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One week after the Federal election: The aftermath in Québec’s context (#380)

The following is a commentary I wrote, in conjunction with consultations and discussions with Andrew Griffith of the widely read blog Multicultural Meanderings.

It is a blog worth following (it’s very unique and insightful).

It has been a week since the Federal election (although it feels like more).  Stephen Harper is Prime Minster for a few more days.

It is not unreasonable to ask what has changed, in particular in Québec.  Although Prime Minister-Elect Justin Trudeau will not assume office until November 4th, the answer is that actually quite a lot has changed.

In fact, everything.

This week we are seeing the convergence of two very important events in Canadian history.  Their importance is not to be underestimated.   How these two events are being viewed in Québec constitutes an earthquake of change.

First, the obvious event which everyone is talking about in Québec is how a Liberal government, headed by a new leader who appears to embrace a new spirit of openness (relative to the outgoing Prime Minister), embodies a focal point for cohesiveness in both a pan-Canadian and Québec societal sense, rather than regional or partisan divisiveness.

Second, and perhaps more profound, is that this week marks the 20th anniversary of the 1995 referendum for Québec independence.  Yet, the manner in which this week is already unfolding, being talked about, and “felt” with the backdrop of a newly elected Trudeau-led government is something I would not have fathomed only a year ago.

Political commentators in Canada’s English media often report on events in Québec from the perspective of being “outside the fish-bowl looking in”.   Sure, they can tell you which direction the fish are swimming, as well as the colour of the fish and the pebbles.

However, how the water tastes, the suitability of its temperature, and how the fish feel about each other (and how they feel about those peering in at them from outside the bowl) can only be told from the perspective of the fish themselves.

I’m going to take a crack at describing the tone in Québec from the perspective of the fish (ignoring the colours of the pebbles and the likes).

Let’s back up to a year ago.  

Trudeau had already been head of the Liberal party for more than a year.  Not only was his party in third place in terms of physical seat counts, but in the minds of Québécois, he might have well been in fifth place.  The Liberals were stagnant from a legacy going back to the 1990s, years of leadership gaffes, and a lack of innovative policy.

For the longest time, Trudeau was not making decisions which demarcated himself as a credible replacement to Stephen Harper, and was viewed in Québec as the greater of the two evils.

A large part of the reason was that in the minds of Québécois, he was viewed as “the son of…”.  To many Francophones in Québec, Pierre Trudeau (Justin’s father) is still viewed as the man who forced a constitution down the throats of Québec rather than finding common ground which could have seen Québec otherwise sign it.   To this day, the constitution is regarded by Québec’s baby-boomer generation as being an illegitimate document, and by some as a reason to withdraw from Canada.

This all played against Trudeau (Jr.) for the longest time in Québec.  He was viewed as leader who was set to go nowhere (another in a long line of Liberal Martins, Dions and Ignatiefs).

Let’s move forward by a few months to the winter of 2015 and what happened on the provincial political scene.  

Pierre Karl Péladeau (PKP) was campaigning hard for the leadership of the Parti Québécois (PQ).   With Harper at the helm of Canada, those in the sovereigntist camp saw PKP as the man to take on the Federal government and achieve sovereignty.  He was a successful billionaire, he was business-friendy (able to connect with a new demographic) and he was viewed a potential “saviour” (to quote an often-used word in sovereignist circles last winter).   The optimism towards PKP from both soft and hard sovereigntists alike had not been seen since the days of Lucien Bouchard.

Add to this mix that PKP’s wife, Julie Snyder, is Québec’s #2 pop-culture superstar, only eclipsed by Céline Dion.  Thus,  the PKP/Snyder power-couple was viewed as a potentially unstoppable force to woo the masses and lead Québec to sovereignty.

But starting last April, PKP proved to be awkward in his speeches.  His stances on critically important issues were incoherent.  For example, one day he would say the Bloc Québecois was utterly useless in Ottawa, and the next day he would say it was as important as oxygen is to life.  He would attack immigrants as being detrimental to the sovereignty movement on one day, and then the next day he would say that he loves them and that they’re family.

It was clear that PKP was testing the waters in every direction to see what issues might find traction with the public rather than speak from consensus-reached convictions.  It showed a side of him the public did not like.  In the end he began to develop an aura of “playing” the public.  It diminished his credibly, and prevented support from ever coalescing on a massive scale (he ended up winning the PQ leadership with only 58% of the membership vote, and he and his party have only ever hovered in the 32%-35% percentile range of public approval since his accession as party leader).

In addition, Julie Snyder’s injection of “showmanship” into sovereignist politics (using her TV programs to drum up nationalism, and even going so far as to give autographs in exchange for PQ membership cards at the subway entrances) has been viewed with more and more cynicism on the part of the public.   The Julie card appears to have backfired, and her Princess Diana styled wedding in August seemed to be the straw that broke the back of a camel named “credibility”.

This past summer, the PKP/Snyder duo flopped faster than an ice-cream cone melts in the August sun.   In Québec, you often hear the phrase “There was no PKP effect” (let alone any political honeymoon) when political commentators talk of the new PKP era of sovereigntist politics.   The provincial Liberal government in Québec City has managed to remain at the top of the polls (although their overall polling numbers are not sky-high either).

Fast forward to the present and back to federal politics. 

Three weeks before the Federal election the Trudeau Liberals attracted the public’s attention in both Québec and English Canada.

The Liberals developed a wide-range of policy proposals, and famously broke the mould needing to avoid deficits.  They were able to position themselves as the ‘change’ option.   This shift saw their “no-harm, broad-range middle-ground” brand positioned to the left of the Conservatives.

The NDP — hemmed in by fears they would constitute being irresponsible spenders — adhered to deficit-avoiding orthodoxy (in itself less distinct from the Conservatives).  Given the NDP orthodoxy on avoiding deficits allowed the Liberals to carve a platform niche.

In Québec, a lack of enthusiasm for the PQ translated into a lack of enthusiasm for the Bloc Québécois.  The Bloc was already dealing with a troubled recent past.  It was not viewed as being organized (several months ago it voted in a highly unpopular leader, Mario Beaulieu, who was to be booted out a short while later and succeeded by a recycled Gilles Duceppe).

The Bloc was simply not viewed as a viable contender (the PQ and the Bloc were both riding on the same sinking ship – leaving the public to ask “Why bother?”).   On election night, the Bloc had the lowest percent of the popular vote in the history of any sovereignist party in Québec (and only gained new seats through a division of the popular vote, which saw the majority of the popular vote in those same ridings go to the Liberals and NDP – and not to the Bloc).

Yes, the Conservatives played up the Niqab issue in Québec, and kept it front-and-centre.  In past elections, the Conservatives’ success hinged on being able to play to their base.  They believed the PQ’s 2013/2014 hijab/secular debate in Québec ignited the same base they were looking for.  Many of the niqab announcements were made in Quebec..

Even if the public shared the view that the niqab should not be worn during citizenship ceremonies or in the public civil service, Québec’s and Canada’s public showed that they have a greater distaste for “wedge politics”.

Ultimately, the public proved they would rather vote against wedge politics than for policies invoked by such politics.    In nutshell, the Conservatives overplayed their card.  The tipping point perhaps came with the ‘snitch-line’ announcement (a new government hotline to denounce barbaric cultural practices) by Ministers Leitch and Alexander.

Combined with a lack of enthusiasm for Harper-style politics in many other areas of governance, it is noteworthy that the Conservative gains in Québec were with moderate Clark/Mulroney PC-styled MP’s, and not Harper-style MP’s (the Conservatives increased their seat count to 12 from 5 in Québec, however their share of the popular vote in Quebec only increased to 16.7 compared to 16.5 percent in the previous election).

The Bloc and the Conservatives both played politics on the “extreme ends” of the political spectrum.  It left a bad taste in the mouths of both English and French Canada.

On the other end of the political spectrum was the NDP.   Traditionally another “extreme end” party, Mulcair tried to moderate the NDP’s tone, pulling it towards the centre on many issues.

However, the feeling in Québec (and seemingly elsewhere in Canada) was that Muclair was trying to bring the party towards the centre on one hand, yet trying not to alienate his own far-left base on the other.  It left room for vast amounts of doubt and uncertainty in the minds of the electorate.   Not wanting to risk another bout of “extreme end politics”, the public quickly jumped off the NDP ship.

The niqab issue also played a role.  Mulcair’s defence of the niqab was framed in legal terms in the context of the Charter and Constitution, a sore point with many in Quebec.   In contrast, while having the same substantive position, Trudeau spoke in terms of values, a softer way of making the same point.

Who did this leave as the first choice for Québec and English Canada?   The Trudeau Liberals.

Talk radio and TV interview programs tend to reflect a wide spectrum of the public’s thoughts towards issues of the day.   What I find fascinating in all of this is that during the past week, Québec’s talk radio (even those commentators and radio hosts who have been cozy with the Conservatives / NDP / Bloc, or vehement anti-Liberals in the past) all seem optimistic — or at the minimum, comfortable — about Trudeau’s victory.

You get the sense that many are even relieved that there is finally middle ground which is finding broad-range consensus.   It is a new middle-ground which has the allures of being acceptable to both the left and right elements in Québec’s society, in addition to Atlantic Canada, Ontario, the Prairies, and BC.

The newly elected Conservatives MP’s in Québec and elsewhere in Canada appear to be more moderate than Conservatives of the past.  The NDP members who won their seats are more centrist than those who were voted out.  All of this is resonating in Québec.

Many sovereignists for the first time are not sad to see the end of the BQ (that’s new).   Yet this week in sovereignist camps, there has been quite a bit of talk about how they can learn from the federal Conservatives’ mistakes (as well as the mistakes of the Marois era).

There is now talk that the PQ may want to consider abandoning nationalist identity policies, and embrace all-inclusive (ie: a “multicultural’ish” but labelled as interculturalism, of course) style of sovereigntist policies in order to try to woo the youth and the electorate in the 2018 provincial election.   The PQ may be looking for ways to capitalize the public’s sentiment enough is enough with divisive politics based on ethno-religious grounds (ie: the niqab and state secularism).

In this same vein, the BQ looks as if it may be trying to quickly create their own “Trudeau” by having 24 year-old (and defeated BQ candidate) Catherine Fournier slipped into presidency of the BQ.   Fournier has been front-and-centre in Québec’s talk-show and panel circuit for about 6 months now.

She has taken many by surprise with her maturity and insight, and people are saying she’s a real change from the old guard.  I don’t have any idea if she would be able to woo the youth to the sovereignist cause.  However, she’s getting noticed, and she may be just the type to introduce a style of “multicultural’ish” sovereignty.

Yet, if open-style politics led to Trudeau’s election win, he may have already taken the sail out of the sovereigntist movement’s countermeasures (it is difficult for an opposition party to re-invent itself on a new platform when their number one challenger already owns that platform).

The question will be if he can avoid a Federal-Provincial clash of ideologies and values with Québec leading up to the 2018 provincial election (Harper managed to take the wind out of the sails of Québec’s sovereignist politics by staying out of matters of provincial jurisdiction and keeping a tight rein on what issues his MP’s were allowed to comment on… It remains to be seen how Trudeau will manage to juggle similar issues).

For the first time after a federal election, people on the street and in the media in Québec are no longer referring to the Canadian West as the “Conservative base” or the “Conservative West”.   Yes, the majority of the Prairie ridings have gone Conservative, yet Québec’s political commentators are emphasizing the fact that that a large chunk of the Prairie’s Conservative ridings only saw Conservatives elected through vote splitting, with the majority of the popular vote in many ridings going to the Liberals/NDP – especially in cities which make up the bulk of the Prairie’s population and decision-making base:  Edmonton, Calgary, Regina, Saskatoon and Winnipeg.

That’s a big change in the conversation in Québec, and an even larger change in how Québec views the rest of Canada.

To see almost no federalism-bashing or Canada-bashing in Québec following a very long and hotly (even venomously) contested election — even from those in the sovereignist camp who traditionally love to Canada bash — is quite a game-changer.

To think that we’re seeing this change in tone during the week of the 20th anniversary of the 1995 referendum makes it even more significant.


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

You might say that this post is “childish”, but that is exactly what I am aiming for.

(A note to readers outside Canada:  this post contains cultural references which are likely more familiar to Anglophone Canadians than to people outside Canada).

My last post on the small Francophone town of Debden, in northern Saskatchewan, was no accident.  In this post you will see why.

For those of you who grew up in Canada’s Anglophone experience, as children (from the time of birth to the age of perhaps 10 or 12), you were surrounded in a world of “Canadian pop-culture for children”.

It didn’t matter which of the 10 provinces or 3 territories you lived in – the experience was very much the same for children across the country (which is an amazing feat considering the distances involved).

  • Kids across the country played with the same toys (Mr. Potato head, Jenga, Star Wars action figures, My Little Pony, cabbage patch dolls…)
  • We listened to kids’ music which our peers listened to (The Chipmunks, Sharon, Louis & Bram…)
  • We watched the same children’s movies as our peers (Bambi, Snow White…)
  • We watched the same children’s television programs (Canadian Sesame street [which was somewhat different than the US Sesame Street], the Smurfs, Paddington Bear, Fraggle rock, The Friendly Giant, Polk-a-dot door…)

Of course, different ages had different pop-cultural references(toys, programs, and songs for a three year old toddler would be different than for a child 8 years of age).

But the experiences were generally the same for children who grew up in the same age bracket as you.

We can group such references from three different angles.

(1)  International children’s culture shared by children across borders (the Smurfs are Belgian, Paddington Bear is British, Fraggle Rock was a tri-way British/American/Canadian produced program, Snow White is American, etc).

(2)  National children’s culture (Polk-a-dot door was specifically Canadian, as were Sharon, Louis & Bram, Degrassi Junior High, The Friendly Giant, table top hockey toy sets are almost a uniquely Canadian-used toy, etc.)

(3)  And then there is localized children’s culture. I can offer you some of examples.

I remember as a young child playing with toy logging equipment when I lived in Northern B.C. (Yup!  Toy logging trucks and toy chain saws as I imitated what I saw around me in Terrace, BC).

Later, when I grew up on the Prairies, I recall I used to love to play with toy farm sets.  Around age 8, I would play for hours with my toy tractors and animals, imitating what I saw on the farms around the areas we lived.

(As an adult, I play with motorbikes… but they ain’t toys – hahaha — but on second thought, I suppose they are!).

I have friends from the Atlantic Provinces who tell me they played with “fishing” toys as children, such as toy fishing boats, nets, and toy lobster cages (It makes me wonder what toys kids in the far Arctic play with).

But have you ever wondered what children’s pop-culture might be like for children in Québec?

Many of the references I provided above are “English-language” references.

Granted, many of the international references exist for children in Québec, as they do for children elsewhere in Canada and in other countries (translation of Disney movies, the Smurfs and Tin-Tin from Belgium, Babar from France, Barbie Dolls, Star Wars and Superman action figurines, etc.)

Yet for Francophone children in Québec, many of the children’s pop-culture references at a “national level” are different from those of Anglophone Canadians.  In Québec there was no Polk-a-Dot Door, no Mr. Rogers, no The Friendly giant, no Sharon, Louis, and Bram.

Children and adolescents in Québec (and Francophone children elsewhere in Canada) grew up (and continue to grow up) with unique pop-culture references such as

  • Watatatow (sort of like a “Saved by the bell”)
  • Ramdam
  • Bobino & Bobinette (there’s an oldie for you!)
  • Sol, le clown (another timeless classic!)
  • a Québec version of Sesame street entitled “Bonjour Sésame”

Now for the shocker!

(Buckle up, because you might fall off your chair with this next one)

Over the years, when people in Québec have found out I have family roots in Saskatchewan going back generations, what do you think one of their first reactions and comments to me were?

Think about it for a moment…

Come on, what do you think it might be?

Perhaps a reference about the flatness of the Prairies?  The cold Prairie winters?  Wheat fields?  Come on, think hard…

Hint:  It’s not about being to continuously see your dog running away in the distance three days after having lost it…

I’ll give you one more second to think about it…

(Trust me when I say you’re not going to believe this one!)…

Can’t come up with the answer?  In fact…

One of the first sure-fire comments I routinely receive from Québécois when they discover my Saskatchewan roots is…

“Oh! Saskatchewan! That’s where Carmen Campagne is from!!” (I bet you didn’t see that one coming!)

Boy, if I had a dollar for every time I heard that statement in Québec… !!

I’ll make 2 bets with you:

Bet 1:  If you’re Anglophone Canadian, you likely have no idea who Carmen Campagne is.

Do you know who Carmen Campagne is?  If you do not, that means that many cultural aspects of the Two Solitudes remain alive and well (as you can see).

Bet 2:  I would venture to say that most people who grew up in Québec, and who are anywhere from 0 to 50 years of age knows who she is (they have either grown up listening her, or have had children who have grown up listening to her).  Likely there are hundreds and hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of Québécois whose first thoughts turn to Carmen Campagne when they think of Saskatchewan.

In fact, because there are so many Québecois who may know who she is, it is quite possible that in terms of real numbers alone, Carmen Campagne could be one of the most well-known Saskatchewanites outside Saskatchewan (and possibly in the world).

How is that for a jaw-dropper for you !!  (Hello Two Canada’s Two Solitudes!)

Carmen Campagne is a French language children’s singer & entertainer.  Perhaps the closest Anglophone Canadian equivalent would be Raffi, or the singers from the group Sharon, Louis and Bram.

Now you can see why I wrote yesterday’s post on Debden, Saskatchewan.

In the last post, I specifically wanted to emphasize that there are many towns and villages all across Saskatchewan with significant Francophone populations (as I’ve said before, everything in this blog all weaves together to give you a much broader and more complete portrait of Québec’s culture, its place in Canada, Canada’s Francophone culture in general, and often how it relates to Canada’s Anglophone realities.  (Funny how different posts keep “bumping into each other”, isn’t it?)

She is a Fransaskoise (a Saskatchewan Francophone) children’s singer and quite famous in Québec and all across French Canada.

She is from the Francophone town of Willow Bunch in Southern Saskatchewan – South of Moose Jaw

(BELOW is a map of the French sub-accent zone in Southern Saskatchewan which encompasses Willow-Bunch).

So Sk 4

For Francophone children in Québec, she is part of their childhood memories.  The songs she sings are part of Québec’s children’s references when growing up.

This is not only an example of Québec’s own culture for children, but it also serves to show how Canada’s overall Francophone society is tied together (across provincial lines).

Just as Anglophone adults might make quip remarks among themselves regarding their own childhood pop-culture references, such as saying “That guy’s beard is as white as Papa Smurfs”), adults in Québec also make everyday remarks regarding their own childhood references;

  • That lady there looks as sad as the clown Sol”, or
  • “Hey!  I told you to turn the radio to a hit-music channel… not something like Carmen Campagne!”

Children’s culture, for any society, eventually becomes part of our adult culture.  It is what makes a society unique, and reinforces societal bonds of having “grown up together”, and “experienced the world as one”.

It’s interesting, and it is something I feel more Anglophone Canadians should be aware of.

I’ll leave you with a couple YouTube videos of some of Carmen Campagne’s songs.   Now, you can also say you’ve experienced a little piece of what Québécois (and Francophones across Canada) have collectively grown up with as children 🙂

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

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

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

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

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

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


Above:  Haute-Mauricie on a map

Below:  The town of La Tuque

La Tuque d'aujourd'hui

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


Some things in the film which stand out for me :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are ways to sell the wood.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Once my translation stops…

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

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

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

How summer vacation accentuates the “Two Solitudes” (#336)

You may recall that several months ago I wrote a post (in French) entitled “Faites le saut!” (Take the plunge).  

That post was a little nudge for everyone in Canada to take the opportunity to explore other parts of the country they may not know very well.  It was my own little way of giving a nudge (and a hint) to bite the bullet of apprehension (financially or on a personal-preference level), just take the plunge, and simply do it.

But actually, I wrote the post in French because Francophone Québécois were more my target audience than Anglophone Canadians in that particular post (there are Francophones who also follow this blog).

It has always been my “impression” that Québécois are much more apt to “stay home” (vacation in Québec) or “leave the country” during their vacations, than they are to step foot in another province or another part of the country (even very close regions).

This impression comes from the fact that I know many people in Québec who have never been elsewhere in Canada, even if they live only a 3 hour drive from New Brunswick, or a 90 minute drive to Ottawa (Ontario).

Yet, on the reverse, you often get the impression that Anglophone Canadians who have not traveled to other provinces (on multiple occasions to multiple provinces) tend to be the “exception” rather than the “rule”.

I think there are a couple of reasons for this:

  • Anglophones traditionally move around Canada for work, school or simply a new adventure. Because of ease-of-language, Anglophones view such moves as natural as someone from Québec would view a move from Trois-Rivières to Québec City.
  • Because so many Anglophones live in towns, cities, and provinces different from those where they were born or grew up, it makes it so Anglophones have relatives and friends spread all over Canada. Thus vacations and holiday seasons are spent travelling around the country to re-connect with loved ones (just think how busy the airports are at Christmas with people travelling to see relatives and friends all around the country, and look at all the out-of-province license plates travelling across Canada during the summer).

Contrast this with Québécois:

  • Because of language, Québécois do not move their homes around Canada nearly as much as Anglophones (yet interestingly, I get the impression that Francophones who are originally from other provinces, such as Acadians from New Brunswick, or Néo-Terrois from the Northwest Territories, are just as apt to travel and move around Canada as Anglophones are).
  • This results in Québécois having only a fraction of the number of personal relations and relatives in other provinces compared to their Anglophone compatriots, and thus exposes them to fewer travel opportunities elsewhere in Canada.

Oddly enough (with emphasis on the word “odd”), in all my travels I have found that I have been more likely to run into Québécois in rural areas of the United States, Europe, and even far away rural regions such as steppeland villages in Africa, while backpacking in Tadjikistan, cycling around Bhutan, driving around the Caucuses, while 4×4’ing in Oman, or when taking a bus in Malaysia or Mongolia, than I would be inclined to run into Québécois in rural regions of Manitoba or British Columbia.

Dead Serious! (as odd as it is)

But you will without a doubt run into Franco-Colombiens or Franco-Manitobains often enough as you travel in rural BC or rural Manitoba, just as you would run into Francophones in other provinces who are originally from those provinces   😉  Sometimes it’s simply a matter of turning on your “Franco-dar” to pin-point them or flush them out in the crowd  🙂 

In my opinion, a lack of travel WITHIN Canada itself is a major factor which contributes to the notion of the Two Solitudes.

But I will say that I think the situation is getting better on a couple of fronts.

  • People view planes more as “buses” now than they do some exotic form of transport.  The last 20 years has seen people hesitate less about taking a plane to other parts of the country — and I am running into more and more Québécois on vacation across Canada, or who have moved to other regions of the country (especially to Alberta).
  • The internet has also drastically “shrunk” Canada over the past 20 years for many Francophones in Québec (just as it has for Anglophones).  The “need” for travel, in order to understand other parts of Canada is not as great as it used to be.  In a sense, we can travel freely and interact with other Canadians all without leaving the seat in front of the computer screen.

I think this might be a contributing factor (perhaps a large factor?) why the sovereignty movement has taken a nose-dive the past 20 years, and can’t seem to take flight despite all sorts of efforts from the pure-et-dure.  

In this sense, Québec’s independence movement and context is very different from that of Scotland and Catalonia.  Canada’s situation is more a matter of a geographic (which equals an emotional) disconnect — ie:  it is human nature for people to be “emotionally” attached to the land on which they live.  If you travel further afield on your own land, the more the opportunity to feel attached to a wider area.  Canada is a HUGE country (a 13 hour flight with two connections from St-John’s, Newfoundland in the far East to Whitehorse, Yukon in the far West).   So it makes sense that it takes an extra effort to travel the land (versus the efforts Germans have to make in Germany).

Fortunately, it appears the internet might be narrowing this geographic disconnect, especially with the youth (both Francophone and Anglophone).

A month ago, Radio-Canada came out with a well-written (but brief) article which provided numerous statistics to explain where Québécois and other Canadians spend their vacations :  Où partez-vous en vacances? La réponse en cartes (Where are you going on vacation?  The response in maps).

Out of all the maps and statistics in the article, one set of statistics stuck out – and confirmed my “impressions” which I just described.

Take a look at the following graph.  It’s self explanatory.

As a side note:  The graph compares Québécois and Ontarian travel patterns.

On that note, Montréal’s media is forever comparing Québec with Ontario… almost as if no other comparisons are to be found in Canada.  I find such a repetitive reflex quite bizarre – especially considering that I believe there are other areas/provinces of Canada which share more in common with Québec than Ontario — so forgive me if I find the repetitive “Québec-Ontario comparisons” excessively overused, and misplaced.  You’ll recall that in other blog posts I have spoken at length on this very topic.  Moving on…

Summer travels1

(Statistics from Réseau Veille Tourism juillet 2013)

People really need to travel more within the country – especially across the linguistic lines and linguistic regions.

There are a ton of places, regional cultures, and special characteristics to explore within Canada (from the Yukon to Newfoundland, and passing through everything in between).

With the Canadian dollar so low, the time has never been better.

And seriously, does the responsibility of bridging the Two Solitudes fall on the shoulders a low dollar?  (That would be pretty pathetic warped if it does).

One last thought:

If anything, this post should serve to demonstrate that the responsibility for bridging the Two Solitudes rests with people on BOTH sides of the linguistic line.

Québec’s “surprise” album (and singer) of the summer (#335)

Almost a year ago, I wrote a post entitled Country music = Québec.

In that post, I explained how Québec’s music roots have always been connected to a genre of French-language country music.

A couple of people I know (who are from Montréal) said I was nuts when I wrote that post.  They told me nobody listens to (French) country music (or any country music).  My response:  “Perhaps you’re right if you live downtown Montréal, and if you base your entire life around downtown Montréal”.   

I told them to just wait for a few months, perhaps a year or so.  I told them with the uptick in French-language country singers and it’s resonance / ties with traditional French Canadian music, that I would bet my bottom dollar that we’d see a virtually unknown French-language country artist come to the fore and top the album charts in Québec.

They thought I was crazy…

Well… the writing was on the wall — and guess what!  It just happened!

The reality (in Québec an elsewhere) is that

  1. many people in Québec listen to French-language country music, and
  2. there can often be a HUGE disconnect between our largest cities and all the rest.  You get the sense that this disconnect becomes as wide as the Pacific when it comes to lifestyles and concerns lived by people who reside in the downtown cores of our larger cities, and all the rest (even the suburbs for that matter).

As usual, the rest of Québec, and the rest of Canada do not all live in downtown Montréal, Toronto, or Vancouver (on that note, one federal party leader in particular better learn this little factoid very fast, or his party will be heading straight down the tubes in October – ok, ok… no more political commentaries, I’ll behave now).

This post will make my point, and will emphasize just how wide that gulf can be (between the city – particularly the city cores — and all the rest).

Guylaine Tanguay is a French-language country singer, from the Saguenay region in Québec – particularly from Dolbeau (I actually wrote a post on her hometown last winter, which you can read by clicking HERE…  (Boy… even I am surprised that I wrote a post on Dolbeau!  I guess I have covered some territory with his blog after all).

Her new album, Inspiration, was one of the best-selling albums in Québec of the entire summer!

Yet, ask someone in Montréal (particularly downtown Montréal), or downtown Québec City, or downtown Ottawa (which I consider within the “Québec urban sphere of influence”) who she is, and you’ll just get blank stares.

But go elsewhere, such as the smaller cities around the province, and you’ll find a good deal of people who know who she is (you don’t even have to go very far… sometimes just as far as the suburbs such as St-Eustache, Gatineau, or Beauport).

Her fifth country music album, Inspiration Country, came out on June 16th,

All Tanguay has done was a little advertising on television, given a few concerts, and the crowds AND SALES came’a flock’in!

Here is the TV advertisement for her latest album:

Province-wide, her album has even bumped out the “Clique’s Montréal’s downtown darlings”, such as Jean Leloup and Yoan, from the top spots.

This little whirlwind named Guylaine Tanguay has the (sometimes quite stuffy) “downtown Montréal cultural class” (informally known as the “Clique du Plateau”) scratching their heads in disbelief (and me shaking my head at their disconnect from the rest of the province).   I actually wrote a post on the Clique du Plateau way back when (click the link).

Whether or not you think a true media Clique exists (ie: media which all beats the same drum in central Montréal), is a question of debate, impressions, and person viewpoints.  Regardless of my own viewpoints, it’s not for me to categorically say if it does or doesn’t exist (there are people with opinions all over the place, and grey comes in all shades).

However, if the Clique were to describe a general “downtown attitude” in any big city, then you could perhaps say it’s a snobby attitude, in the sense that if related media feels “their own” media circles were not the ones to launch or promote someone’s career, or if “they” were not the ones to invite an artist to their TV or downtown radio programs, then it the music must be crap (sigh x 10).

Guylaine Tanguay is one person who could be said to have proved them wrong – and in no small way.

You can check out her website at http://www.guylainetanguay.ca/

Here is an article by a “shocked” and baffled Radio-Canada (hahaha!! Love it!!!)  — Click HERE. 

Here is an article by the Courier de Laval (from the suburbs of Montréal, so it comes with less shock and horror than articles written from downtown Montréal – hahaha!!!).  Click HERE.

You can purchase her hit album online at Archambeault at the following link:  http://boutique.archambault.ca/divertissement/Guylaine-Tanguay

If you wish to purchase single songs off her album (on platforms such as iTunes), they are

  • Jusqu’au bout du monde
  • Colinda
  • Crazy Arms / Dans tes brasIsland In the Stream (avec Mario Pelchat)
  • Thank God I’m a Country Girl
  • Je voudrais être Madelinot
  • Que la lune est belle ce soir (avec Julie Daraîche)
  • Me and Bobby McGee
  • La fête en AcadieCrazy
  • Je voudrais voir la mer (avec Michel Rivard)
  • Embarque ma belle (avec Christian-Marc Gendron)
  • You Are My Sunshine (avec Camille Tanguay)

P.S.  Although my roots are from rural areas (I’m just as comfortable in a pair of shit-kickers as I am sneakers), I have nonetheless lived in some of the largest cities around the world and Canada.  I certainly like many aspects of the larger city “downtown” lifestyles (otherwise I wouldn’t live on a subway line with a direct connection downtown).  But as you can see from the above post, sometimes the snobby “downtown attitude” irks me.  I have spent a LOT of time in and around Montréal’s downtown.  It’s where many friends live.  But like any city, Montréal’s downtown core also has its fair share of this attitude I’m referring to.   Yet, like anything in life, you take the good with the bad – and there is still far more good than bad  🙂