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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”)
  • 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).

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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 🙂

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Portrait of a village: Debden, SK (#340)

Radio Canada International (RCI) is Canada’s public “international broadcaster”.

It’s sort of a smaller version of Canada’s equivalent of BBC International or Radio France International (RFI).

It falls under the umbrella of CBC – Radio-Canada, but it does not broadcast within Canada.  Rather it broadcasts to all corners of the globe.   It seeks to tell Canada’s story to the world.

This also includes many stories pertaining to Québec and Canada’s overall Francophone nature.

Here is one such story… The story of the Francophone village of “Debden“, North of Prince Albert in Northern Saskatchewan.

I’m providing this report to you because Canada’s Francophone communities outside of Québec often share many cultural traits and realities with communities within Québec – which, together, weave Canada’s overall Francophone nature into one pattern from coast-to-coast.

If you are working to improve your French, the following report is spoken in international, standardized French, albeit with our own homegrown accent.  The speed and accent in the report should be relatively conducive for language learners (one of the main reasons I chose to present you with this particular report).

Click the following link to listen to the 10 minute report from Radio Canada International:

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As an aside, I added a little bit of information about Debden and its particular French accent in the post on Prairie & Western Canada French Accents (click the link).

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(Photo Above:  Centre communautaire de Debden)

(Video Below:  John Arcand is quite a famous Francophone fiddler from Debden.  This is one of his songs)

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A map of the French accent zone in which Debden is situated (You’ll see it on the right hand side of the map, near the top of the highlighted towns, a 2:00 hour drive straight North of Saskatoon)

Two “mystery forts” tied to Québec’s role in founding Alberta and Western Canada (#330)

(Click any image below to enlarge)

Prior to Britain’s control over all of what was to become British Canada (in the run up to confederation and independence), much of what was New France was governed by administrators based in Québec City and Montréal.

It is well known that the reach of New France extended from Labrador in the North, to New Orleans in the South.

But surprisingly, today, what were the “westernmost” reaches of New France rarely receive attention in the media or elsewhere outside of the Prairies (especially in Québec itself).  It is a history which is better known to students from Western Canada than to those elsewhere (much of this history is mandatory learning material for high school students in the Prairie provinces).

When I first moved to Eastern Canada way back when, I was surprised (even shocked) to learn that very few people in Eastern Canada knew anything about the pre-British, pre-1763 New France influence throughout Manitoba, into the heart of Saskatchewan, and even into Alberta.

Coming from Alberta and having lived in all four Western Provinces, at the time I simply took it for granted that was a part of history which everyone everywhere knew about.

Funny how it is “Louisiana” which primarily manages to disproportionately steal everyone else’s thunder garner so much attention when it comes to talking about the “far-reaches” of New France and subsequent turns-of-events… but whatever… damned Cajuns, Zachary Richard & Louisiana!!!  I suppose Louisiana is cool too 🙂

As an aside, I believe it was from the New France era that the word “Soyeu” became part of Prairie French in Western Canada, and particularly Albertan/Saskatchewan French.   It’s an old word from Old Picard and old Wallon French which literally means to saw something in half… ie: “Wednesday” (which saws the week in half).

In Québec and Ontario, the closest might be the French expression “nombil de la semaine”, but “soyeu” is more of a direct translation for “Wednesday” than it is an expression.

When I moved to Québec at the beginning of the 2000s, I told a friend that I would call her on “Soyeu”.  It was only when I saw the look her face that I realized that nobody outside of Western Canada knew what “soyeu” meant… Lundi, mardi, “soyeu“, jeudi, vendredi, samedi, dimanche — NOPE… just blank stares in both Québec and Ontario.  

Nowdays, young Francophones in Alberta  generally just say mercredi.  However it is still interesting to know that there continues to be somewhat of a direct New France influence on Prairie French.

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Prairies 6

At least two French forts (and possibly two others) were built in Saskatchewan in the 1750s.

(The HBC established their own “Fort Espérance” after the British hand-over, but it is speculated that a New France fort existed at the same site in Saskatchewan much earlier)

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At least one French fort (Fort la Biche) and possibly one other (Fort la Jonquière) were built in Alberta in the 1750s.

After the change of administration from New France to British North America, many of the forts in Western Canada continued to be administered by Francophone-ran trading companies, mostly as trading outposts (with an administration based in Montréal).

Others were converted to new regime military installations.

Yet others were abandoned.

Some have been restored and exist as museums today.

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(ABOVE:  Restored Ft. Rouge)

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(ABOVE:  Restored Fort Bas de la Rivière) 

Some New France-era forts have since become major urban centres or modern-day communities.  For example:

  • Fort Rouge became Winnipeg,
  • Fort Dauphin became Dauphin (MB),
  • Fort la Reine became Portage La Prairie (MB).

Of those forts which were abandoned, their locations are generally known, and markers have been placed where they once stood (such as the case for Fort Bourbon II, Fort à La Corne, or Fort Maurepas II).   Yet many (perhaps most) have not undergone archaeological excavation (a fact which completely baffles me – but which could mean that many new and exciting discoveries are yet to come).

Of all the New France-era forts, the location of Fort à La Corne (in Saskatchewan) is the westernmost confirmed location.   It was also the first place grain was grown in Western Canada.  Its exact location was on an unstable sandy spit of land on the banks of the confluence of the North and South Saskatchewan Rivers.   The spit of land was presumably washed away generations ago, and the earthen cliffs above the land began to fall into the river in 2009.  The road and the trails leading to the exact location have now been closed.

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For all you Google Streetview enthusiasts, you can view the viewpoint above the site by clicking here:  https://www.google.ca/maps/@53.233378,-105.086365,3a,66.8y,44.32h,86.78t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sIubHklZaehf7EkWsfM19wg!2e0?hl=en

Fort La Biche and Fort la Jonquière

Yet there were two forts further West of Fort à La Corne, and their locations remain mysteries.  I find it surprising that the fate, location, and historic roles of these two westernmost forts do continue to remain a major mystery.

Fort La Biche on the “La Biche River” in Alberta (the “Red Deer River” in English) was established at an unknown location.   Many speculate it was actually established on or near the actual site of Red Deer Alberta, but I have not seen any proof that Red Deer was the actual location.  The internet is almost silent on the issue (offering no proof of location).

The location of Fort La Jonquière also remains a mystery, but one with a potentially more exciting story, and perhaps a much more significant role in history.

There are four suspected locations for Fort La Jonquière:

  1. Prince Albert, Saskatchewan,
  2. Edmonton, Alberta
  3. Calgary, Alberta (within view of the Rocky Mountains)
  4. There is a 4th possibility that it could have also been built in the Foothills of the Rocky Mountains, meaning that the men of Pierre Gaultier de Varennes et de La Vérendrye would have been the first Europeans to have seen and possibly set foot in the Rocky Mountains.

With the exception of Fort La Biche (Alberta), Fort La Jonquière could have been the westernmost post of the French Empire.

Furthermore, if it was located at Edmonton or Calgary, it would have begun a trading tradition with the local aboriginals which possibly could have given rise to later decisions by British explorers and trading companies to establish more modern forts at the same locations (such as Fort Edmonton, which has since become the major Canadian city of Edmonton and the capital of Alberta).

In fact, some have speculated that Fort La Jonquière could have possibly been on or near the site of actual Fort Edmonton (now the site of the Alberta legislature – the seat of Alberta’s provincial government).

LegislatureFortEd

(ABOVE:  A photo between 1905 and 1912 in Edmonton, with the Alberta provincial legislative (government) building in the background, and Fort Edmonton in the foreground — possibly the original site of Fort La Jonquière).

Considering the impact these Québec-administered forts have had in founding Western Canada, I find it amazing that the story, locations, and relevance of two of the most historically significant forts (Fort La Biche and Fort Jonquière) remain a mystery to this day – especially if they were instigating factors in spurring trade, which subsequently lead to later decisions to found Edmonton or Calgary.

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Some info for additional reading:  following the change of administration from New France to British North America, the Hudson’s Bay Company became the de facto government of what was Western and Northern Canada.   It quickly established dozens and dozens of subsequent forts across the land.  Yet many (perhaps most) continued to be Francophone-administered (despite being under British control).

This was a major reason why French continued to be Western Canada’s primary language until the last half of the 1800s (and even into the 20th century in many communities — a legacy of much of Western Canada’s current French regions).

Here is a link for the HBC forts:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Hudson%27s_Bay_Company_trading_posts

Here is the only open-source map I could find of the HBC forts (although it’s not very good):

HBC forts

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P.S…

If Fort La Jonquière does turn out to be the original foundations of Edmonton… why couldn’t they have found some place warmer, like Florida, or Singapore !?!?!

But at least there’s no or little humidity in the Western part of the Prairies.  I’ve never found the winters there much colder than Toronto, Ottawa, Montréal or Québec City (where it is quite humid).  -25 degrees Celsius with no humidity in the Prairies = -10 degrees in Toronto / Montréal with humidity.

Anyway, we can see the New France heritage to this day in the Prairies.  For example, there are those in Edmonton who still keep those ‘ole Prairie Voyageur traditions alive and well (Alberta through-and-through)…

And also in Winnipeg

You’ll even find French advertising in the Prairies if you look for it (here is an example)…

But fancy new trains don’t mean that it’s all urban-urban.

Here’s the part of the West’s traditions which I can identify with from my own youth — and it started in no small part with the legacy of our New France heritage back in the 1700s…

Even in the most conservative and Anglophone regions of Canada (such as inAlberta’s deep rural South, in the small town of Brooks), we continue to see the legacy of New France’s Prairie.  Almost 300 years later, it continues to make in-roads at all levels of government.

These are points of pride for people on the Prairies (both Anglophones and Francophones) — otherwise we wouldn’t be seeing such gestures such as the one you’re about to see at City Hall in Brooks.