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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”)
- 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).
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 🙂
Kevin Parent: One of Québec’s music institutions (#318)
Tonight was the last night of Toronto’s two-week long Franco-Fête (Toronto’s version of Montréal’s Francofolies).
Some interesting statistics regarding this year’s Franco-Fête in Toronto
The numbers have been released to the public today, and they’re quite something…
– More than 100 French-music concerts took place during this year’s Franco-fête in Toronto’s Dundas Square (Canada’s equivalent of Times Square in New York).
– More than 350 artists took part.
– Between 700,000 and 1,000,000 (yes, one million) people attended the French-language concerts in Toronto at one point or another during the two weeks.
– A phenomenal success in helping to break down the Two Solitudes.
Huge numbers !! Huge success !! and almost no hiccups !! (Hey Toronto & event organizers, you did well! Amazing job!).
Kevin Parent has been one of the top singers in Québec and for Francophones across Canada for the past 20 years (yet has doesn’t look to have aged one bit).
For most people, when they think back to their high school, college or university days, there are always one or two singers who stick out the most vividly in their minds (those groups who incarnate memories which flood back when you hear their music).
For me, I view Kevin Parent in this category from back In the 90’s (along with others like Bon Jovi, Guns ‘n Roses, and so on).
Kevin Parent became huge — REALLY REALLY HUGE around 1995 (actually a little bit earlier). But unlike one-hit wonders, Parent’s star appeal never faded.
He is as big in 2015 as he was in 1995. I would dare say he continues to be so large that he has become a one-man cultural institution for Montréwood’s, Québec’s and Francophone Canada’s music industry.
Over the years, he has won 7 of the top ADISQ (Félix) awards — the Québec equivalent of the Grammy’s and Juno’s. Speaking of Juno’s, he has also won one of those as well.
He is one of a handful of life-long Québec music superstars — and tonight I was lucky enough to take in one of his concerts
- with a front-row spot,
- shake his hand after, and
- chat with him for a few moments.
Below is a video collage I filmed with clips from some of his best known hits, as well as a small introduction (am finally getting the hang of this video thing — makes life way more easy).
One of Québec’s and Canada’s key players for tearing down the Two Solitudes:
I personally consider Kevin Parent to be one of Canada’s BEST BRIDGES between the Two Solitudes.
He is not Francophone. He is Anglophone.
Yet, he is one of Québec’s best known French-language singers. (He rarely sings in English, and all of his hits are in French).
He grew up in a community with a large Anglophone population in the far-Eastern Gaspésie region of Québec (along the New Brunswick border).
Yet, in the hearts and minds of everyone in Québec, it doesn’t matter that he is Anglophone or Francophone. He is accepted simply one of their own – period.
He is one of the strongest symbols we have for what can be achieved when people seek to break down the Two Solitudes.
I have always been fully aware of this fact. Music aside, for this fact alone, he is someone who I have admired and respected for over 20 years. He has done more to bridge the Two Solitudes and to make Anglo-Franco dynamics a “non-issue” than perhaps anyone else in the past 50 years or more. I truly believe he is not given enough credit on this front (but then again, perhaps it is a good thing that he has never been politicized).
Regardless, I believe it has had an impact. Cultural soft-power sometimes speaks louder and can be much more powerful than political power.
He is adored by fans in Québec from their early teens into their fifties — a fan base spanning two to three generations.
Some of Kevin Parent’s top songs:
- Mother of Our Child (French)
- Les doigts
- Maudite Jalousi
- Father On The Go (French)
- La Critique (this on especially brings back camp-fire memories with friends back in Alberta).
The following parody has gone down in Parody history in Québec (everyone knows this one). It was a brilliant and hilarious trap which saw Marc Labrèche catch Kevin Parent off guard when he, well, had Kevin meet Kevin. (I wrote a post about Marc Lebrèche almost a year ago… you can read it by CLICKING HERE). Hahaha 🙂