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Celebrating 400 years of Francophone history in Ontario (#220)

The last post set the table for this post.   In the last post I discussed how curious I find that Francophone Ontario gets so little attention compared to Acadia:  “Les Ontarois”: More than double Acadia’s population, yet they rarely get outside attention”.

In this post, I’ll bring to your attention one of the most significant events in Ontario’s history:  This year’s celebrations 400 years of Ontarois (Franco-Ontarian) history.

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(The official logo of the 400th anniversary celebrations)

Following Étienne Brulé’s Ontario expeditions in 1610, Samuel de Champlain founded what is now Ontario in 1615, where he took took up residence at his newly-founded settlement 90 minutes North of Toronto (in what is now Penetanguishene-Midland in Cottage Country).

400 years later, Ontarois (Franco-Ontarians) now constitute North America’s largest Francophone population outside Québec, with more than 610,000 people.   In addition, almost 1,500,000 people in Ontario are able to speak French (self-identified as being able to hold a conversation in French, Stats-Can 2011).

According to Statistics Canada, Ontarois numbers are on the increase… with the number of people who speak French at home in Ontario having increased by 9.5% between 2006-2011, to 595,000 people.  This is the largest growth rate of any Francophone population in Canada, be it in Western Canada, Acadia or Québec.

In celebration of 400 years of Francophone history in Ontario, a consortium of government and non-governmental organizations have launched “Ontario 400”Ontario 400 is charged with helping to organize and highlight a whole host of year-long celebrations all over Ontario.   The largest celebrations will be during the summer, but the celebrations are already underway in many parts of Ontario.

The official “Ontario 400” website can be viewed here:

(English):  http://ontario400.ca/en/statistics/

(French):  http://ontario400.ca/

Some interesting highlights & links from the Ontario-400 website:

  • 41.5% % of Ontario’s Francophones live in Eastern Ontario (which includes Ottawa & area),
  • 28.7% live in Central Ontario (which includes Toronto, the Golden Horseshoe & area)
  • 22.5% live in the North-East of Ontario (including Sudbury, North Bay, and the northern highway 11 Francophone regions)
  • 5.9% live in the Southwest (which includes Windsor & area)
  • 1.4% live in the Northwest (which includes Thunder Bay & area)

Have a look through the website… it’s quite interesting.   I’m told that the largest Toronto-Area celebrations will be in Penetanguishene this summer at the original 1615 Samuel de Champlain settlement, which is now Sainte-Marie-aux-Pays-des-Hurons, less than 90 minutes North of Toronto (with people coming from all over Southern Ontario for it).

If you live in or close to Ontario, these celebrations might be a fun way to help you practice your French.

(Pics of Sainte-Marie-aux-Pays-des-Huron North of Toronto)

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Happy 400th birthday!!

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SERIES:  FRANCOPHONE ONTARIO & ONTAROIS (6 POSTS)

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“Les Ontarois”: More than double Acadia’s population, yet they rarely get outside attention (#219)

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Here is a short, but controversial post for you.

There are more than twice the number of Ontarois as there are Acadians (note: Ontarois(e) is the new name which people use more and more to describe Franco-Ontarians).

But strangely enough, outside Ontario, they do not garner nearly the same amount of attention as Acadians.

Yet, Ontarois also

  • have a few distinct accents
  • have a Francophone history just as long as Québec’s and Acadia’s (Samuel de Champlain also founded Ontario, just like Québec.  He lived in Southern Ontario for over one to two years in 1615.  His home was just North of present-day Toronto, in what is now Midland in Cottage Country.  I guess he liked his cottage at the lake too!  Even today, if you drive 90 minutes North of Toronto to the towns of Penetanguishene and Tiny-municipality – where he established the first European settlement in Ontario — you’ll see and hear wall-to-wall French with an Ontarian accent).
  • have many Francophone media super stars (Marie-Mai and Véronique DiCaire among the most recent ones, but there has been a long line of Ontarois celebrities)
  • have given Canada some of its foremost politicians and other personalities (the recent and former Prime Minister, Paul Martin, is Ontarois from Windsor)
  • have a provincial government, hospitals, and grade-school & post-secondary education institutions which operate or serve its population in French
  • live in a province where some areas are over 85% to 90% Francophone (even more Francophone than numerous areas of Québec).
  • have their own extensive media industry
    • Radio-Canada has numerous studios across Ontario,
    • there are more Francophone radio stations in Ontario than anywhere elsewhere outside Québec,
    • there are numerous Francophone newspapers, among which Le Droit is one of the largest daily newpapers in Canada,
    • the Francophone Toronto-based television station TFO is one of (and possibly is) North America’s largest educational TV stations,
    • the national Francophone TV station UNIS is based in Toronto, which broadcasts coast-to-coast-to-coast
  • are growing in overall numbers (with those speaking French at home having grown by 9.5% from 2006 to 2011 according to the 2011 Statistics Canada census, one of Canada’s largest growth-rates of any community!)
  • shares a province with an an Anglophone community, of which large numbers are able to speak both French and English, and thus lends much moral support and understanding for their Francophone communities (I placed the bilingual numbers on the above map).

Heck, when Toronto’s mayor, John Tory, recently won the mayoral election, the first words of his live televised victory speech were in French, not English.

There are more Francophones in Ontario than there are Anglophones in Québec (yet people always talk about the Anglophones in Québec, but hardly ever about the Francophones in Ontario).
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Considering all of the above, I remain completely baffled as to why only Québecois and Acadians get the bulk of the attention when people outside these regions or outside Canada think about, talk of, or write about French in Canada or of Francophone Canada.

It looks like a case of the Two Solitudes on many, many different levels (Francophone-to-Francophone, Region-to-Region, Québec-to-Ontario, Country-to-Country, Anglophone-to-Francophone, and on and on).

I have some (rather complex) pet theories why this may be the case, but I’ll leave them for another post (check in a couple of posts from now… I have a stab at jotting my thoughts on the issue in a separate post).

I can give you an excellent example of what I regularly see.  Yesterday a private foreign company published a post on their blog pertaining to French in Canada (I won’t mention who they are, so as not to single them out).  Frankly speaking, from a historic and language-explanation perspective, it was one of the best “short” descriptions I have ever seen (better than any Wikipedia article).  I was more than impressed.  Yet, even though they said French in Canada has many dialects and is found across the country, they mentioned the most important and main French speaking areas in Canada are Québec and Acadia.

There was just one problem with this article (which was supposed to discuss Canadian French), there was zero mention of Ontario — one of the largest components in Canada’s overall French and Francophone realities.

It’s just not the above article either… In fact this happens over and over again all over the board when people write and talk about French in Canada.  I find this chronic omission of anything Ontarois-related to be endemic and representative of many articles, blog posts, and general media coverage.  Even I was guilty of falling into this trap in my younger years.  Ontario is scarcely ever mentioned, whereas Acadia gets the lions share of the attention – either abroad or elsewhere at home.

Although I consider my own personal background more tied to Franco-AlbertanFrancoPrairien and Pan-Franco-Canadian culture than what I consider it tied to Ontarois (or Franco-Ontarien) culture, the longer I live in Ontario, and the longer I see and hear Ontarois in my everyday life, the more perplexed I become by this question.

On top of it all, I happen to live in one of the least Francophone regions of Toronto, yet I hear French in my neighbourhood more often than you’d think.

This lack of awareness of Francophone Ontario’s existence (versus an extravagantly large amount of attention accorded to a much “smaller” Acadia) is a real head-scratcher.  One would think Ontario would find itself on near-equal footing with Acadia, in terms of attention from elsewhere in Canada or abroad (Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying… Acadia is certainly unique in many important ways, and does deserve every bit of attention it gets… But one would also think that Ontarois culture and Francophone Ontario should be right up there too).

Am I missing something here??  It sure makes you think, doesn’t it?  What are your thoughts?

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Related posts:

"Tant à Découvrir":  The Ontario Government's French Licence Plates issued to the public...  Seen on vehicles across Ontario.  If you keep your eyes open for them, you'll spot them around Toronto, the North and the East.

“Tant à Découvrir”: The Ontario Government’s French Licence Plates issued to the public… Seen on vehicles across Ontario. If you keep your eyes open for them, you’ll spot them around Toronto, and the North & East of Ontario.

“Tant à découvrir”… Funny how the logo plays right into this theme.  Ironic isn’t it?

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SERIES:  FRANCOPHONE ONTARIO & ONTAROIS (6 POSTS)

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A brief history of France’s former languages, and how they helped to shape our French in Canada (#217)

Not long ago I came across two well-made YouTube videos.  One offers samples of France’s 28 different accents.  The other offers samples of 45 languages which are native to France — from the three major French language groups.

In a nutshell, French(as we know it today) is a relatively young language.  It was based in part on languages / dialects which existed in regions in and around Paris for centuries.  Modern French came about when it took elements from the languages / dialects of the Paris area, as well as a number of other nearby and closely related dialects.  In broad terms, they became mixed together in a big language stew, and voilà! — Modern French was born, primarily in the 1600s & 1700s.   (This is an oversimplified summary of what happened – but that’s basically it in a nutshell).

When I use the word “dialect” or “language”, my choice of words is a question of semantics.  Here I’ll use the word “language” (instead of “dialects”) because speakers of many of the dialects referred to in this post would not have necessarily been able understand one another (which is a characteristic of what constitutes separate languages).

Prior to the birth of Modern French (in the 1600s & 1700s), all the languages which existed in the Northern half of France were descended from a “super-group” of languages called the Languages of Oïl (les langues d’oïl).  These 20+ languages existed for roughly 1,500 years, well into the 1700s — at which point modern French began to supersede and replace them.

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Even though the Languages of Oïl were related, if you were to travel across Northern France in the year 600, 1000, 1500 or even 1700, you would have possibly traveled through 20 different language zones.  Likely you would not have been able to understand the locals as you crossed from one language zone to another (at that time in history, French was not the common every-day language of France).   However, when French began to supersede these other languages, French spread beyond Paris to the outlying regions, and the government began to forcefully suppress (basically wipe-out through forced assimilation) all the regional languages.

A very similar phenomenon existed in the Southern half of France.  Whereas the related languages of the North fell under the umbrella of the Languages of Oïl, in Southern France, there was a different group of many related languages called the Occitan Languages.

A region of Eastern France also had a separate grouping of languages called the Franco-Provençal (or Arpitan) Languages. 

Unlike the Oïl Languages, the Occitan and Franco-Provençal languages did not contribute as much to the formation of Modern French (if you listen to recordings of the Occitan & Franco-Provincial languages, they sound very different from French – with sounds and pronunciations much closer to Italian, Latin, Catalan and Spanish — whereas the Oïl Languages have sounds and pronunciations much more related to Modern French).

Also, just like the other Oïl Languages, the Occitan and Franco-Provençal languages were forcefully repressed by the government, starting in the 1700s, and replaced by Modern French.

Although all these languages of France were wiped out over the course of 300+ years, the inhabitants of each language region retained many different accents which can be associated with the original languages.  Thus, as you travel throughout France today, you will hear many different French accents, sometimes very different from one another.

What I find extremely interesting is that there are still some individuals in France who still speak the former regional languages.  Depending on the language, their numbers can be quite small.  Native speakers are often senior citizens, and some languages may have almost no speakers left (with the only remnants existing only in old audio recordings made 40 to 90 years ago).

How this fits into Canada’s style of French:

In the 1600s and 1700s, the original settlers to Ontario and Québec brought with them the languages of the Paris region (at least how it was spoken in Paris at that time – which is different from how it is spoken in Paris today).  The Parisian language was the main language spoken in New France (the French colonies of North America), but there were significant numbers of other Languages from France such as Norman, Saintogeais, and Gallo.  Settlers also came from other areas in the Northwest and North-central parts of France.   Paris’ language became the standard norm in Québec and Ontario in the 1600s and 1700s, but it carried heavy language influences from other regions of Northwestern and North-central France as people mixed and added their own linguistic nuances to the overall pot.  It was this mixing of Northern France medieval languages which gives us our way of speaking French in Canada today.

Consequently, there are two major forms of French in Canada today (each with many varieties of accents and colloquialisms).

  1. One grouping covers Québec, Ontario, the Prairie Provinces (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta) and British Columbia.  This is also the dominant style in the media (owing to the fact that Montréal is the epicentre of Canada’s Francophone media).  It is based on a much broader mix of old languages and accents which came from France.
  2. Conversely, in Canada’s Easternmost provinces we find Acadia (the provinces of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland & Labrador).  The original French settlers to Acadia in 1605 (and those who continued to come up until the 1700s) came from narrower, more localized regions of France.  In France, they came from regions a bit further South than the settlers who went to Québec and Ontario.  But the Acadian settlers were still from the Northern Half of France and the still spoke languages of Oïl.   Because the settlers spoke different Oïl languages than those who went to Québec and Ontario, Acadia ended up speaking a different style of French — a unique style which is still spoken as the main type of French in our Atlantic provinces today (called Acadian French).

The YouTube recordings:

Someone went to a good deal of work in creating the following YouTube videos, and making them publicly available for our viewing and listening.  They found and put together a collage of sound recordings of 28 accents throughout France, and 45 of the languages of France.

  • France’s 28 accents from all regions of France: 

In this first video, see if you can hear aspects of accents in Northern and Northeast France which share some traits with Canadian French accents.   There are some shared traits – and it is quite intriguing to listen to.

Pay particular attention to the Charentes (Saintonge)”, “Nord-Picardie (Thiérache)”, “Orléanais (Blésois)”, andPoitou (Deux-Sèvres)”, accents.   Sound familiar???  —  I especially find the Charentes (Saintonge) accent to be quite interesting – but all of them are very interesting (I’m thinking out loud here… When I listen to the above accents, I certainly can hear accents which share definite traits with those of Québec’s North-Coast,  Gaspésie, Northern Ontario and older Canadian Prairie-French accents).  Now mix all the above accents together (plus a few more), and guess what overall accent you’re likely to begin to get!  (Wink, wink!!).  And that, my friends, is precisely what happened 300 – 400 years ago here in Canada.

  • France’s 45 languages:

As a speaker of Canadian French, what I find fascinating about the video below is that I (quite surprisingly) find some of the languages relatively easy to understand.   Three of the languages which stick out as relatively easy to understand are PercheronMainiot, and Poitevin (despite that I had never heard them prior to listening to this video).  Even though I can understand them, I am not sure that people in other regions in France would understand them quite as easily.   This is because they seem to share many more traits with our colloquial French in Canada than with standard International French (or even colloquial European French).

Something I find quite shocking (but equally fascinating) is that I can hear vocabulary and expressions in these languages which we regularly say in Canadian French but which are not said in France French and have died out in France.   The following are some prime examples of words / phrases I heard in the languages I pointed out.  They are things we say everyday in Canadian French (many many times every day).  I, like most people in Canada, took it for granted that these were uniquely Canadian words — but apparently they’re not, and we now know their true source! (from some of the old Languages of Oïl).

  • où-ce que t’as..?” or où ce qu’y est…?”
    • instead of “où est-ce que tu as…?” or “où est-ce qu’il est… ?”,
    • which means “Where did you…?” or “Where is…?” in Canada
  • à c’t’heure
    • instead of “maintenant”
    • which means “right now” in Canada,
  • fait-qu’là
    • instead of “alors”
    • which means “so in Canada,
  • M’a faire, aller, etc….”
    • instead of Je vais faire, aller… etc.”
    • which means I’m going to do, go… etc.” in Canada,
  • ben’qu-là
    • instead of “bon!”
    • which means “well…”, or “so then” in Canada, etc.

And then there were the accents and tones… such as the old French Montréal-Windsor-St.Louis corridor aveolar “Rs”, and Acadian vowel flattenings.

Truly fascinating stuff — like a 400 year old time-machine, but with a mirror with our face in it!

I suppose it indicates that the degrees of separation from the original French dialects which came to Canada in the 1600’s & 1700’s, and the style of colloquial French we speak today across Canada and Québec may not have diverged as much as one would think.

Other languages which I surprisingly do not have major difficulties understanding are aspects of Picard (Ch’ti), Orléanais (which appears to share many traits in common with Acadian French in Canada), and Gallo.  

It was actually quite eerie listening to these languages for the first time.  There was an instant sense of “familiarity” with them, despite having never heard them before.

Go figure!  😉

Where all this fits on a language tree:

As with any language, I suppose you could say any given language has “sibling” languages and “cousin” languages.

A cousin language would be when one older language gives rise to a few parallel new languages.   In a broad sense, Latin gave birth to many different language groupings.  Some examples would be the Italo-Dalmatian grouping (which includes Corsican, Italian, Sicilian, etc), the Eastern Grouping (which includes Romanian, Aromanian, etc.), the Langue d’Oïl grouping (which includes French, Norman, Walloon, etc.).

In general, these “groupings” could be said to be positioned like “cousins” with respect to one another on a family tree.   In language terms, sometimes you can understand your cousins, but sometimes you cannot.   Some of French’s cousins would include Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese.  I can understand (especially read) a good deal of these three language cousins.  Conversely, English’s closest cousin is the language of West Frisian which is spoken in the Northern Netherlands.   English speakers cannot understand or read West Frisian (or any other cousin of English) owing to too much separation in terms of time and geography.   So it’s hit and miss when it comes to understanding cousin languages.

Then there are the sibling languages.  Each of the “cousin groupings” gives birth to a number of other languages (“sibling” languages) through closely related circumstances of geography and history.   In the Oïl Language grouping, we find the languages in the above video (for example, Percheron, MainiotPoitevin, Picard (Ch’ti), Orléanais and Gallo).  As a Canadian French speaker, the above-mentioned sibling languages are not difficult for me to understand, despite that I had never heard them before (whereas other “sibling” languages in the Oïl Language grouping are difficult for me to understand).   Conversely, English has two sibling languages… one has gone extinct (Yola), and the other is Scots.  Sometimes Scots can be a bit difficult to understand if you are not used to hearing it (see the video below), but if you were to read it aloud, chances are you would understand 80% of it if your native language is English.

Click below to open the language tree to see where French and English sit with respect to their language “cousins” and “siblings”.    The languages discussed above are in “Blue” on the tree.

Indo-European Tree - blue - jpg

We already heard samples of some of French’s language siblings.  But as an English speaker, if you’re curious about English’s only remaining sibling, Scots, here are some examples:

This is a sample text of Scots from Wikipedia:  Quebec (Québec in the French leid) is a province o Canadae. It is the mucklest province gaun bi aurie o Canadae. Quebec haes a population o 7,651,531 fowk. The offeecial leid o Quebec is French, an aboot 90% o the indwallers o Quebec speaks it (aside French, baith Inglis an Inuktuit are spoken). The caipital ceety o Quebec is Quebec Ceety (Ville de Québec in French), an the mucklest ceety is Montreal (Montréal). Maist o the fowk in Quebec are French Canadians (or Québecois), but Erse-Quebecers, Scots-Quebecers, Inglis-Quebecers, Italian-Quebecers an Jewish-Quebecers bide there an aw.

Just for the fun of it, I’m going to have a go at translating it.  Let’s see how I do (I’ll put my guesses in parenthesis):  Quebec (Québec in the French language) is a province in Canada.  It is the largest (?) province (something something) of Canada.  Quebec has a population of 7,651,531 people (or folk).  The official language of Quebec is French, and about 90% of the inhabitants (dwellers) of Quebec speak it.  Apart from French, (something) English and Inuktitut are spoken.  The capital city of Quebec is Quebec City – Ville de Québec in French.  And the largest city is Montreal.  Most of the population (folk) in Quebec are French Canadians – or Québécois, but (something) Quebeckers, Scottish-Quebeckers, English-Quebeckers, and Jewish-Quebeckers also live (abide) there (but I assume they’re not saying they live there “in awe”… so I don’t know what the last word is).

How did I do?  It looks like I could understand 90%.   If you want to read the full Wikipedia article, you can find it here;  http://sco.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quebec

But… Let’s ramp this up a notch, and see how well your listening skills are.  I’ve seen the following video, and although I would likely not have many problems “reading” what is being said – I cannot say the same regarding my listening skills.  I have only ever had minimal exposure to listening to Scots, so believe me when I say that 80% of what is being simply flies over my head.   Have a listen and see how you do (if you are an Anglophone Canadian, I’m sure you will do NO better than me in understanding what is being said):

FURTHER READING

If you want to read more on all these topics, you can check out the following Wikipedia articles:


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Even the media can have a bad day, week… or year (#211)

A little bit of warning:  If you have wine, beer, or something stiffer in your cupboards, you may want to grab a glass of it now… because you’re going to need a drink after reading this.

If you are already well-versed in Canada’s & Québec’s political spectrum, you can skip much of this post and go straight down to the section entitledHow the media’s elastic band became stretched (below).

The first half of this post is going to give you some general information so that the second half makes sense.  This unfortunately is not the type of post that I can break up into smaller chunks, so bear with me.

This is a post about how political tension has been building in Québec’s media for years (particularly since the 2012 student protests – which you can read about by clicking here regarding an earlier post about Gabriel Nadeau Dubois), and how it appears that the elastic band just “broke”.   It will be interesting to see if someone pulls out a “new” elastic band in the coming weeks.

Backgrounder

I have always listened to a LOT of talk radio (both from English stations across Canada, and in French from both Québec & other provinces).  The French-language talk radio I tend to listen to the most are Radio Canada’s “Radio-Première”, primarily from Montréal and Toronto, as well as RCI’s Radio-X in Québec City.

As far as where these two radio stations sit on the socio-economic and political scale in Québec, you couldn’t get two radio stations further apart.

pty.stns

I find that in Québec, radio & TV media can be labelled on a wide-ranging scale in terms of “political ideologies” much more than in English Canada (people often talk about their choice of media in the same breath as their political allegiances).  It is quite interesting in this respect.  In English Canada, with the odd exception (such as the now-defunct Sun News, or certain talk radio stations / shows), people tend to think of English-language radio & TV media as fairly middle-of-the-road, with aspects which can appeal to people on all ends of the spectrum.

With this said, despite Radio-Canada often being grouped into a range which often appeals to certain personalities on the left, I do not believe the “bulk” of its programming venture too far beyond a “mid-range left”.  Of course, there are exceptions to this, and we can’t paint all programming or all hosts with the same brush.

In the same vein, Radio-X often is often labelled as a station which would appeal to those on “far” right.  However, although their programs have a good-deal of overlap with the Conservative party, I do not believe the “bulk” of their programming ventures much further to the right than perhaps what former Federal Progressive Conservative party occupied, or what the formal ADQ party in Québec occupied (however, they are not as “eco” as what the former federal PCs were, and their “eco” stance is one area where they very much overlap with the current Conservatives).  Despite being on the right-end of the Canadian spectrum, Radio-X does not have any religious element to it (Canada generally does not have any Federal parties which venture, on the whole, into religion politics — and where there is a religious element, it is often isolated to a small handful of “independently-minded” MPs or MLAs).

If we to compare where Québec’s TV & radio falls on a comparison with Canadian political partisan scale, the following chart can be quite telling.

pty.pstns

Here is what the chart looks like if we take out other Canadian parties, and just concentrate on those which are players in Québec (federal or provincial).pty.pstns.qc

Generally speaking, adherents who find their political voice reflected on the political chart will also find their voice reflected in the same corresponding range on the media chart.   Take a look at both of the media & political charts, and see if you can line up which media best fits the physical locations of various political parties on the same scale.   This is important, because it plays into the rest of this blog post.

Some side-remarks regarding the political chart:

Because so many parties are so close on the political spectrum (even if their platforms are different), it’s all in the nuances.

In the above chart, although I didn’t mention it, the various NDP & Liberal provincial parties would be roughly positioned in the same place as the Federal NDP & Liberals.  For the sake of reference, I threw in some provincial parties outside of Québec (since there is a variance between the provincial PC parties… Alberta’s is a prime example of one of the PC parties which has made a slight shift to the left over the past 3 to 4 years).

Also, you will note that there is a great deal of overlap between all parties in Canada (mostly concentrated within a couple notches of what would be considered Canada’s “centre”).   Because of this overlap, much of our Canadian politics come down to:

  • (1)  Personality politics of the leader (or of the individual MP, MLA, MPP, or MNA at a local level)
  • (2)  Individual platform issues, rather than an overriding vote for a party as a whole (It is for this reason why we see elections boil down to 3 or 4 major issue demarcations, even if those 3 or 4 issue only constitute 10 or 20% of a party’s overall platform).
  • (3) Voters, like myself, carry a very mixed bag of viewpoints.  What that means is that many voters see constructive views from all ends of the spectrum.  Take me for example:  I know where I stand on many individual issues, but my views are not “partisan” or particular to any one party.  Rather, I have issue-by-issue views which are liable to shift with time, as I become better informed, or with circumstances.   Come election time, I, like many (or most) Canadians try to find the party which best matches perhaps 65-70% of my own issue-by-issue views.  No party will every match all of an individual’s views 100%.  But if I find a party at election time which matches 65-70% of my views, then I’m comfortable when I cast my vote.  But if there is a party which matches every one of your views, you should be a lottery ticket!   In fact, considering our parliamentary style of democracy and how many choices we have out there, this approach is very “Canadian”.  It’s an approach which is generally quite practical, efficient and effective, not to mention very reflective of how a good portion of Canada’s population votes.   And more importantly, it seems to work (after all, we don’t have deadlock for a lack of political options or platforms out there)

These three elements are also the primary reasons why the average Canadian voter is more apt to change their vote from one election to another.   There tends to be much less “party loyalty” or “lifelong loyalty” in Canada than exists in other countries – likely because there is so much overlap.  It just takes one or two major platform issues, or the right (or wrong) personality to come along, and the average person will be more apt to change their vote in a heartbeat (otherwise we would never see polls in Canada shift to the extent that they do, sometimes right up to election day).

Considering that I regularly listen to both Radio-Canada and Radio-X (which are supposedly at “opposite ends of the scale”) I find it fascinating that elements of all these media, as well as the written press (which I didn’t place on this chart) are so often at each other’s throats!   They sometimes hurl accusations at each other even louder and more spiteful than any ruckus in the House of Commons, as if they’re yelling at their worst enemies.

As I continue to write this post, I want to emphasize that,

  1. I’m not a member of any political party, and
  2. I’m not taking a partisan stance as I write the rest of this post (Politically speaking, I’m going to approach the rest of this post as objectively as I can).

How the media’s elastic band became stretched

For about the last three to four years, private talk radio station hosts, newspaper columnists, members of the artistic community (some of whom happen to be hosts at Radio-Canada, Télé-Québec and TVA), and certain television program hosts on all TV networks have been engaged in a verbal tug-of-war – Mostly between the Left and the Right.   Because Québec City’s media is more to the “right”, whereas Montréal’s media is more to the “Left”, this verbal war has also taken on a somewhat “geographic” form (Québec against Montréal, and vice-versa).

The geographic aspect to this verbal media war is much more talked about in Québec City than it is in Montréal.  People in Québec City are much more “aware” of this geographic war of ideologies, perhaps owing to the fact that Montréal doesn’t pay much attention to Québec City’s media, whereas people in Québec City are accustomed to seeing Montréal’s media.  People in Québec City are also much more aware that Québec generally votes to the “right” of the centre line, whereas Montréal generally votes to the “left” of the centre line.

When Montréal’s media takes aim at anything right of centre, I get the impression that Montréal’s Left believes its Left-leaning media is scoring unhindered, unchallenged political points … whereas nothing could be further from the truth.   The moment Montréal’s “Left-leaning” media takes a shot at the “Right” (usually the Conservatives, but also the CAQ, anyone who takes a union to task, budgetary restraint issues, certain industries associated with a rightist perception such as oil, etc.), Québec City’s “Right-leaning” media, within hours, goes bazerk!   The phone lines of Québec City’s talk show programs light up, Québec city twitter accounts smoke from being overworked, and Québec City newspaper columnists put pen to paper for the next day’s editions – all to counter the shots fired from Montréal’s Left-leaning columnists and media programs.   But what I find extremely interesting is that when Québec City’s media also goes on the offensive, most of the time Montréal just yawns, or doesn’t even notice.

How the elastic band finally broke

Since 2011/2012, I’ve been hearing Québec City’s “Right-leaning” media cry foul.   For lack of a better word, they feel that Montréal’s “Left-leaning” media has high-jacked the province’s political scene.  Whether that’s accurate or not, I’m not too sure (everyone is able to vote, after-all, and certain regions and the province as a whole has taken a few sharp turns towards both the right and the left over the last couple of decades).

But needless to say, since the 2012 student protests, the elastic band of this Left-Right war of words has been getting

tighter…

… and tighter

… and tighter

And the elastic band broke!

Something huge happened about a month ago.   It was so big in fact, that I have been holding my breath for the last four weeks, patiently waiting for follow-up reactions in the media…

Here is what happened:

First I will say that I believe Radio-Canada, for the most part, does a very good job of remaining neutral (most of the time).  They are a big organization, with many different personalities – sometimes very strong personalities.   However, I believe that the majority of their on-air (and off-air) personalities do a commendable job of keeping any political affinities hidden from the public (as they should).  The fact that I have difficulty guessing the political inclinations of most on-air Radio-Canada personalities speaks volumes (in a good sense).

But something went “astray” at Radio-Canada last month which I think is representative of numerous media outlets in Montréal – and they found themselves in the centre of this verbal media war of ideologies.  I’m guessing this incident only involved a few strong-headed, opinionated individuals.  But those individuals were aparently able to get their fingers on the “broadcast” button — which broke the elastic band.

A little bit of background:  The Conservatives cut almost $200 million from Radio-Canada/CBC’s budget last year, which resulted in 800+ people being layed off.  Radio-Canada employees held protest rallies and even a massive on-air protest concert.  You can see people at Rad-Can are not happy. (As an aside, the federal Liberals cut $400 million from Radio-Canada/CBC in the 1990s, but I don’t think we ever saw the same extent of displeasure towards the Liberals, at least not on the air).

With this backgrounder in mind, here are the events which lead to the elastic breaking:

In August 2014, Radio-Canada aired the anti-Harper documentary, “La droite religieuse au Canada”.  This is possibly the most politically controversial Canadian documentary of the past 30 years (or at least since Denys Arcand’s “On est au coton”).   After it aired in August, the Prime Minister’s head of communications publicly condemned Radio-Canada, stating that he “feared his worse suspicions about Radio-Canada were true”.  The Radio-Canada/CBC Ombudsman became involved.  The Ombudsman stated that the documentary’s airing did not meet the corporation’s standards requiring the organization to remain politically neutral.

The documentary purports that Steven Harper’s entire basis for being in politics is to align himself, and Canada’s governance, with Israel — so as to prepare himself and the world for the second coming of Christ, thus allowing him, his followers, and Alberta to go to Heaven.   I’m not BS’ing you here! (I couldn’t make this kind of stuff up, even if I tried).  If you don’t believe me, then click on the above link to watch the documentary yourself.  The link will take you to Radio-Canada’s own online re-broadcast site.  The documentary is an hour-long.

For a very long time (years), Québec City’s Right-leaning media had been going nuts over this type of bias, and have consistently cried foul over these types of things.  For months they beefed up their condemnations of Radio-Canada, of Montréal’s Left-leaning media (be it Télé-Québec, Rad-Can, newspaper columnists) and of the province’s very politically-vocal union movements.  In the meantime, Montréal’s media (both television and written press, as well as Montréal’s based union federations) stepped up their attacks of anything right-of-centre.

The elastic band got tighter…

… and tighter…

… and tighter.

Everything came to a head the last half of February 2015.  Get ready for this (grab that drink if you haven’t already… because you’re not going to believe this…):

  • On February 9, 2015, the host of a gourmet-cooking television show on Radio-CanadaChristian Bégin, took take part in anti-Québec-Liberal demonstration in a distant region of Québec.  He joined the unions to very publicly protest provincial Liberal budget cutbacks.  He appeared on television shouting and screaming in the name of anti-Liberal protestors.   This caught the ire of Québec City’s right-leaning media.   Québec City’s media tore into him, as did the very few elements of the Right-leaning written press in Québec.
  • On Feb 11, 2015, Lise Ravary, one of the few Federalist and Right-of-Centre columnists at the Journal de Montréal, wrote a column condemning Bégin’s actions.  In her newspaper column, she took personal shots at him for living the high-life, with a high salary paid by taxpayers (at Radio-Canada), and labelled him as a hypocritical, wine-sipping, gourmet loving bourgeois who is all talk, but doesn’t care about the little guy for whom he was protesting (Ouch!  Harsh! — now you can see they type of verbal war that has been going on since the 2012 student protest, between both sides!).  Rather, she charged that his protest was motivated by political reasons (against the Liberals, versus truly caring about the little guy).   She called him and those like him “La gauche champagne” (which means the “Champagne Left”).   [Don’t quote me on this, but I believe the expression in Europe would be “La Gauche caviar“, which is slightly different from our expression in Canada].  This garnered a lot of attention in the media (both Left and Right), and all media circles (the Right, the Left, sovereignists who traditionally lean Left, federalists who are traditionally lean Centre or Right-of-Centre, artists, columnist, etc)…  basically, everyone went to town over this one.   It was a verbal brawl like I haven’t seen for a very long time – and once again, it happened over the airwaves.
  • Around Feb 12, a host of Radio-Canada’s radio show “La soirée est encore jeune” sought revenge and took direct aim at the columnist Lise Ravary, calling her an “idot” (une dinde) on air, as well as taking aim at Québec city radio stations Radio-X and FM93, calling them “garbage”, and going so far as to lump anyone who is right-of-centre in the same category (again… this is what has been happening for 3 to 4 years, and it has been getting more and more out intense).
  • On February 13th, Québec City’s 93FM and Radio-X “let into” Radio-Canada and its program “La soirée est encore jeune”.  Radio-X’s host, Dominic Maurais, said he heard Rad-Can was going to move “La soirée est encore jeune” from the radio to television in order to give it more “visibility”. Maurais basically gave Radio-Canada a direct on-air warning, stating (actually, yelling, on air) that if Radio-Canada dares to make such a move by moving this program from the radio to television, considering that this program regularly blasts anything right of centre, that it will wake the dragon and will spell the end of Radio-Canada.   Radio-X basically stated that the cuts Radio-Canada was subjected to from the Federal government will be nothing compared to what they will suffer should “La soirée est encore jeune” be moved from radio to television.   Maurais basically told Radio-Canada to get ready to be privatized if things continue as they are.
  • I believe it was around Feb 14th, right after the above, when Radio-Canada aired a very peculiar episode of its popular prime-time family sitcom “Les Parents” (kind of like a Radio-Canada produced version of “Different Strokes”).  In this episode, the Radio-Canada scriptors took direct aim at the Right leaning Conservative Party by having the actors say that it is an embarrassment if a family has children who support the Conservatives.  In this prime-time episode, one of the children of the fictional sitcom family said that he wanted to grow up to be a Conservative so he could “change everything in the world”.  (Again, I’m not kidding you!).  His parents (in the show) told him he wasn’t raised like that, and to not tell anyone that he wants to be a Conservative.  Whoa!!  Holy Crap!    The next day, independent media again went nuts with this one.   Radio-Canada was blasted.
  • On February 15th, Harper made the unprecedented decision to wade into this very public spat himself (I was completely shocked it got to this point! — I’m not saying he was wrong, but holy smokes… I couldn’t believe it actually got to this point)  Harper granted an interview to Right-wing journalist Éric Duhaime of Québec City’s right-of-centre FM93 (the second most popular talk-radio station in Québec City).  Harper stated he (quote) “believed there are anti-Conservative elements inside Radio-Canada with an agenda against him”.
  • I believe it was the same day as Harper’s FM93 interview that Radio-Canada aired, unbelievably, for a second time, “La droite religieuse au Canada”— the documentary which alleges Prime Minister Harper’s entire agenda is to religiously rule and align Canada with Isreal so as to await the second coming of Christ so he can go to Heaven (without giving a “rat’s behind” about Québec, might I add — at least that’s the gist of the “documentary”).
  • Usually when I wake up in the morning, I grab my iPad and quickly skim the headlines before crawling out of bed.  The next morning, I just about fell out of bed when I read the the #1 headline on Radio-Canada’s website at 7:00am – the morning of February 16th.  Quote: “Steven Harper believes many Radio-Canada employees “Hate” Conservative Values” (the link for the article is here: “Beaucoup d’employés de Radio-Canada « détestent » les valeurs conservatrices, croit Stephen Harper”).   

So how did this very public p@##ing contest… er … media catastrophe from hell… er…  spat all end?   Well it looks like Radio-Canada’s senior management must have become involved.  By 10:00 or 11:00am, the above article was no longer anywhere to be found on Radio-Canada’s main webpage.  I’m guessing it must have been ordered taken down by someone higher up in management who wanted put an immediate end to this drama of epic tempertantrum proportions “innocent misunderstanding”.   The above article was taken down, moved and buried where nobody could find it… at the very bottom of an off-shoot page in the political section of Radio-Canada’s website.   This was the first time I had ever seen Radio-Canada take down a headline article within 3 or 4 hours of posting it.  I can just picture the emergency meetings senior management must have held on the top floors of the Radio-Canada tower that morning.  What I would not have given to have been a fly on their wall that morning!

I suppose this sort of thing is bound to happen from time to time in every media organization.   But considering the background of this last incident, I was surprised more self-restraint was not exercised much much earlier.

Regardless, it appears that everyone is now finally exercising a great deal of “lip-biting” self-restraint.   I have been waiting, watching and listening since the end of February – but for the first time since the 2012 student protests, everything seems to gone silent in this vicious Montréal-Québec, Left-Right tussle — on all sides.  I guess the elastic band did finally break.

But guess what’s right around the corner… Union backed student & street protests against Liberal government cutbacks.  I have a funny feeling it may soon be a case of “here we go all over again”.

As an aside, just so you know that these sorts of episodes of crazy manipulative mania can happen in English Canada too… I can give you a similar recent example of where a few over-zealous employees at the CBC pulled a similar stunt.  It happened when CBC decided to air the hour-long documentary “The Psychopath Next Door” (a documentary on what clinically defines a psychopath).  CBC aired this documentary in the time slot just before it aired the Fifth Estate’s hour-long episode “The Unmaking of Jian Ghomeshi”, (a investigative reporting program which investigated Jian Ghomeshi).  “Coincidentally” the Unmaking of Jian Ghomeshi gave all the same psychopathic signs mentioned in the earlier clinical documentary.  Don’t even try to tell me CBC’s back-to-back airing for two straight hours was not a coincidence;  it sure looked like an effort on the part of CBC to seal-the-fate of Ghomeshi in the minds of the public, but more significantly, to deflect public criticism away from how the CBC handled the whole Ghomeshi affair, and shift more anger towards Ghomeshi (sneaky!).   Frankly, it was morally and ethically wrong on the part of the CBC to air the clinical documentary right before they aired their investigative report on Jian Ghomeshi, regardless of the allegations against Ghomeshi.

But with all this said and done… fortunately I still believe that the vast majority of Rad-Can’s  & CBC’s employees and management do their best to remain (and succeed in being) neutral, and do not, nor would not act on any sort of hidden agenda.  Most people who work at Rad-Can are just normal people, raising normal families, and trying to make both ends meet.  Personally, I have met a good number of people over the years within the organization, and have followed the organization for long enough to allow me to believe otherwise (the vast majority are normal people like you or me who would never pull these kinds of stunts).

I think the issue simply came down to a question of the sheer size of Radio-Canada, with hundreds and hundreds of employees.  In an organization of this size, you’re bound to get a few very opinionated individuals (even if they are not the majority) who will make the odd poor decision and who will goof up.

As with anything in life, it’s always the most vocal ones, or the most opinionated ones whose opinions tend to come across the strongest (or push the broadcast button the quickest).  Thus these few high-profile people sometimes tend to give rise to our media outlets acquiring an undeserved bad rap (on the radio, on TV, and in the written press).

I’m not going to give a shortlist of who I think these individuals are, but as you acquaint yourself with various media, you’ll soon find out who I’m talking about – on the Left, in the Centre, and on the Right.

———————————————————-

Addendum:  

27 March, 2015 — things still seem “quiet” on the Radio-Canada front.  Additional Rad-Can job cuts were announced yesterday, but people did not make a spectacle or flip-out over it over the public airwaves (which is something which occurred in the past).  Curiously, Marie-France Bazzo announced her departure today from Radio-Canada as of April 2015.  She very much was one of the on-air personalities who embodied a very public anti-right-of-centre standpoint.  The reasons invoked for her departure from Radio-Canada were “divergent viewpoints” between her and Radio-Canada management as to which direction her popular morning talk-show “C’est pas trop tôt!” should take (the flagship morning show of Radio-Canada).  I wonder how this little event fit into all of the above.  Again, what I would have given to have been a fly on the wall in Radio-Canada’s executive offices when these “divergent viewpoints” were being discussed.  😉 .  (Radio-Canada’s Bazzo’s announcement of her departure, with audio clip (curt, short, and very low-key… makes you wonder what happened):  http://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelles/arts_et_spectacles/2015/03/27/001-bazzo-emission-radio-canada.shtml

ADDENDUM:  2015-07-10

I’m still watching, and listening – across all media platforms, to try to figure out what the next chapter in all of this will be.

Quite interestingly, PKP has become the head of the Parti Québécois since the above spats.  It has become more than obvious that a good number of reporters, radio hosts, and television hosts on the left, centre and right so not like PKP and the PQ’s choice in having him as the head of their party.   This “less-than-kind” temperment for PKP (and coincidentally his wife, Julie Snyder) seems to have “united” the media across Québec, regardless if the media personalities are Federalist or Sovereignist, or left, right or centre.

Media elements which usually compete (and take shots at each other) on an ideological basis seem to have lost interest in each other for the first time in years.  Rather, they’re all focusing on what is happening within in the PQ (giving the PQ largely disproportionate news coverage — and often not good new coverage).   This in itself is quite interesting.

This is not to say that competing media elements have ceased taking shots at other media elements with opposing ideological standpoints (I still am hearing cheap-shots being taken on a range of issues), but PKP and his wife’s (Julie Snyder’s) political activism has certainly monopolized much of Québec’s media’s overall energies.

The winner in all of this?  The Provincial Liberal Couillard government (who is not being severely criticized, even from those who are usually most critical of the provincial Liberal camp – namely left-wing sovereignists).  Also, the Federal left-wing NDP party… and now even the Federal Right-wing Conservative party seem to be getting a free ride owing to a lack of airtime stemming to PKP having sucked all the oxygen from the room.

Intriguing stuff.  I can’t wait for the post-summer election season drama to resume in a few weeks to see where this all goes.  With the media squarely focused on PKP (namely against PKP), such a fragmentation of media attention could have an unintended impact on Federal election results.

ADDENDUM:  2015-07-28

It’s the middle of summer and good grief!  It seems to be starting again.

A show on Montréal based Radio-Canada lit into a show on Québec City based Radio X (you can listen to it here:  (Radio-Canada entretient sa guerre contre CHOI)

And Radio X let into Radio-Canada.  You can listen to it here:  Les Salaires à Radio-Canada.

Well, at least it makes for great entertainment.

ADDENDUM:  2015-09-12

Yup, we’re seeing the two “factions” back at each other’s throats again (Sigh x 10!).

Radio-X is all over Rad-Can for what they see as leftist and political bias from 24/60 and a hate-on coming from La Soirée est encore jeune.   They’re also lambasting Montréal’s media (and particularly Radio-Canada) for what they perceive as a continued news bias against anything right of centre.

As for Rad-Canada, Le Devoir, and other Montréal media plaftorms, we’re seeing the same mud being slung towards Québec City and the people of Québec for their overall right-of-centre standpoints.  One Radio-Canada program when so far as to call people from Québec City “des Mongols” – “Mongolians” in English – which is an extremely derogatory term for people with down-syndrome… making fun of their eyes, facial features and intelligence.  http://www.lapresse.ca/arts/medias/201506/17/01-4878745-la-soiree-est-encore-jeune-plongee-dans-une-crise-mediatique.php  

Wow… really really wow!  Unbelievable.  Here we go again!

———————————————————-

Post related to all of the above:  Le Plateau (#72)

Separate blog which regularly writes on the above topics:  http://www.cliqueduplateau.com/

A surreal experience in Témiscaming (#198)

Two days ago, I had a very surreal and quite unique experience with Canada’s cultural duality.

Canada does not have many “cross-border” towns.  We have a few with the United States (where the border divides towns in two), and there are a few border-towns between provinces as well.   Cross-border towns are communities which are divided by a border, and which would be “one town” if the border did not exist.

Some prominent ones which come to mind are:

  • Stewart (B.C.) & Hyder (Alaska): When I was a child and living in Terrace B.C, my parents would take us up the road to Hyder to celebrate 4th of July (it was quite close to Terrace).
  • Lloydminster (Alberta & Saskatchewan): This is actually one city, with the Alberta-Saskatchewan border dividing it down the middle along Main Street.   I’ve driven through Lloydminster at least once every year, for many many years, on my way to visit relatives.   As a city, it is administered in quite a unique fashion:  The two provincial governments have agreed that it falls under Alberta sales tax rules, Saskatchewan education system, Alberta health care system, and Saskatchewan’s other municipal regulations – regardless of what side of the border residents live on.
  • Noyes (Minnesota), Pembina (North Dakota) & Emerson (Manitoba). This was basically a tri-border community.   I used to work in Emerson, Manitoba for a short period.  The US-Canada border was a road on the edge of town.  Everyone had friends on the other side of the border.  We regularly crossed back and forth for meals, beers, local baseball games, and even groceries.  Customs & Immigration officers on both sides of the border knew everyone and everyone knew them (today, when I cross the border at a place like Niagara Falls, and the US inspector asks how many times I’ve been to the USA, I respond in a purposely naive tone “maybe a hundred times or two”, which I know perfectly well will earn me a strange look – lol).

However, two days ago I had a border-town experience unlike any other I have experienced before (I’m still shaking my head in disbelief).

I drove to Témiscaming, Québec for a business related matter.  Usually, people from Toronto think that the closest point to Québec from Toronto would be where the 401 enters Québec on the way to Montréal, or where Gatineau meets Ottawa.

But actually, the closest point in Québec to Toronto is Témiscaming.   This might actually come as a surprise to most people because Témiscaming is a 6.5 hour drive from Montréal (it is considered quite far “North” for people living in Montréal), and it is a four hour drive from the Western edge of Ottawa.

But if you look at a map, it is almost exactly straight North of Toronto.   Because of the new limited-access expressway from Toronto to North Bay, 90 minutes has been shaved off the trip.  It now only takes three hours and a bit to drive to North Bay from Toronto, and Témiscaming is only a 45 minute drive beyond North Bay.

 (Map showing Témiscaming’s location – Click to enlarge)Temmg2

Geographically, Témiscaming is almost cut off from the rest of Québec.  If you want travel to Southern Québec from Témiscaming, you have to travel through Ontario to get there (but there is a road which connects to Northern Québec to Témiscaming).   Ironically, their closest major city is Toronto — and North Bay, Ontario is the closest centre for dentists, optometrists, etc.

What took me aback was the cultural duality of the town.  The town is situated along a very narrow point on the Ottawa River (two short bridges cross the Ottawa River, with each bridge perhaps only a few metres long, with an island in the middle).   The Ontario side of the river has three satellite communities, Eldee, Thorne and Wyse.  These three communities speak French, and the only school on the Ontario side is a Francophone school.   The Ontario side counts perhaps has 500 people.

On the Québec side, there is the old town of Témiscaming, and a bit further up the road is the new town.   30% of Témiscaming is Anglophone.  There is an Anglophone school on the Québec side.   The remainder of the town is Francophone, with a Francophone school.  The Québec side has around 2800 people.

Together, both sides of the border interact and operate as one community.

Temmg1

On the Ontario side, when I went to a café and gas station, both times I was greeted and served in French.  On the Québec side, when I went to the grocery store, a sales clerk in the isle greeted me in English, but the cashier greeted me in French.

When I was standing in line waiting to pay for groceries, the cashier and customer ahead of me obviously knew each other and were friends.  But the cashier spoke to the customer only in French, and the customer spoke to the cashier only in English.  They had quite a conversation about their kids who play together, and their husbands.  One would speak in one language, and the other would answer in the other language.  It was very interesting to witness (many years ago, I once had a colleauge who operated in this manner, he spoke only French when other people spoke to him only in English — but since then, I have never seen this occur before in public).

The whole town seemed to operate on along these lines.

(Photos of the “transformed” coffee shop and Subway restaurant in a VIA Rail car and old railway station)

swy1

swy2

swy3

I went to the hardware store to buy some bindings.  I heard the same linguistic quirks there also.  A customer spoke French, and the clerk spoke in English.  I didn’t know what language to speak (really… how you decide?).

I suppose people who live there knows everyone else, and they would know what language to address others in.  But it seemed like people just spoke in their own language, regardless of the language of the person they were speaking to, and everyone seemed to be perfectly bilingual.

When I went to a restaurant, I heard the staff speak both languages, perfectly bilingual, with no accent in either (I couldn’t tell if they were Anglophone or Francophone).  When it came my turn to be served, I uttered an awkward downtown-Montréal-style “Hi, Bonjour!” (I have never done that before, it just came out like that without me even thinking about it – it felt very strange).   The waitress said “Bon, mon cher, you can speak whatever language you want!  Alors, qu’est ce que je vous sers?”   I laughed out loud!  (but that didn’t answer my question as to what language to speak — I felt like speaking both — it was just such a unique situation!).

I had the chance to ask some people what the heck was going on, and how this even worked.  For the most part, I was told that what I observed was correct — that the town operates much along the above lines.  Everyone is very bilingual, and people feel comfortable speaking their own language for the sake of simplicity, with no expectation that the response will be in the same language.  Everyone understands each other – so it just works.  It’s perfect harmony – and there is no assimilation or loss of one’s identity (Francophone children will grow up Francophone, Anglophone children will grow up Anglophone, and they all live together as one cohesive community.  Everyone is friends, and everyone has each other’s back, regardless of their home language — like a 1960s love-in!).

I don’t ever like to admit it, but “sometimes” I feel uncomfortable speaking English in some areas of Québec. Don’t get me wrong… It’s not because I feel like I would be treated differently, or badly, or anything like that.  Probably it has more to do with the fact that I don’t want to make others feel awkward — in the sense that I don’t want others wondering what I’m talking about if they can’t understand me.   It’s strange, I know.  I know that 99.999999999% of the time it would never be a problem to speak English in a public Francophone environment (just as 99.9999999999% of the time there would never be any issues with a Francophone speaking French in a public environment in Anglophone Canada).  I’m probably a bit too sensitive on this front.   But the fact that I don’t really have an English accent when I speak French makes it so I know I can just blend in with the crowd — and my brain instinctively switches to French in Québec or other Francophone regions of Canada.  But this trip to Témiscaming was the only true time I have ever felt my linguistic compass go completely haywire — I truly did not know what language I should speak.

In this sense, Témiscaming would be a documentarist’s dream!

What I found particularly interesting was that the notion that Ontario-Québec border did not appear to exist in people’s minds in Greater Témiscaming, regardless of what side of the border people lived on.  Elsewhere, people in Québec and Ontario are often very “aware” of the border (I used to live in Gatineau, Québec, so believe me when I say that the border is as much a psychological matter to many Ontarians and Québécois, as it is physical).

One resident of Timiscaming told me that the town’s former Loblaws/Provigo closed several months ago.  For a period of several months, the only place the town’s residents could purchase groceries was 45 minutes down the road in North Bay, Ontario.   People made this commute on a regular basis until the new IGA recently opened in town.   Now that Témiscaming has a new supermarket (quite a large one might I add, I was told it employs 100 people), Anglophone Ontarians from as far away as a 25 minute drive on the Ontario side now come to Témiscaming to do their grocery shopping.  This adds even more to the cultural diversity of the community.

For some, Ontario is good for owning a home, paying cheaper income taxes (for people without children), and for gas (the pump price on the Ontario side is $0.08 cents cheaper).   For others, the Québec side is good for owning a home, paying less income tax for families with children, groceries, and services.

ont side

The main employer is the pulp & paper mill on the Québec side.  But if you look at the parking lot, it’s a good mix of Ontario & Québec license plates (just like the rest of town).  Témiscaming is the main point of employment for the region on both sides of the border.

I was told the only major inconvenience for residents is that Anglophone families on the Ontario side have to send their children by bus 35 minutes down the road to Redbridge, Ontario (they’re not eligible to attend the Anglophone public school on the Québec side, and the Ontario side only has a Francophone school).

In the end, once I got my business out of the way, I managed to get in a couple of hours of snow-shoeing (I mean, hey – doesn’t everyone always carry an extra pair of snow shoes in their trunk?).  The town’s physical setting, with the forests and hills, was breathtaking.  The only thing that would have ruined it would have been if a hungry bear happened to see me as I was fighting my way through 4 or 5 feet of snow (Monday’s post could have been my last one if that happened 😉 ).

Considering how close Témiscaming is to Toronto, and considering how interesting it is from a cultural perspective, I think I’ll definitely make a point of heading up there with friends for camping this summer.   As far as I’m concerned, it’s one of the best kept secrets within a short drive from Toronto.

(I don’t think I could have out-ran a bear with the snow-shoes on in 4 feet of snow)

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