I’m an average guy, originally from Western Canada. I currently living in Toronto (where I have my own business), but I’ve lived and worked in six provinces around Canada, and five countries around the world. Because of the context of how I grew up (largely in French since the age of 3), I consider myself part Anglophone, part Francophone, and I simply want to do my part in helping to bridge the Two Solitudes between Anglophone Canada and Francophone Canada (with more emphasis on Québec).
My target audience is Anglophone Canada. If I had more time, I would also write a similar blog in French for Francophones about Anglophone Canada and Anglophone Canada’s culture. But I’m a busy guy and time is short. So I’ll just stick to inserting the odd French-language post into this blog from time to time (there are Francophones who are also following this blog, and the French posts will be for them).
In Anglophone Canada, there is often a lack of information and understanding about Québec and Francophone Canada’s culture (just as there is often a lack of understanding on the part of Québec regarding Anglophone Canada). Hopefully I can bring you a bit of insight from the perspective of a “cultural insider”, and present you with aspects of Québec’s culture (and thus another aspect of Canada’s own) which you perhaps were not aware of.
At the end of the day, I think you’ll find that the Two Solitudes are not so different after all (our respective lives, collective values, interests and outlooks are very similar – much more similar than they are different. In the end, most differences that do exist are owing to each linguistic group living their lives in two different languages – and thus each linguistic group has developed their own cultural references within the framework of their respective languages).
I’m fortunate that my own background allows me to bring you this perspective. My background is a little bit different than that of the average Canadian Anglophone. Despite growing up in Western Canada, for much of my life I have been living and crossing back-and-forth between our French & English linguistic lines and cultures.
If you want to know a bit more about me, you can read the “long” version below. Otherwise I’ll leave it there. Welcome to Québec Culture Blog, and happy reading!
I’d encourage you to first click the “About this Blog” button (located at the top) to get the background of what this blog is. I added some info below, about me, to share how I fit into this context.
My name is Brad. Considering my roots, many might find it surprising that I’m writing a blog about Québec and Francophone culture in Canada.
I’m Anglophone by birth, born to parents who don’t speak French. But my life took a few different “cultural & linguistic twists” along the way, and a large part of my life has been in French since the age of 3 (to the extent that I can consider myself both Anglophone and Francophone).
I was born in Northern B.C., grew up in rural Alberta, close to Edmonton (my parents / siblings are still there), and my extended family is from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan (grandparents, aunts, uncles).
After briefly living in Eastern Canada in my early 20s, I left Western Canada and moved to Asia and the Middle-East for more than a decade to pursue a couple aspects of my career, and I returned to Canada in 2013, moving to Toronto to expand my business projects.
Born in the latter half of the 1970’s, I was one of the very first generations to be enrolled in, what was then, the very new French immersion program in Western Canada (which, back in the late 70’s / early 80’s in small-town Western Canada, was ran very differently than existing immersion programs in Eastern Canada — almost night & day compared to today’s national immersion programs). During that era, immersion was very new and revolutionary in rural Western Canada, and it’s goals and standards were not well established.
Looking back, I think the program was much more “hard-core” than it is now — lacking today’s standardization and best practices. Thus many local immersion programs in the early years were almost an exercise in “la francisation des anglos”.
We used to joke it was “French Conversion” instead of “French Immersion” 🙂 — but you have to keep in mind the context of the time: the country was reeling from the effects of the first referendum, provincial governments and the federal government were actively trying to find ways to help balance out linguistic inequalities, bilingual policies were starting to permeate down to rural Western Canada, and immersion administration was highly decentralized — Many many bugs had to be worked out, and the system needed… how should I put it… “Refining”.
Today’s Immersion system is quite different than when I was placed in the program, and it has 35-40 more years of experience behind it.
Even though my family was unilingual anglophone, I was placed in French pre-school at the age of 3 and 4 years old, French kindergarten at ages five and six, and then the regular grades 1, 2 etc., at age seven… As we say in Alberta, if you’re gonna get’em, then ya better get’em young ! — Tongue in cheek aside… it was probably one of the best things that could have happened to me. In grade 3, my family moved to Northern Alberta. Because we moved a couple times within Alberta (no… not to escape French schools in B.C. — the Alberta government was also pushing new immersions programs just as ardently 😉 ), my enrolment in various French programs was off-and-on through my teen years.
Your language of education and the language used when playing with other kids truly can set the tone for many things later in life. I recall that as a child I preferred to watch cartoons and kid’s TV programs in French (Les stroumpfs instead of the “Smurfs”, Shérif fais moi peur instead of the “Dukes of Hazard”, etc.). I suppose it was just a part of my comfort zone as a result of my environment at school and play (after all, my life as a child was seven to eight hours per day in French, every day, year-after-year).
As the end of high school was approaching, it seemed to be a natural fit to continue my post-secondary education in French, and Edmonton (only 110kms from where I did my high school) had a Francophone university — La Faculté St-Jean (established for Franco-Albertains, but open to any Anglophones like myself who were ready-able — and there were many like me). Although affiliated to the University of Alberta, it was essentially set up as its own Francophone university, with its own campus and residences (I lived in residence, where the daily language of living was French, even during free time).
After my university years, it remained a natural fit that my two subsequent careers were largely in French. My first career as a civil servant and Canadian diplomat allowed me to work in several provinces and live and work in five countries – primarily in Asia and the Middle East, but also Sub-Saharan Africa. My second career in business kept me in Asia for several more years. I used my time abroad to see as much of the world as I could. By the time I was in my early 30s, I had been to 60 countries – most of which were some of the least visited or most isolated (for the most part, I left the easier places such as Europe or Australia for travels later in life). I’m glad now that I saw these places when I did, and had the adventures I experienced, because many of the places I visited are now in a state of conflict or have forever been changed by the rapid encroachment of globalization and the Information Age.
I brought a branch of my business back to Canada from Mainland China in 2013 – to Toronto, where I live and work now (but I have business in a few parts of the world, so my travel days are not completely numbered). Even in Toronto, my business life and personal life both continue to meander between English and French. After spending more than a decade outside Canada, I was pleasantly surprised (even shocked in some instances) to discover so many French/English bilingual Anglophones in Toronto.
In a sense, I believe I was much luckier than any previous generations who worked abroad. Although I adapted and integrated quite well into society when I worked abroad, the introduction of the internet (which had just began to take off when I left Canada) made it so I didn’t have to lose touch with what was happening in Canada. Despite 14,000kms which separated me from Canada, the internet allowed me to remain very much connected during an absence of 12 years — even to the point that I sometimes had the impression that I was more aware of what was happening in Canada than if I were physically there. It made it so I could keep up with daily news, and on a cultural front, everything that was hot and new. Therefore, throughout this blog, you’ll see me provide a good number of official Internet websites to which you can turn for resources, more information, and general learning.
So, why this blog? (keep in mind that this blog is primarily being written for Anglophone Canadians across Canada).
First, when we transplant ourselves abroad, after a certain point, you get the impression that your identity isn’t limited to that of a single province, as much as it is related to the country as a whole (a type of identity transformation, if you will). My own perspective of the country changed, and I consider myself as much an Albertan as an Ontarian, as much as Québécois as a Nova Scotian. If I were to scoop up a bit of soil from every part of the country, at the very minimum it’s comforting to know that it belongs equally as much to any of my compatriots from all parts of this very large country, as it does to me.
Thus, I feel it is extremely important to bring down useless barriers which alienate one part of our population from another. Of of these obstacles, obviously, one is the concept of the Two Solitudes. It does exist — definitely to a lesser degree than before — and the situation is improving, but it exists.
In Québec, some fringes of society (although less and less) are uncomfortable about a “decrease” of French as a “home language” in Montréal. But the truth is that bilingualism is definitely on the up-tick in “absolute” numbers, both in Québec, and across Canada. That’s a good thing! The debate about one’s “home language” should have no bearing. It is getting a bit “used”, and frankly is now displaced. If one is able to comfortably live, work and function in the two lingua-francas of this country, then the battle is being won.
Yes, it is true that annual Immigration levels to Canada challenge the “proportional” increase in levels of bilingualism, but that is not because of a failure of multi-culturalism (as some would argue) — it’s simply a matter that many first-generation immigrants don’t have their regions lingua franca as first language in the home. BUT, their children on the other hand (second-generation immigrants) will continue to contribute to the upward-climb in the rate of bilingualism (both in absolute and proportional numbers), as their children and grand-children adopt their regions lingua franca and subsequently begin to also fall into the bilingual fold through our education and civic-responsibility programs.
In Québec, these trends have borne fruit in the past, as they will continue to do so — especially in light of Bill 101 (think of the prior Italian, Portuguese, Greek, Ukrainian, Vietnamese, and German immigration movements, how the first generations struggled with French integration, but 2nd and 3rd generations, with time, came into the fold). The population sum of 2nd and 3rd generations always outnumbers the population of 1st generation… so the reasons invoked by those who frantically fret over language in Québec, and especially Montréal, are moot with time.
The days of imminent threat to French in Québec are over (yes, there may be small pockets in downtown Montréal where people meet customers with “Can I help you, Bonjour”, but that doesn’t mean the battle is being lost, and they remain part of an isolated mindset which is no longer the norm of most minorities in Québec. Those who hold this up as a representative reality of the direction things are moving truly have lost touch with history over the past 50 years, and where things sit, and are going right now).
That being said, I firmly believe in the infrastructure necessary for the promotion and safeguarding of French, and the benefits of continuing to pursue such infrastructure (both in Québec and in Canada), so that French continues to remain vibrant and solid. (From a personal standpoint, linguistically and culturally, I myself am a product of this linguistic infrastructure; the result of a bold pilot project in our education system – the product of a concept of bilingualism, deliberately planned in advance by our governments – as bizarre as that may sound. So yes, I believe strongly in strengthening our commitments towards French as the lingua franca in Québec, and in doing everything we can, in the context of being a realist, to achieve higher levels of bilingualism across Anglophone and Francophone Canada, as a whole)
From my own experience, I think we’re all richer as a society if we can live, function, promote, or at least understand the culture and/or language of our own compatriots, regardless of where we live in Canada. Here on the ground in Anglophone Canada, the linguistic situation is being corrected and we are becoming more bilingual — one percentile at a time. But of course this takes time, one generation at a time.
With the prospects of future referendums further away now than ever in the past 30 years (as socio-cultural demographics, politics and economics continue evolve in Québec), there is now more time to continue on the path to correcting the situation. I argue that path should and must be taken with encouragement, understanding, compassion, empathy, devotion and participation on both sides of the linguistic lines. I admit that we are limited as to what we can do as sole individuals, but it is the totality of our combined efforts which make the difference. Hopefully this blog can help others in their own steps, by providing additional understanding and cultural references to interested Anglophone readers as they continue to progress in their own personal journeys.
Alors avec ça, je vous souhaite bonne lecture, et au plaisir de vous revoir au cours de mes billets de blogue !