de l’hiver de bois je me demandais qu’est-ce que je fais.  Je vais me prendre une assiettée de bines, pis un bon petit bone steak, pis je va leur montrer aux bines comment je mange ça un steak!

Travailleur / worker (in a very heavy accent which I think is from North-East of Baie Commeau, further East along the North Coast region of Québec, if I’m not mistaken) :  In the woods in the winter, we’s be eatin’ good meat, along with a couple beers which we down nice ‘n slow.  The first time I was in the winter camp, I wondered how the heck I’d I find my way.  I just took a plate of (pork and) beans, and a ‘lil chunk of T-bone, and I showed ‘em all (my co-workers) how to down a steak!  (Laughs).

Once my translation stops…

In the documentary, they later they talk about how the aboriginals workers came to eat in the camp once, how they live in their own camps outside with their families.  The narrator says they continue to eat food they hunt.

At 21:20 they show workers who have been injured and are left to their own misery because they have no medical insurance (and no means to purchase medicine).  Basically, you were screwed if you fell ill.

Later they talk about what different men plan to do during the summer for work once the camp closes.  The camp only operates in the winter (when the ground is frozen and it is easier to work).  Many men will be without work if they cannot pre-arrange summer jobs.

The Quebec Board of the French Language (#337)

If you are from Québec, if you are Francophone elsewhere in Canada, or if you have studied French to any of the advanced levels in Canada, the chances are very likely that you are well aware of the Québec Board of the French Language.

The French name is the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF).

In media circles, the OQLF is sometimes known by it’s sensationalized nick-name,“the language police”.  In my opinion, such a nickname is a bit “unfair”, and you’ll soon see why.

The OQLF is a provincial government agency, and has had a mission since the mid-1960s to counter a degradation of the quality of French used in day-to-day life.

I’ll give you the perfect example of what I mean

In some of the French videos I made myself for this blog (here and here for example), you’ll notice I have a little “habit” of slipping in the English word anyway into French sentences (as do many Francophones in Québec and around Canada).  “Anyway” has become almost part of casual, colloquial everyday vocabulary.

Letting slip the odd little English word from time-to-time certainly is not the end of the world, nor should it be considered the end of the world.  In such cases, it is as natural to do so in French as it is to say “Rendez-vous”, “resumé” (instead of C.V.), or “déjà vu” in English.  Everyone does it (however, in French, I probably say “alors” or “bon” much more than I say “anyway” – since they are the French equivalents).

Yet, from what I’m told, the situation of inserting English words into English used to be much worse 55 years ago at the time the OQLF was founded.  It was so bad in fact, that it was feared that French in Québec (and in Canada) would soon reach a point of no return in the sense that there were fears it could morph into a new dialect – a hybrid French/English dialect.

Don’t get me wrong, we were not at the point of French not becoming some strange new way of speaking, but things looked like they could have eventually gone in that direction if there was not an organization to concentrate on the the public quality of French used.

The OQLF’s mission was simply to prevent this from happening, and to “support and encourage” the use of proper French in spheres where French was expected to be used.

This meant the OQLF’s role was to reinforce language quality and use in institutionalized settings, such as schools, hospitals, government offices, and areas of life regulated by government regulations.

And the efforts seem to have paid off.

The OQLF cannot tell you what you can or cannot verbally say (that would not be cool! – and it would be highly illegal).  But they can encourage you to use proper French in institutionalized settings – and hey, why not?  I’m game!

The bureau does so by providing resources and tools (such as one of the best and most comprehensive online French and French-English dictionaries in the world), public reminders, and assistance to individuals and enterprises who are working in French-language settings.

This is why, right from the beginning, in schools students know what correct terms to use, and society’s general quality and use of French has been enhanced.

This is also why, on an “institutionalized” or “formalized” level, French in Canada does not use anglicisms (or relatively very few) in higher level French (ie: in advertisements, in government or formal publications, etc).

Quite surprisingly, France does find it acceptable to use English words in formal settings and publications.

At an institutionalized level, you will find in France, one will use “weekend”, “email”, “shopping”, “parking”, etc.

However, in Québec, and Canada (as a result of guidance from the OQLF), we say “fin de semaine”, “couriel”, “magasinage”, and “stationnement”. 

(Note:  The OQLF’s influence is felt elsewhere in Canada as well.  Thus Francophones and those learning French in other provinces also look to the OQLF’s guidance, and thus it has influence and a “standardizing” effect across the country – not just in Québec).

For lack of a better term, the OQLF is the “public promoter for the correct use and implication of French in the public sphere”.   The “public sphere” is different than the “private sphere”.  But of course there is a natural a spill-over effect from the public sector to the private sector (hence why I probably subconsciously say “alors” much more often than “anyway” when I’m having informal, private conversations with friends).

So as you can see, the OQLF is not some baton-waving cop who is foaming at the mouth to beat you over the head.  They simply are a great resource and public reminder for ways in which to properly speak and use French.


Where the OQLF does derive its nickname “the language police” is from the agency’s “active involvement” in public signage and workplace language of administration (applicable to companies over a certain size or which deal with the public).   Québec has a law which states that French much be the dominant signage in the public sphere (while allowing English to also appear, but at half the size of French).   If there is breach in the law, the OQLF is the agency mandated to deal with it.  The OQLF will issue guidance, then warnings, then in very rare cases, a possible fine.

Again, such cases are very rare, and this is only one part of the OQLF’s overall mission.  But when it happens, the person on the receiving end sometimes gets their nose very out of joint, makes a huge deal of it, gets the media involved, and the whole thing blows up.

That’s not to say that the OQLF hasn’t been a little overzealous on occasion also.  You may recall a couple of years ago, a rogue employee at the OQLF told someone they could not use the word “pasta” on their menu because it is not a “French” word.   Well, if that didn’t blow up like a nuclear test in the South Pacific!!  After a huge public backlash, I think some heads probably rolled at some level within the OQLF.

Fortunately, such cases are very few and far between.  Most people in Québec still view the OQLF in their role as a positve resource and language-support agency rather than in their capacity as a workplace-enforcement agency (yet elsewhere in Canada, it is only the latter which disproportionately and unfairly gets all the attention).

Check out the OQLF’s online resources.  They are comprehensive, informative, and well organized.