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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 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.

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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)

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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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Véronic DiCaire – Who is that singing? (#167)

Véronic DiCaire has become a singing sensation on two fronts, both here on the homefront as well as abroad.    She has a career as a singer, with a couple of really good albums to her name.   But she has become wildly famous for being able to impersonate over 50 celebrities (you would swear she is actually Céline Dion if you were to listen to her sing with your eyes shut… I’ll provide a link to her official YouTube channel below).

A couple of nights ago, I happend to see her in a whole new light, which is prompting me to write this post.   I’ll get to this a bit later.  But first, let’s begin from the end (the big stuff), and then quickly work backwards.

DiCaire has become a star who had a permanent show in Vegas (at least until it was no longer permanent), doing her singing impersonations.  She has been a coach/judge on France’s X-Factor, and she has had numerous televised specials in Francophone Switzerland, in France, and here at home, in Montréwood.

How she came to this point is a bit of an interesting story… (un alignement fortuit des astres en sortes, if you’re looking for a new expression in French).   

First, Véronic DiCaire is not from Québec.  She is Franco-Ontarienne (or Ontaroise as Franco-Ontariens are now being called more-and-more) from the community of Embrun, not far from Ottawa, in the francophone region of Eastern Ontario. However much of her career has centred around Montréwood, where she found some of her big breaks.

DiCaire performed in numerous stage musicals from the time she was a young lady in the early 2000s, performing in Montréal, as well as in Paris.   It introduced her to some of the larger names in Montréwood’s pop-culture industry and resulted in an album which brought her more attention as a Felix nominee in 2005.

Things moved quite fast and she became an opening act for Céline Dion’s Taking Chances tour around 2008, doing singing impersonations of other celebrities.  René Angélil was won over and he sent her on tour as as star in her own right, across Québec, France, Belgium and Switzerland.

Her impersonation talents and hit performances have since made her a household name in Francophone Canada, across Francophone Europe, and with many Anglophones.  It’s safe to say she has pop-star status.

At the beginning of this post I mentioned I just saw her in a whole new light.   Véronic DiCaire just finished hosting SNL Québec (Québec’s version of Saturday Night Live) – and she was amazing!!  I have never seen her in this light before and her acting talents are just as good as her voice.  When I watched her introduction at the start of the show, the way she was carrying herself and the way she joked immediately reminded me of the type of charm Cameron Diaz radiates.   Check it out and see if I’m wrong.  You can watch the episode yourself on Télé-Québec’s website here:  http://zonevideo.telequebec.tv/media/19936/veronic-dicaire/snl-quebec.

Something else which is kind of interesting… she shared the stage in SNL with Katherine Levac who is also Ontaroise, from a community just down the road from where DiCaire grew up.

Véronic DiCaire’s official website is http://veronicdicaire.com/

Official videos can be viewed on her on her YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BuKhv2Zf2Fo&feature=youtu.be

If you’re in France, Eastern Ontario, Belgium, Québec, or Switzerland over the next few months, see if you can catch one of her shows.

Please stick to official sites and do not pirate.  Our artists are part of our cultural heritage.

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UPDATE 2015-02-06:  

DiCaire just annonced she will be doing pan-Canadian tours in English for Anglophones and also in French for Francophones in Western Canada, Ontario and Acadia.  Refer to her official website in the coming months for dates, locations and tickets.

Katherine Levac (#30) — Move over Acadie… and “Bonjour Ontario!”

“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 elsewhere.

Wow!  It looks like we’re experiencing somewhat of an “Ontario invasion” of Franco-Ontariens, out to conquer Montréwood!

Just as it’s written on Ontario’s French license plates, it really does look like there is “Tant à découvrir!”

Move on over Acadia! (traditionally long known as a hot-bed of artistic talent outside of Québec), and BONJOUR ONTARIO!   

Whether it’s Marie-Mai or Véronique DiCaire, Roch Castonguay or Chantal Hébert (she’s been spoofed a number of times on the pop-scene… so, hey, I count her in)… from Chuck Labelle, to Roy Dupuis, Damien Robitaille, Mathieu Pichette and Julien Tremblay … with double the Francophone population of Acadia (over 500,000 in Ontario alone), there seems to be a wave of talent coming from Ontario, attracted to the lights of Montréwood.

Katherine Levac is no exception.  This talented Ontaroise comedian made her big debut onto the public stage last February and March on the pilot episodes of Télé-Québec’s SNL Québec (yes indeed… Québec now has its own French version of the famous New York comedy program “Saturday Night Live”).

The original SNL has been one of my favorite shows since childhood, so I made a definite point of watching the first two SNL Québec episodes as soon as they aired (you can catch them on Télé-Québec’s website by clicking HERE [1] and HERE [2]).

Like most of the public, I had never seen or heard of Katherine Levac until that point.   But the public is always looking for something new in comedy — and Levac brilliantly pulled off the funniest skits as Page Beaulieu, a Franco-Ontarienne; blabbering away like a twit in a not-so-eloquent, exaggerated Southwest Ontario Francophone accent with a very strong English-influenced intonation.   Little did I know at that the time that Levac herself was Franco-Onterienne, from the Eastern Ontario Francophone belt (her natural Ontario French accent from Eastern Ontario is quite different than the Ontario French accent spoken in SW Ontario, but nonetheless, she was perfect fit for the role).   Since then, Levac has repeatedly appeared on television this past spring and summer, has appeared on numerous radio programs, and even made a stage-appearance the other evening at the Prix Gémeaux Awards (you can’t get much bigger than that!!).   It looks like she is that new spark that the public has been craving.

If the past successes of the original SNL stars from New York (many of whom were Anglo-Canadian) proves to be an accurate yard stick… I think we’re going to see a LOT of Katherine Levac, for many years to come !!

Télé-Québec has decided to produce an episode of SNL Québec once every month.   The next one will be airing on Saturday, September 20th at 7:00pm on Télé-Québec.  There will be a pre-airing show on Friday, September 19th at 10:00pm.   If your regional television provider elsewhere in Canada (ie: West of Toronto and Windsor or East of New Brunswick) does not carry Télé-Québec, don’t worry… just wait a few days until after the airing and then check Télé-Québec’s website by clicking HERE (let’s keep our fingers crossed that the full episodes will be posted online).

Oh… and the next episode is supposed to be hosted by Normand Brathwaite (the subject of an earlier post).

So with SNL and L’Été indien as “the” shows to watch this weekend, I wish you happy viewing, and a good end to your week!