A new battle for the Plains of Abraham?
September 7, 2009 6:54 PM   Subscribe

Two hundred and fifty years ago the Battle of the Plains of Abraham* took place in Quebec City. In a fight that lasted less than an hour (following a three-month siege throughout the summer of 1759), both generals died and the British won Quebec, soon becoming masters of most of North America.

This summer has seen plans for a re-enactment of the battle cancelled and now a controversy over an event to be staged next week, the Moulin à paroles (Mill of Words)**. Plans include a reading of the manifesto of the Front de libération du Québec, a group which carried out bombings and kidnappings throughout the 1960s, culminating in 1970's October Crisis, which is a hot potato that may provoke new trouble on the Plains next week.

*Despite the resoundingly Biblical-sounding name, the Plains of Abraham were merely some fields belonging to a local man named Abraham Martin. They are now part of the Battlefields Park in Quebec City.
**Presumably so named after the successful multimedia show Le Moulin à images mounted last summer for Quebec City's 400th anniversary.
posted by zadcat (91 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
The battle was also given a reference in The Band's wonderful song "Acadian Driftwood": link
posted by Sam Ryan at 7:05 PM on September 7, 2009


Wow, murky audio. This one is the album version.
posted by Sam Ryan at 7:09 PM on September 7, 2009


I am writing a story that has this battle as a pivotal background detail so I like this.
posted by The Whelk at 7:09 PM on September 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I see that even since I composed that post, the Quebec government has confirmed it won't be supporting the event (French-language media link there) which has been denounced as censorship. I could also add this Maclean's link as another sidelight.
posted by zadcat at 7:18 PM on September 7, 2009


Yes, the best way to commemorate the battle between the empires of George II and Louis XV is to read the semi-literate ramblings of 60s marxists. *ugh*

(then again, battle reenactments creep me out too... tough call)
posted by boubelium at 7:23 PM on September 7, 2009


One of the earliest jokes I can remember as a kid (which I'm sure has no truth to it at all, is as old as dirt, and has been told of a thousand other battles) was about the battle of the Plains of Abraham. The lead-in was that Montcalm, in a conference with his officers, instructed a servant to bring his red jacket, "so that if I am wounded during the battle, the men will not see my injury and fight bravely on."

Shortly afterwards, upon seeing the size of the opposing force, he called back his servant to add "while you're at it, bring my brown pants."
posted by mhoye at 7:33 PM on September 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


... Which does the man a great injustice, of course. From Wikipedia:

He (Montcalm) then asked how long he might survive, and was told that he had not many hours remaining. "So much the better," he said; "I am happy that I shall not live to see the surrender of Quebec.

Officers from the garrison came to his bedside to ask his orders and instructions "I will give no more orders," replied the defeated soldier; "I have much business that must be attended to, of greater moment than your ruined garrison and this wretched country. My time is very short; therefore, pray leave me."

The officer withdrew, and none remained in the chamber but his confessor and the Bishop of Quebec. To the latter, he expressed his contempt for his own mutinous and half famished troops, and his admiration for the disciplined valour of his opponents. He died at midnight, and was buried at his own desire in a cavity of the earth formed by the bursting of a bombshell.
I suspect that few of us will die so well.
posted by mhoye at 7:38 PM on September 7, 2009


...or so goes the nationalistic may-or-may-not-be-apocryphal story, anyway.
posted by nasreddin at 7:45 PM on September 7, 2009


My dad took us out of Montreal when I was a very little boy - this was just after the FLQ crisis, and he saw no future there for an Anglo.

Where else in recent colonial history did the losers get so completely smoked on the battlefield and yet get such a liberal peace deal? And look where that got us now. I wonder how things would have spun out for Canada if all the Quebecois had been shipped back to France, or forcibly Anglicized.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:47 PM on September 7, 2009


Battle of the Plains of Abraham - roughly 8 minutes of actual combat defines the entire future of a nation.

Maybe.

Doesn't really explain the Battle of Sainte Foy which was fought the following Spring ...

It was a victory for the French under the Chevalier de Lévis over the British army under General Murray. When compared to the Battle of the Plains of Abraham of the previous September, this battle proved to be a much bloodier affair in terms of the total number of casualties incurred by both sides - 833 French casualties to 1,124 British casualties.

As is so often the case with historical reality (as opposed to storytelling), the French lost the battle for Canada not because they were outfought but because France itself gave up on struggle due to problems at home. As such, while the English continued to replenish and reinforce their troops, the Quebecois were pretty much left to their own devices and thus cut a deal with the English that pretty much allowed them to keep:

1. their land
2. their schools
3. their language
4. their religion

... in return for staying out of the impending Revolutionary war down south. At least, that's how I remember learning it.
posted by philip-random at 7:55 PM on September 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


...or so goes the nationalistic may-or-may-not-be-apocryphal story, anyway.

Well, that's from an American historian and corroborated by other sources, but hey, sure, bring the snark without doing the reading. It's just the internet, after all.
posted by mhoye at 7:56 PM on September 7, 2009


With all due respect, calling Francis Parkman an American historian is like calling Ptolemy a Greek scientist.
posted by nasreddin at 8:01 PM on September 7, 2009


I suspect that few of us will die so well.

I dunno, "Gutshot with a musket ball, spouting sour grapes," sort of pales in comparison to "Peacefully, in my sleep".
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:12 PM on September 7, 2009


My family moved from Montreal in 1974, but I remember the FLQ crisis, especially waking up on a Sunday morning to find my dad drinking coffee and watching channel 10, which was showing still pictures and playing mournful music in between brief announcements that Laporte had been found dead in a car trunk. That was a grim day.

I wonder how things would have spun out for Canada if all the Quebecois had been shipped back to France ....

You can only get shipped back to a place you actually came from in the first place.

... or forcibly Anglicized.

A lot of us were gently Anglicized, including my Dad, a grade-school dropout who didn't speak a word of English before joining the Air Force near the end of World War II, met an anglophone from Toronto, and courted her via progressively improved English letters while posted in Britain, where he developed a taste for roast beef, Yorkshire Pudding, and broad English comedy.

You can take issue with a number of post-defeat political decisions, but pardon me if I don't consider ethnic cleansing a fun alternative history.
posted by maudlin at 8:14 PM on September 7, 2009


Yeah, well, Quebec separatists are pathetic, evil, willfully obtuse, and anything else I can say about them that's bad. I'm half Quebecios. Drove me crazy, while I was doing my PhD at McGill, to try to argue with assistant professors who favoured the goals of the FLQ and felt they were given a raw deal. Really, at best, it's kind of like arguing for pure socialism. If you're a kid in university, it's acceptable, you're feeling your way as you learn to make up your own mind about things. If you're 35, and still decrying how much you as a francophone have been 'colonized' you're either actively trying to ignore reality (which is better, maybe you just like feeling special) or completely stupid. The majority of separatists I've met, unfortunately, fall into the latter category.

Can I make this any more clear? If you're trying to rewrite history, viz The Plains of Abraham, by reciting the rhetoric of the FLQ: dude, you've lost. You've gone so deep into stupidville that you would be doing future generations a favour by wrapping yourself in the Quebec flag and self-immolating, while (hopefully) singing "Gens de Pays" as your fat crackles.

I guess that made my opinion clear.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 8:17 PM on September 7, 2009 [7 favorites]


I think it's understandable for the French-Canadians to feel resentment towards what was a military -- and arguably an attempted cultural -- conquest.

The US wisely doesn't lavish excessive attention on the anniversary of Appomattox.
posted by markkraft at 8:19 PM on September 7, 2009


Ah, Quebec threads; they bring up the best in us Canadians, don't they?
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:20 PM on September 7, 2009


You can only get shipped back to a place you actually came from in the first place.

Sure you can - see Liberia, St. Louis, Jewish Autonomous Oblast, etc.
posted by Meatbomb at 8:21 PM on September 7, 2009


(Sorry, New Orleans not St. Louis)
posted by Meatbomb at 8:22 PM on September 7, 2009


A lot of us were gently Anglicized, including my Dad, a grade-school dropout who didn't speak a word of English

My Sainted Mother was a sixteen-year-old girl who had been terrorized by the nuns in Quebec Catholic schools when my grandfather, a brilliant man of commendable forethought who was the first French-Canadian ever to be appointed vice-president at Prudential Insurance, moved them to Toronto because he felt they should learn English and feel comfortable in the English-speaking world.

It was terrible, the colonization and subjugation they went through. Oh, wait a minute, it wasn't. They all became fluently bilingual (MeFites: you can not understand the horror this instills in die-hard separatists). My mother ended up living in English-Canada, as did her sister. Her brother ended up as a Canadian Tire dealer whose first store was in Hagersville, Ontario. He ultimately moved back to Quebec and made a lot of money.

My mother and my father now enjoy going on cruises at sea. She shudders whenever she hears some French Canadian talking (loudly) to her husband, the both of them dressed alarmingly in swimwear inappropriate to the their age and BMI.

Now, is my mother an elitist? No. She is embarrassed by their willful ignorance and provincialism. There is no better way to become a hick than to be cut off from the outside world. And there is no better way to be cut off by the outside world than by the political class (each member of which speaks perfect English and ensures their children are educated in Europe to achive this as well) dictating to the regular people that English is a threat from which they must be protected.

It's rotten to the core. But nobody's dying, so there will not be an international outcry .
posted by Turtles all the way down at 8:33 PM on September 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


"Where else in recent colonial history did the losers get so completely smoked on the battlefield and yet get such a liberal peace deal? And look where that got us now."

So, you mean that you feel resentment towards the current status quo, where a people were allowed to retain most of their culture and independence, and yet many still want to separate?

Just because they were nicely conquered with a generous peace, why shouldn't they want to separate? Do you heap similar scorn on the Welsh or Scottish, because many of them want full independence?

I'm not defending the old terrorist actions of the Front de libération du Québec, but then again, lots of Quebecois who want full independence wouldn't defend their actions either. I think that pointing out the fact that some loons are going to be loony when it is most politically advantageous for them to do so generates a lot of heat, but very little light on this issue.

Ultimately, who does it hurt if people of a given culture are allowed to form their own government? It would actually say more to the credit of Canada's government to allow self-determination than to take any side in the matter whatsoever.
posted by markkraft at 8:35 PM on September 7, 2009


Nationalism is a strong, hard to understand force. It creates an in-group on somewhat arbitrary grounds (language, for instance: most of the ancestors of the French Canadians didn't have French as a mother tongue, but a regional language of France; but because New France was fairly small and the newcomers didn't all speak the same regional language, everyone switched to French).

Unfortunately, threads that touch on Quebec independance (or lack thereof) usually devolve into English Canadians (some of them) asking why the French Canadians couldn't assimilate, and French Canadians defending their identity, which they often feel on a very visceral level.

Then someone calls someone else une tête carrée or a pea soup and nothing useful comes out of it. It would be nice if we could avoid that.

(For the record, I am French Canadian)
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:42 PM on September 7, 2009


(Oh, and if Stephen Harper were my leader, I would be tempted to secede as well.

Perhaps a healthy part of Quebecois resentment has to do with people feeling like the rest of the country keep dragging them into things that they would rather avoid?!)
posted by markkraft at 8:45 PM on September 7, 2009


markkraft: Which people would this be who are being allowed to form their own government? The Tremblays, LaFleurs, LaTulippes, Paquettes, &c? What part of the territory are these pure laines going to take with them when they secede? What about the other people living there--where do they go? What about the Indians who were there first?

I'll quote your statement:

It would actually say more to the credit of Canada's government to allow self-determination than to take any side in the matter whatsoever.

No, it would not, and to contend this is stupid. With respect, you should be ashamed of yourself.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 8:47 PM on September 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


tête carrée

All right, I heard that Monday, stony Monday! ;-)

And the contrary term, as I last recall, is less pea soup than "Pepper," derived from a term my father used "Pepsi," because the French Canadians were supposed to be cheap in the fifties, when, again apparently, Pepsi was cheaper than coke.

It's all so complicated.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 8:55 PM on September 7, 2009


> To the latter, he expressed his contempt for his own mutinous and half famished troops...

> I suspect that few of us will die so well.


I have a feeling my own last words will include some variation on the phrase "Fuck those guys."
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:55 PM on September 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


"What part of the territory are these pure laines going to take with them when they secede? What about the other people living there--where do they go? What about the Indians who were there first?"

So basically, majority loses then?!

I find it ironic that the argument is that Quebec is so independent, so free, and so sovereign already... but somehow, if it were independent yet obviously a close partner of the rest of Canada, with the closest possible ties and arguably dual citizenship, that the Indians or anyone else who stays in Quebec are going to be horribly oppressed.

What if they actually were more efficient and generally more united than the current status quo? What makes you feel that the current situation is definitively better?!

Seriously though... as a somewhat informed outsider to the situation, I don't think independence is anything to be afraid of... and allowing it actually would say a lot about the Canadian government and its people... at least to a great many who live outside of Canada.
posted by markkraft at 8:55 PM on September 7, 2009


(Or at least the majority of the people of Quebec. If all of Canada could vote on whether Quebec left or not, it frankly would defeat the purpose.)

It's worth noting that if The Russians had a vote in the separation of Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, etc., they'd all still be part of Russia. Nowadays, nobody in the world feels that the Russians made the wrong choice except for Russian ultranationalists.

It would be nice if the Canadians could approach their own country with such understanding, because really... the tighter the grasp, the more Quebec will want separation. I suspect that a more understanding, enlightened view from the rest of Canada would help marginalize the extremists, which would serve all of Canada well.
posted by markkraft at 9:04 PM on September 7, 2009


Seriously though... as a somewhat informed outsider to the situation

Fair enough, markkraft. You make some very good points. And when California secedes, please give me a call and I will return the favour with a little dose of my Canadian wisdom.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 9:07 PM on September 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


One of General James Wolfe's descendants was the drummer in my band - he's even named James Wolfe. FACT.
posted by awfurby at 9:10 PM on September 7, 2009


and allowing it actually would say a lot about the Canadian government and its people

I don't see the Canadian government actively denying anything - they have (quite rightly) insisted that a clear majority on a clear referendum question is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition to considering separation. They have also put forward a host of arguments - some practical, some philosophical, some patriotically sentimental - as to why separation is not desirable for Quebec or for the rest of Canada. In other words, they have behaved, for the most part, as the democratic government of a national federation ought to in the circumstances.
posted by Urban Hermit at 9:12 PM on September 7, 2009


awfurby: Please tell me he has the real bum's eye for clothes!
posted by Turtles all the way down at 9:12 PM on September 7, 2009


I had a class on the History of Quebec in cégep. My teacher (who was a nationalist) thought the most likely outcome was... the statu quo.

I'm kind of tired of the "National Question": it dominates all politics in Quebec, and means that, except for some brief periods (like the recent ADQ episode), the only two viable parties are the Liberals and the PQ, both of whom have leaned to the right, and away from theirs Keynesian past.

I was born in a divided, messy country, and there isn't much I can do about that; some things stand to be improved, but I think we don't have it all bad here.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:18 PM on September 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I dunno. I've often pondered why Quebec wants sovereignty, or more accurately, what that word actually means in this debate. It's my understanding that most separatists envision a Quebec that still uses many of the basic national symbols of Canada (i.e. currency, even passports), so I'm left wondering what the point is. I also think it's just a little unfair to compare Quebec to the Baltic nations. I mean seriously, there's no secret Anglo-Canadian KGB cracking down on basic human rights. I guess overall I believe in unity over separation. We can focus on what draws us together as a nation, and still celebrate our unique culture. Is that really so bad?
posted by Go Banana at 9:26 PM on September 7, 2009


We can focus on what draws us together as a nation

If only we had a better idea of what this was - other than, you know, Tim Hortons...
posted by Urban Hermit at 9:33 PM on September 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


The separatists are fighting yesterday's battle. Francophones may have been second-class citizens up to the 60s but since then it seems to me (now on the west coast in BC where we have our own regional take) that they're rather spoiled by federal pandering. As for the special identity and history argument, it's pure hypocrisy. The last time this debate got fanned up into flames the separatist leaders stated quite explicitly that while they had a right to secede from the rest of Canada, the northern aboriginal inhabitants could never leave a sovereign Quebec. I guess what's sauce for the Canada goose is not sauce for the gander.
posted by binturong at 9:39 PM on September 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


by "leave" I mean become politically independent of...
posted by binturong at 9:42 PM on September 7, 2009


Go Banana: I'm left wondering what the point is

As are many French Canadians in Quebec.

I think it often comes down to the will to right perceived historical wrongs. French and English Canadians didn't get along very well back in the day, partly because of language and culture, and partly because of religion (those fucking papists/orangists). Economically, French Canadians were comparetively poor, and that meant that when industrialisation came in full swing, there was often a French labor/English management divide. And so a lot of acrimony built up, and the colonization discourse took hold (with a lot of comparisons between French Canadians and native Algerians), and we got into the mess we're in.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:45 PM on September 7, 2009


We can only hope that the younger generation in Quebec looks at today's realities and does not continue fighting over their grandparent's grievances. But I have to say there is also a racist element in the whole pure laines mentality and the insistence that all new immigrants send their children to French-speaking schools etc. It's not about loss of cultural identity. The Scots have been dominated by English culture and politics for centuries and you would never mistake a Scotsman for an Englishman (unless you wanted a black eye).
posted by binturong at 9:51 PM on September 7, 2009


mmmm, double double.....
posted by Go Banana at 10:05 PM on September 7, 2009


But I have to say there is also a racist element in the whole pure laines mentality and the insistence that all new immigrants send their children to French-speaking schools etc.

Hmm. I sort of don't want to go there, (because linguistic debate = argh) but what is the link between racism and the French-language school issue?

Because, yes, maintaining the French language is usually non negiotiable for French Quebecers, even Federalists; that's why Trudeau instated all these policies for Francophones outside Quebec.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 10:12 PM on September 7, 2009


To be honest, I don't rate the separation threat much anymore. A certain vocal minority will always make noise but, as a Canadian who has no interest in seeing the world gain any new borders, I'm far more concerned about certain voices of western alienation ... specifically those from Alberta, and how they're going to feel if (when?) their man Harper gets blown out of office in the next month or so.
posted by philip-random at 10:12 PM on September 7, 2009


what is the link between racism and the French-language school issue?

Well, I probably painted with a very broad brush there but I am disturbed by the whole purity concept that comes with the separatist platform (pure laines) and Parizeau's comment that the sovereignty referendum had been defeated by "money and the ethnic vote." Since the majority of Quebec residents are French speakers anyway, the official intolerance of English in schools and on signs in shops etc. goes a little overboard. Yes, I do think of that as racist in the sense that it establishes superior and inferior classes in society based on their culture and language. Ironically, that is the very thing the pequists resented when the French language was disadvantaged.
posted by binturong at 10:56 PM on September 7, 2009


awfurby: Please tell me he has the real bum's eye for clothes!
posted by Turtles all the way down at 5:12 AM on September 8 [+] [!]


Not quite sure what you're asking, but he's always pretty well dressed. Quite stylish.
posted by awfurby at 12:33 AM on September 8, 2009


I ran up the hill from the st. lawrence in the plains of abraham park about ten years ago. I was reasonably fit and it damn near killed me. My ancestors deserved to lose they continent if they couldn't defeat a winded British army.

Where else in recent colonial history did the losers get so completely smoked on the battlefield and yet get such a liberal peace deal? And look where that got us now.

How about everywhere? I didn't think much of Lao Tzu's win by losing taoist philosophy when I first heard it but the French run Canada's civil service and elect prime ministers. Germans have more rights in England than members of the Commonwealth. Post WWII England was the poorest country in western europe with debt that lasted more than 50 years. Everywhere I look the losers eventually win.
posted by srboisvert at 2:32 AM on September 8, 2009


As an outside observer with no stake in it, the Quebec nationalist movement seems to derive from a lot of the same basic worldview as the anti-immigration movement in the states. As an American I don't think that's a particularly kind comparison, but I am sure I am missing a lot of nuance.
posted by feloniousmonk at 3:10 AM on September 8, 2009


"when California secedes, please give me a call and I will return the favour with a little dose of my Canadian wisdom."

When California secedes, I may be too busy to take your phone call immediately, as I would be out in the street celebrating, having cast my vote for secession!
posted by markkraft at 3:29 AM on September 8, 2009


Growing up in Vermont, we would often talk about the Quebec secession issue, and many folks, mostly the old timers, the fifth, sixth, seventh generation Vermonters would say that if Quebec seceded from Canada, then "Vermont should secede from the US because we don't need those flatlandahs tellin us what's what anyhow".
posted by idiopath at 4:14 AM on September 8, 2009


I disgree with this man to the point of seeing red and making tiny punching motions at the screen when I read his blog sometimes, but many of you might benefit from reading Angry French Guy, a blog from a well-spoken, highly intelligent die-hard separatist.

His arguments seem to boil down to a sort of vague English conspiracy theory involving the Montreal Gazette, the "anglicization" of Francophones, and the assertion that Quebec is in the best position to govern its own affairs based on... well, not much, really, but it's something he really likes to assert.

That, and reams and reams and reams of anecdotal episodes in which people are either mean or ignorant about French Quebec culture, and he's manning the ramparts.

There's not much there there in his arguments -- it tends to boil down to the traditional take from the independence angle, which is "Quebec will separate and then [magic happens] and then the world will be wonderful!" -- but it's very well written and gives you an idea of the classic federalist/separatist divide; the unity arguments tend to be based on logic, economics, history and politics, and the separatist arguments tend to rotate around emotion, fierté, wounded pride and a deep burning rage.

One thing to understand is that the separatist movement became a political force at the same time that Quebecers turned away from the church en masse in a political movement called the Quiet Revolution. At the time, this was recognized as a movement towards self-determination, where Quebecers were deciding that they needed to shape their own destinies and not have the Catholic church do it for them. With some hindsight, I'm pretty sure it was just people finding a new religion to follow.

Personally -- as an anglophone living in an 87% French city (and about 6% English with a healthy immigrant population -- I've obviously had a lot of conversations with separatists. The question I can never get answered to any degree of clarity is why, specifically, separation is desired.

The argument is generally that Quebec should separate to protect their culture.

Which spawns two questions: how specifically to protect that culture, and what culture is being protected.

Quebec has laws mandating French in the workplace and French dominance on all public signage, a national French-language radio and television and Internet network that is arguably the best in the free world and focuses almost exclusively on Quebec, and more grant money towards the arts than they could ever sustain as an independent nation. There's not much else that could be done to protect French here, short of adopting North Korean-style media management practices.

As regards which culture is being protected, that's a weird and complicated issue.

The big, ugly elephant in the room is racism, and it's always something that crops up and everyone's afraid to touch it. But the core of the separatist vision is the idyllic vision of the all-white, all-Francophone years of the 1930; the chilling moment of clarity after the 1995 was the separatist figurehead Jacques Parizeau declaring the failure of the referendum was due to "Money and the Ethnic Vote," which is barely even a dog whistle towards "Jews and immigrants." Even on the Angry French Guy blog, which is reasonably intelligent, there's a current of xenophobia and anti-Semitism (particularly in the comments section) that forms a strong and consistent drumbeat under the talk of pride and egalitarianism.

Because if the point of separation isn't culture, it's a completely daft move.

But if it is culture, the question becomes what culture. There's practically nothing Quebec can do to protect the French language more actively than what is currently being done, other than coming down even harder on all other languages. And currently, other languages have a real hard time in Quebec; harder than anywhere else in North America. We make a lot of fun of the "English First" xenophobes Stateside, but the fact is that this isn't just latent xenophobia in Quebec: it's legally mandated. You can't put English predominantly on a sign. You can't (legally) speak mainly English in your place of work. You aren't allowed to choose what language to school your child in.

This is all to "protect the culture," but sometimes I wonder if there was a little more effort being spent to encourage and promote French, as opposed to crushing every other language, if the culture might be doing even better.

And the "culture" being protected is always a white culture, a culture from some idyllic point between 60 and 100 years ago. White people having snowball fights, then enjoying some cider at the magasin général. Because that's the only version of Quebec culture to protect -- any modern iteration of Quebec is built on a tapestry of languages and immigrants and cultures that have come to Canada, built by people that have no stake in an eight-minute battle four hundred years ago, that come most often from French-speaking nations to live and thrive in an encouraging environment. They've got no interest in a 400-year hate for the English; they're not here to separate and forge bold new nations. That's the dream of the old white radicals putting bombs in Second Cup chain outlets.

Popular support for separation draws largely on that xenophobia: the easy answer that the hated English and foreigners are to blame for all our problems, and that things were better back when life was simple and everyone was the same.

So you wind up with a truly schizophrenic movement: leftist radicals who want to separate and cherish left-leaning ideals, many of which I agree with, but whose separatist argument requires xenophobia and intolerance for other cultures to be consistent with its aims. It's a vision of an independent left-leaning socialist nation where no culture is tolerated than white French culture circa 1950. It's bizarre.

Problem being, if you're "inside" the movement and you've grown up going to French schools and being radicalized from birth, you can't see how weird the whole situation really is. It takes a step back to realize how completely messed this is on a conceptual level. But anyone who has taken that step back is usually from outside the separatist circle, and is thus, by virtue of the culture-logic, tainted and not worthy of consideration.

It's weird, but the whole thing is Republican in that Sarah-Palin-fingers-in-ears way; it's a movement that still has a lot of steam in it, but no real moral centre. It's driven by a weird mix of rage, nostalgia and xenophobia: things were better back then, we need to protect our culture from them, and if you're not with us you're against us.

I hope things like this -- reading a crazy terrorist screed as part of a public ceremony -- is a symptom of the death throes. But there are just enough ignorant people and just enough hatred and fear of a changing world in the air that I think it's still got legs, and will be kicking for decades to come.
posted by Shepherd at 6:36 AM on September 8, 2009 [26 favorites]


My god that was an excellent summation, Shepherd. As we say here in B.C., "Bravo!".
posted by Turtles all the way down at 7:21 AM on September 8, 2009


It's becoming increasingly clear to me that most separatists (souveranistes, whatever) have no idea what it would be like if Quebec actually separated.

Quebec would take on its share of Canada's national debt.
Quebec would still be bound by relevant parts of international agreements that Canada had entered into when Quebec was still a part of Canada.
Quebec would no longer receive more tax dollars from the federal government than it paid in. Because of this, taxes would go up or services would be cut.
Montreal and a lot of the First Nations areas of Quebec would probably decide to stay in Canada. Most of the land area of the province, and most of Hydro-Québec's infrastructure, would remain with Canada.

If they think they're marginalized by the Anglophones now, wait until their country consists of nothing but a tiny strip along the St. Lawrence from Trois-Rivières to Gaspé.
posted by oaf at 7:33 AM on September 8, 2009


I've been to Montreal and driven through southern Quebec (no where else in Quebec unfortunately) a couple of times and I was struck with how similar things were to Catalunya. One half of my family are Catalan and I've heard very similar debates since I was a kid.
posted by ob at 7:40 AM on September 8, 2009


oaf, you forgot Hull. The place where a large amount of the federal civil service of Canada lives in order to take advantage of the Quebec vs Ontario tax differentials even though they work across the river in Ottawa, Ontario (probably some of them even work for Revenue Canada). I'm pretty sure those people wouldn't want to separate from their careers and pensions.
posted by srboisvert at 7:47 AM on September 8, 2009


That's an excellent take on it Shepherd. The marginalization of the aboriginal concerns, and of the (francophone) immigrant community---most visibly Haitian, though there's many of Arabic and African-origin too----are growing problems in Quebec, particularly in and around Montreal. In particular, the continuing problems at Kanehsatake, now deeply entrenched in Mohawk culture, have been exacerbated by the French-first attitudes of the provincial government (which is not to say that other provinces haven't been hamfisted when dealing with the First Nations either).
posted by bonehead at 7:55 AM on September 8, 2009


I'm as federalist as the next anglo Montrealer, but it's not the case that all separatists are crazy people who haven't properly thought through the issues. The xenophobia thing is, as expected, more common in rural areas, and is less common in Montreal. (It still exists -- my father and I are regularly the only Jew that some francophone friend knows -- but it's much more muted.)

Yes, people want to do it for emotional and not economic reasons. So what? If you're honest about the immediate economic fallout, is there any rule that says you are required to choose logic over emotion? (There are a lot of debates over the national debt they would take, and whether areas like Montreal could decide not to separate, and how that would work. There are other debates over First Nations areas, but I'm fairly sure that they'd decide to do whatever it was they wanted and everyone else would end up giving in, though not immediately.)

The xenophobia isn't so much against people who look different as people who act different. These two overlap a lot, of course, but there is a distinction. (Again, this is in cities. I have no idea how this works in more rural areas.)
posted by jeather at 7:57 AM on September 8, 2009


Please, it's Gatineau now (Hull is just a neighbourhood name). The change to the French name was made in Quebec city as it was deemed "more representative" of the region, despite the popular opinion being to retain the old name in Hull-Gatineau.
posted by bonehead at 8:01 AM on September 8, 2009


Now, is my mother an elitist? No. She is embarrassed by their willful ignorance and provincialism. There is no better way to become a hick than to be cut off from the outside world.

No she's not an elitist, she's a snob (and probably ashamed of her roots, too. Sad). This is completely gratuitous and unfounded. Every place on the planet has its fair share of hicks, and I'll grant you that Quebec is no exception, but certainly no worse than the ROC or the United States. I'm pretty sure that the average Québécois is more knowledgeable about world affairs than the average American citizen (but then who isn't?). And if loud talking and questionable sartorial habits marks the hick, then 80% of American and ROC tourists I see in M ontreal are hicks. Hard to believe that for them a sweat shirt, PJ bottom and flip flops are considered a proper attire to go about town.

Ever been to Quebec, BTW?
posted by bluefrog at 8:26 AM on September 8, 2009


Yes, people want to do it for emotional and not economic reasons. So what? If you're honest about the immediate economic fallout, is there any rule that says you are required to choose logic over emotion?

Absolutely not. But it's a consistent problem when discussing separation; non-Francophone non-sovereignists come to the table with facts and figures and arguing that separation isn't rational, and sovereignists retort by saying that it's a matter of pride and heritage and nobody respects or understands them.

The two sides are having different conversations, and that's part of the crazymaking. It's hard to debate something with somebody and point out the inconsistencies in their arguments when they're arguing from a position of passion, not reason. Separation feels right, facts be damned.

They're not all lunatics -- hell, I've dated separatists in the past, and count several folks that went to see Quebec separate among my friends. But there's a fundamental disconnect that exists where you wind up arguing an article of faith rather than a debate over economics, politics, or society. Any attempt to address any individual aspect inevitably gets derailed by anecdotes or anger. "You just don't get it -- you're English" is not an argument that will win you points on a high school debate team, but it's a common trump card played on me at parties, and one that always ends up with lots of heads nodding in favour.

And by God, not all sovereignists are racist. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I was attempting to be clear on that above. Profound apologies if that wasn't clear. There are loads and loads of wonderful, egalitarian, anti-racist people involved in the separatist movement. But there's a disconnect where they can't see that there's something inherently xenophobic about the "we need to separate to protect our culture" argument; there's a nebulous idea that Québec Libre would be a magical land where the French language would somehow protect itself without the necessary curb-stomping of other languages and cultures. You have to break down the "but what would more protection of your culture entail, and what is that culture, and how is that culture's needs not being met in Canada currently" question to get into the nasty implications of it, and that level of examination usually gets shut down by the emotional argument.

I'd also argue that while there are many non-racist sovereignists, popular support for separation requires a lot of "lazy xenophobia" -- people who don't have much contact with other cultures, haven't examined the issues, and just have that vague panicky feeling that they are under assault by them. Sovereignity support is weakest where multiculturalism is strongest, and this isn't a coincidence. See also Bill 195, where the Parti Québecois wanted to force new arrivals to pass language tests before enjoying some basic civil rights; the entire Bouchard-Taylor "Reasonable Accomodation" fiasco, which started when the town of Hérouxville tried to pass legislation to prevent Muslims (of which there were none in town) from stoning people in the streets; André Boisclair referring to Asian people (in French) as "slant-eyes" in a visit to his alma mater and then blowing it off by saying "it's not offensive to say that in French."

I'm in an awkward position where I'm painting the entire separation movement with a large and ugly brush, when I know full well that it contains some exceptional and wonderful people. On examination on a macro scale, though, I believe it's ideologically unsustainable and the people that support it, even with the best of intentions, are willfully ignoring where a lot of their support and the emotions underpinnning it are coming from.

The more I think about it, the more I think the Republican comparison is apt. There are some fantastic, intelligent, motivated and goodhearted people in the midst, but they're having to avert their eyes from some pretty ugly stuff to justify the movement as a whole.
posted by Shepherd at 9:03 AM on September 8, 2009


We can focus on what draws us together as a nation

You mean those things that make us different from the US, like poutine, hockey, bilingual packages and 100% Canadian cultural exports, like Celine Dion (you might hate her personally, but you can't deny the success) and Cirque du Soleil? The Québec culture cannot be reduced to speaking French and hating other cultures. Note to those Anglos who are so proud of the token Canadian flavour of Corner Gas and Trailer Park Boys: we have whole channels of these programs, a wealth of movies and TV series that reflect our own reality (and not just the "pure laine" parts), not to mention a thriving music scene, renowned authors, more homegrown comedians than you can shake a stick at, even theater that manages to be both culturally relevant and commercially successful.

THAT'S what we're concerned about, not some Herouxville bullshit issue overblown to whip up the Anglo persecution complex. How long are we going to have to denounce Parizeau's drunken tirade before it stops being thrown in our face? Face it, without us racist xenophobic pains in the ass, there would be very little standing in the way of full American culture dominance. Perhaps if the ROC realized and appreciated the vital importance of Quebec culture to the Canadian landscape, rather than resenting us for not rolling over and assimilating already, the nationalist question would lose some of its pertinence.
posted by Freyja at 9:05 AM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Face it, without us racist xenophobic pains in the ass, there would be very little standing in the way of full American culture dominance.

You really think that Francophones are the only thing standing in the way of American cultural dominance? How extensively have you traveled within Canada?
posted by oaf at 9:12 AM on September 8, 2009


It's driven by a weird mix of rage, nostalgia and xenophobia: things were better back then, we need to protect our culture from them, and if you're not with us you're against us.

Not so sure. The nostalgia argument, in my opinion, doesn't hold. Quebec has been an incredibly progressive society in the past 4 decades (especially under its "nationalists" governments) and believe me, nobody wishes to go back the "good ol' days" when the catholic church held sway over all aspects of life. For most sovereignist, the goal is not to go backward, but for Quebec to go forward on its own terms (whatever these may be).

The whole issue of education and language is a thorny one, I admit. You have to remember that a few decades ago, a huge percentage of immigrants would send their kids to English schools (and there were many reasons for that, one being the rather unwelcoming attitude of the then Catholic Montreal French school board, another being economic opportunism). I remember walking into the Anglo High School next to mine in the late 1970s. 95% of the names were Italians, mostly 1st or 2nd generation immigrants. It's a bit as if California was paying for Spanish high schools for its recent Vietnamese immigrants....

One positive results of the current situation is that the children of recent immigrant go to French school, breaking down the barrier between the (relatively) homogenous French majority and the neo-Quebecers, creating a more open, less divided community. My own son's primary school is like the United Nations and everyone is pretty pleased about it. Not many Montrealers would begrudge the flourishing of many different cultures that makes the city (IMHO) so great.

What does all this spell for the nationalist movement in Quebec? Hard to say. Most non-franco or neo-Quebecers have been traditionnaly staunchly federalist, but some identify with the nationalist plan...
posted by bluefrog at 9:18 AM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'd also argue that while there are many non-racist sovereignists, popular support for separation requires a lot of "lazy xenophobia" -- people who don't have much contact with other cultures, haven't examined the issues, and just have that vague panicky feeling that they are under assault by them.

Interesting. Change a few words here and you may as well be talking about a certain isolated island community I spend a fair amount of time in. Obviously, I love it and the people there, but there's no denying that "lazy xenophobia".

So, Quebec is not unlike an isolated island. Makes perfect sense to me.

Face it, without us racist xenophobic pains in the ass, there would be very little standing in the way of full American culture dominance. Perhaps if the ROC realized and appreciated the vital importance of Quebec culture to the Canadian landscape, rather than resenting us for not rolling over and assimilating already, the nationalist question would lose some of its pertinence.

Again, this takes us back to the Plaines D'Abraham, 250 years ago (and the ensuing treaties, reconciliations, DEALS). I think it's a fundamental failing in Canadian education that anyone can graduate Grade 12 without a firm grasp as to what DID happen way back when and how it absolutely defined the nation that would come to be known as "Canada" (a French colonialist's misinterpretation of the native word for "Village" if I'm not mistaken). Specifically, the French "Canadians" (it was their word at the time, I believe) cut a deal with the English to essentially NOT get involved with the all-English civil war (history now calls it The War Of Independence) that was about to break out to the south of the St. Lawrence.

So what unites as Canadians? Bluntly, the desire to NOT be Americans, which may sound a little trivial on the surface but when you take a good hard look at how the world's evolved geo-politically since 1759, it's a damned significant choice to have made.
posted by philip-random at 9:24 AM on September 8, 2009


oaf, you forgot Hull. The place where a large amount of the federal civil service of Canada lives in order to take advantage of the Quebec vs Ontario tax differentials even though they work across the river in Ottawa, Ontario (probably some of them even work for Revenue Canada). I'm pretty sure those people wouldn't want to separate from their careers and pensions.

There are a bunch of fed government offices in Gatineau, too, though, and no reason why people couldn't commute "out of the country" to work if they happened to be in one of the offices on the Ottawa side. In fact, offices in the area tend to be staffed according to which side of the river you're on. So Environment Canada (deepest Gatineau) -- tons of Francophones. Treasury Board Secretariat (downtown Ottawa) -- mostly Anglo. With some exceptions.

Anyway, aren't people currently enjoying a respite from The Question? I haven't seen it grab media attention, anyway, in some time.

I, for one, think it's too bad about the cancelled re-enactment. I generally don't care for military displays of any kind, but this particular day in history is etched in my brain from what feels like a thousand lectures and midday musings.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:26 AM on September 8, 2009


Quite extensively. I've lived most of my life in the ROC (although I haven't been West as much as I'd like), and while there are some examples of vibrant local culture, nowhere have I seen the kind of cultural institutions we have here in Québec, where, out of necessity, there are whole industries built exclusively to produce and disseminate regional content. Anglo-Canadian culture is either relegated to a narrowly local audience, or a niche to fulfill Cancon requirements in channels means to distribute American culture.

There are lessons to be learned from our star system that could hold the key to the Canadian identity crisis, is what I'm saying.
posted by Freyja at 9:26 AM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


THAT'S what we're concerned about, not some Herouxville bullshit issue overblown to whip up the Anglo persecution complex. How long are we going to have to denounce Parizeau's drunken tirade before it stops being thrown in our face? Face it, without us racist xenophobic pains in the ass, there would be very little standing in the way of full American culture dominance. Perhaps if the ROC realized and appreciated the vital importance of Quebec culture to the Canadian landscape, rather than resenting us for not rolling over and assimilating already, the nationalist question would lose some of its pertinence.

I'm not entirely sure how Hérouxville and rampant Islamophobia is an issue for an "Anglo persecution complex," but I think you transition tidily from referring to an Anglo persecution complex to illustrating the Franco persecution complex in one short paragraph, and do so pretty neatly.

Having grown up in the ROC and moved to Quebec about 13 years ago, I neither feel that Quebec is all that stands between us and total American cultural hegemony, nor that the rest of Canada expects Quebec to "roll over and assimilate already."

This attitude -- that the ROC "resents" Quebec and wants the Quebec people to abandon their heritage -- that's the central theme. That separation is necessary because the rest of the country hates Quebec. It's necessary to keep stirring that pot, because it's that "nobody loves us" burning resentment towards the ROC that keeps the movement alive.

But the astounding thing is that nobody really feels that strongly about Quebec. Okay, maybe some blowhards drunk on oil money and self-righteousness, but I've never felt an anti-Quebec vibe in the ROC, except when separatism comes up, which is usually greeted with rolled eyes and "here we go again," not "when will those bastards roll over and assimilate already, oh how I resent them and their cheeky Frenchness."

If the separatists convince Quebecers to look for evidence that they're hated, people will find that evidence. Confirmation bias is a powerful force, and leads to a feedback loops where you can't say anything about Quebec, including lavish praise, without it being taken as Imperialist eviltalk.

Yes, people in the ROC say stupid crap about Quebec. But people in Newfoundland say stupid crap about BC, and people in Manitoba say stupid crap about New Brunswick, people in Alberta say stupid crap about anywhere that isn't Alberta and everyone hates Ontario but Ontario. It's a big country and we're all occasionally bastards to each other.

Maybe the question is "how can Canada better express its love and respect for Quebec," because that love and respect does exist. It just only takes one word from an asshole to spark up the separatist they-all-hate-us machine, and confirmation bias means that it doesn't even take that much of an asshole to get the wheels turning.


There are lessons to be learned from our star system that could hold the key to the Canadian identity crisis, is what I'm saying.


Amen to that.

I'm a CBC nut, so I'd argue that we have a vibrant, interesting and attractive English-Canadian culture, but there's no arguing that Quebec has an amazingly dynamic cultural scene. One of the frustrating things about this ongoing issue is that if Quebec would dedicate as much energy and passion towards promoting its culture to the rest of North America as it does trying to wall it out, this would be the cultural capital of all of North America. Had the movement taken a turn towards celebrating and promulgating outward rather than turtling and walling up 60 years ago, I'm pretty sure most of the continent would be speaking French because it's so freakin' cool.
posted by Shepherd at 10:37 AM on September 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


Update: the Canadian federal government, which controls Battlefield Park, says the event is a go.
posted by zadcat at 10:53 AM on September 8, 2009


this might work better ;)
posted by zadcat at 10:54 AM on September 8, 2009


> With respect, you should be ashamed of yourself.

Turn to the mirror and say that. Your take on Quebec nationalism, unlike Shepherds, reeks of pure bigotry.

> With all due respect, calling Francis Parkman an American historian is like calling Ptolemy a Greek scientist.

what
posted by languagehat at 10:55 AM on September 8, 2009


Ever been to Quebec, BTW?

You're funny, bluefrog! Born there, interned in a French hospital in Montreal, then five years at McGill. I've returned there at least annually throughout my life to visit the relatives or go to our cottage in St. Donat. So, yeah, I'm familiar enough with Quebec.

If you don't understand that receiving 100% of your news and analysis from the French media narrows your worldview...well, I probably can't explain it to you. But here's one example. My mother's cousin is an educated and cultured woman, but doesn't speak very much English. When she came to visit my mother in Vancouver, she would express surprise at the strangest things. Like that food labels were in French and English. And that there were *GASP* French tv channels in B.C. As I said, she is a cultured woman. But combine that astounding naivety with a lesser degree of sophistication and you get the sort of rube my mother cringes at on cruise ships. I'm of course not saying that every quebecer is a rube—I'm familiar with the province and its culture and have deep family roots there. But please, spare me the accusation that I'm making this up out of whole cloth. This is the culture that invented the delicious negre en chemise, after all!
posted by Turtles all the way down at 10:56 AM on September 8, 2009


Bigotry, languagehat? Moi? C'est à rire!
posted by Turtles all the way down at 10:58 AM on September 8, 2009


> If you don't understand that receiving 100% of your news and analysis from the French media narrows your worldview...well, I probably can't explain it to you.

Whereas receiving 100% of your news and analysis from the English media, of course, ensures an advanced and cosmopolitan understanding of the world.
posted by languagehat at 11:31 AM on September 8, 2009


Anglo-Canadian culture is either relegated to a narrowly local audience, or a niche to fulfill Cancon requirements in channels means to distribute American culture.

This isn't true. Quebec is unique (I haven't been there in a while, so I can't say how unique), but Anglo culture in the rest of Canada is not just like American culture, but with Canadians.
posted by oaf at 11:39 AM on September 8, 2009


The two sides are having different conversations, and that's part of the crazymaking. It's hard to debate something with somebody and point out the inconsistencies in their arguments when they're arguing from a position of passion, not reason. Separation feels right, facts be damned.
I agree with this totally, and this is part of the problem with the debate. A lot of people are unwilling to admit it, which really can ruin arguments.

But there's a fundamental disconnect that exists where you wind up arguing an article of faith rather than a debate over economics, politics, or society. Any attempt to address any individual aspect inevitably gets derailed by anecdotes or anger.
Again, this isn't entirely true; I've had lots of successful discussions where this doesn't happen. Certainly a party isn't the place to do it.

But there's a disconnect where they can't see that there's something inherently xenophobic about the "we need to separate to protect our culture" argument; there's a nebulous idea that Québec Libre would be a magical land where the French language would somehow protect itself without the necessary curb-stomping of other languages and cultures.
Of course, other countries manage to protect their cultures without trying to get rid of other cultures (or at least, accepting some other cultures if not all). There's a certain amount of work you do not need to do if you are the group in charge that you do need to do if you aren't. I think a French enclave in the middle of North America would not succeed at this, for various other reasons, but it's not a completely absurd idea.

You have to break down the "but what would more protection of your culture entail, and what is that culture, and how is that culture's needs not being met in Canada currently" question to get into the nasty implications of it, and that level of examination usually gets shut down by the emotional argument.
Yes. But the other side of this is that it's fine to want to do things for emotion. It becomes problematic when only one side gets that leeway, if the no side can't say "I just want to stay in Canada because I want to". (I've had all sorts of arguments where the yes side used emotion, but the no side was derided when it tried to.)

I'm in an awkward position where I'm painting the entire separation movement with a large and ugly brush, when I know full well that it contains some exceptional and wonderful people.
Yes, I know; I feel awkward trying to support separation here, because in large part I agree with you. On the other hand, I feel that Quebec, and separation, are getting unfairly maligned here.

HAT'S what we're concerned about, not some Herouxville bullshit issue overblown to whip up the Anglo persecution complex.
Of course, the Herouxville was more about people who weren't semi-lapsed Roman Catholics wanting a few rights, not about language.

One positive results of the current situation is that the children of recent immigrant go to French school, breaking down the barrier between the (relatively) homogenous French majority and the neo-Quebecers, creating a more open, less divided community.
Or it would, if the French majority in Montreal were sending their children to public schools on the island. They're not.

One significant positive result is that the English schools teach much more French, and there are things like immersion schools. One negative, of course, is that people in French schools learn quite poor English unless they speak it at home. This is actually massively problematic for the Cegep system, as there is lots of space in the French schools, but insufficient space in the English schools which have many allophone and francophone students. There is a fair bit of irritation on the part of the anglophones about this. (It's massively misplaced, of course: the problem is not the students who want to learn English in Cegep but the government that will not allow English Cegeps to expand.)

There was a lot of confusion about what the school laws would mean: although people are resigned to it, more or less (despite the everpresent legal battles), at the time, many people thought it meant that *immigrants* had to go to French schools, not native Quebecois.

But certainly, the increased interaction between language communities is a massive plus, whatever its specific causes are.
posted by jeather at 11:44 AM on September 8, 2009


I grew up mostly on the Prairies, followed by Ontario, then BC. Mostly, I'd say, people in western Canada, in particular, don't think about Quebec, let alone know anything about it. For all the astounding activity of Quebecois culture, I doubt one person in Edmonton or Vancouver could name a single French-language star. Quebec culture is entirely made for internal consumption and makes almost no effort to go outside the provincial boarders. I live now in Ottawa and I probably know more about current popular culture in France than I do of Quebec's.

I'm certain the same is true in reverse. Do Quebecers read Wayson Choy or Elisabeth Hay, to name two recent Giller winners? Would a pop music fan in Quebec know who Sloan or Feist are? Has either ever had a hit in Quebec? I'm not sure any of anglo-Canadian culture resonates in Quebec either.

And that's the big problem I see between Quebec and the other parts of the country (forgive me, the ROC thing is vaguely insulting). In my experience, the best way to convince those Quebec and, yes, southern-Ontario "rubes" that that other vibrant culture in the country is worth thinking about is to transplant them into it. We need more trips to Quebec City from St. Catherines and from Chicoutimi to Calgary.

I wish, for example, that we could expand Katimavik, make a volunteer year in another part of the country a normal part of the high school experience. If one in four anglo Canadians spent a year at age 17 or 18 in Quebec and most young Quebecers had a year's experience outside the province, I think the whole talk of separatism would largely die away. That's the real problem with Canada right now. Rather than sneering at each other over our high walls about whose culture is better, we should be figuring out how to bust down those walls.
posted by bonehead at 11:59 AM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


What if Montcalm had won?

In today's G&M, William Johnson suggests that if Quebec had not lost on the Plains of Abraham, it may have been worse off today, judging by the fates of other former French colonies in the Americas.
posted by Kabanos at 1:07 PM on September 8, 2009


I'm certain the same is true in reverse. Do Quebecers read Wayson Choy or Elisabeth Hay, to name two recent Giller winners? Would a pop music fan in Quebec know who Sloan or Feist are? Has either ever had a hit in Quebec? I'm not sure any of anglo-Canadian culture resonates in Quebec either.

I've gotta bow out as real life is getting hectic, but in order: doubt it, doubt it, definitely, definitely. English-language music has a huge impact here in Quebec, but novels less so, probably because you can enjoy music in any language, but translation lag and cultural barriers slow down adoption of foreign-language novels unless they're by significant authors or have made some sort of tremendous cultural impact (moreso than winning the Giller, for instance -- you have to allow 2+ years for novels, especially ones that are written with a high degree of craft, to be translated, after which time buzz over things like Giller prizes has entirely subsided. You have to make a lot of noise to still be "hot" by the time your novel's been translated.).


That's the real problem with Canada right now. Rather than sneering at each other over our high walls about whose culture is better, we should be figuring out how to bust down those walls.


Maybe it's just my jaded eyes, but I don't see a ton of sneering here -- I don't agree that English Canada is bereft of culture, but other than that one statement I think there's a lot of overt celebration of Quebec culture in this thread that doesn't exist to the detriment of others.

Sorry about the ROC; it's convenient shorthand and isn't meant as derisive or a slight in any way.

I doubt one person in Edmonton or Vancouver could name a single French-language star.

In the interest of cultural celebration, let's get that sorted, shall we? Right now I'm musically loving Coeur du Pirate, Dumas, and Yann Perreau.

There's no shortage of great Québec films, too, but if you're looking for some recommendations from the last 10 years or so, I can't help but mention Maelstrom, Crabe Dans La Tête and -- lemme see -- Camping Sauvage was a pretty good comedy. I enjoyed Bon Cop Bad Cop a lot, but it plays into the facile "Anglos are anal and Francos are lunatics" stereotyping a lot -- basically it's Lethal Weapon, with an Ontarian as Danny Glove and a Québecois as Mel Gibson. Going back further, everything Denis Arcand touches is gold; lots of people swear by Le Déclin de l'empire Américain, but I prefer Jesus of Montréal. Find something you like and roll onward... it's an amazing world of film that merits tons of exploration, and has been (as you mentioned) kind of underrepresented outside Quebec. Different people will ascribe different levels of blame and motivation for that.

Good TV? We got it! Les Bougon, is solid social satire focusing on the underclass -- a family of grifters, essentially, living in Montreal. Un Gars, Une Fille is pretty much a classic sitcom. Would love to push more QC culture on you, but life beckons... maybe I should FPP this stuff in the near future.
posted by Shepherd at 1:08 PM on September 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


I wish, for example, that we could expand Katimavik, make a volunteer year in another part of the country a normal part of the high school experience. If one in four anglo Canadians spent a year at age 17 or 18 in Quebec and most young Quebecers had a year's experience outside the province, I think the whole talk of separatism would largely die away.

Amen to that ... but then who would the Federal Conservatives have left for their constituency? It just wouldn't be fair.
posted by philip-random at 1:36 PM on September 8, 2009


Oh, and having recently traveled in rural Quebec (Val d'Or etc), let me just say that at no time did I feel that I was in the midst of a culture that was under serious threat. And, bluntly, give me the culture of those "small" towns any day over the ROC (sorry) equivalents ... starting with the food.
posted by philip-random at 1:41 PM on September 8, 2009


What if Montcalm had won?

As alluded to above, it's probably immaterial who actually won on the Plains of Abraham. The fact is, the French empire was corrupt and stumbling at that particular point in history (with a king and queen about to lose their heads in a guillotine). So it's inability to sustain its colony in Canada is what caused the fall of Quebec, not any particular English military victory.
posted by philip-random at 1:48 PM on September 8, 2009


It is somewhat true that French Canadians in Quebec tend to know less than they should about the rest of the country; my own knowledge of English Canadian Culture is limited to directors like Egoyan, McKellar and McDonald, the "big" (and often Montreal-connected) authors: Cohen, Atwood, Richler, Montgomery, and pop music (Sloan, the Hip, the Guess Who, BTO, etc.), Trailer Park Boys, Corner Gas and This is Wonderland.

Even French Canadian culture from outside Quebec is not very well known inside of it; we tend to forget about Antonine Maillet, or that Gabrielle Roy was born in in St-Boniface, Manitoba.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 5:31 PM on September 8, 2009


As a coda, let me tell you a story. When I was working in a hospital in Montreal, my coworkers were from across Canada, as well as a good number, of course, from Quebec. Those from the ROC had a ton of fun exploring and discovering Montreal. I'll tell you that compared to suburban Richmond B.C., it was like when The Wizard of Oz turned from black and white to Technicolor. The food, the fun, Crescent St., places like Bar St. Laurent (a personal favourite).They just seemed to do it right--having fun with flair. Superior culture indeed. Coming from a place where fun had been in short supply, and any public event involving alcohol was ruined by stupid yahoos (in Vancouver, the Sea Festival and Greek Days, which had to be canceled because young people in Vancouver didn't know how to drink without breaking things or rioting), it was refreshing to find oneself in the midst of, let's face it, a more mature European style culture.

There was a place in Old Montreal called Aux Deux Pierrots. Now, this was awesome. It was a massive beer hall, with a stage, seats in the front, and elevated bleacher-style seating on either side. And they would have a succession of artists on stage, singing everything from old Quebec songs to Queen, and people in the audience would sing, and sometimes dance. It was intoxicating, like nothing I'd ever experienced before. We went back frequently.

One Friday in the summer I went out with the same friends and with my cousin. A very proud French Quebecer--he has a Fleur-de-lys (next to a Canadian flag) tattooed on his left shoulder. He went along with it as we all voted to go to Les Pierrots. Once we got there, he couldn't wait to leave. He was embarrassed. He convinced us to go to a 'much better' place. Which was a brass and fern bar, part of a chain we had in Vancouver. It was...not so special.

I loved all of this about Quebec. Languagehat, I understand that I sound stupid and bigoted to you, because, I respectfully suggest, you don't understand the intricacies of the political situation. I may be wrong: maybe you're a native of PQ or have some other reason to understand it well. But to view this as the struggle of an oppressed people against brutal government rule is completely innaccurate. While I lived in Quebec, as Shepherd has described, you could not, as an English-speaking person, send your child to English school in Quebec unless you had been grandfathered in by having attended an English school yourself. Wait, let's make an analogy with an American state, let's call it Mexicola:

1. If you live in Mexicola, Spanish is the dominant language, except for Mexicola city, where a significant number of people speak English-- here you are served in Spanish or English, but more people speak Spanish. In Mexicola city, as everywhere in the state, the mom-and-pop store down on the corner is forbidden to put up a hand-lettered sign over the tomatoes, saying "Tomatoes--$2.00". If they do, they will be investigated. Someone will report them to a government ministry established precisely for this reason--to investigate cases like this that threaten the health of the Spanish language in Mexicola.

2. BTW, if you travel any distance outside Mexicola, Spanish is the first language of 95% of the citizens. You can't get by without speaking Spanish.

3. You obviously cannot get a job, in Mexicola city or elsewhere, without being fluent in Spanish. As Shepherd has pointed out, if you start a small business, the language in the workplace must be predominantly Spanish.

4. 3/4 or more of the Presidents, thoughout the history of the USA, have come from Mexicola. (They are derided by the ethnic Mexicolis as being 'sellouts' whenever their policies are considered to be more to the advantage of the US than Mexicola in particular.)

5. There is a thriving Mexicoli independence movement, which holds that Mexicola has been oppressed by the US, and continues to be oppressed. I'll point out now that Mexicola contributes far less to the union than it receives (this is sort of difficult to translate from the Canadian to the American model, but in Canada there are provincial transfer payments, from wealthy provinces to poorer ones. Quebec is the biggest 'have-not' province, receiving an order of magnitude higher payment than provinces like Saskatchewan.

6. Mexicola lies plumb in the middle of your country, spanning your northern and southern borders. If they successfully secede, your country is cut in half.

7. Mexicola has sufficient population that they are a valuable political prize. No government policy is put in place without considering the impact on Mexicola voters. A *lot* of government money and many projects go to Mexicola.

8. If you're not from there, many Mexicolis really don't like you very much. This contempt is expressed openly in Mexicoli media (a New Year's Eve show while I lived in Quebec was described gleefully to me by a separatist friend. It was called "Ca-ca Canada" which translates as "Shit Canada".

So, languagehat those other of my MeFi friends who have criticized me. Is it really unexpected that I am resentful, and vitriolic in the extreme, not to my family and friends in Quebec, but to those perpetuating these utterly evil, nasty, contemptible ideas?
posted by Turtles all the way down at 6:02 PM on September 8, 2009


NB: Small businesses in Quebec (<50 employees, I think) are exempt from language laws, as are most multinationals. (They're not exempt from signage laws, except sometimes for their trademarked names -- McDonald's, for instance, kept the apostrophe, where Eaton's did not -- but from language spoken in the office laws.)

Also, people in Quebec temporarily can send their children to English public schools (or private schools that receive government funds: anyone can send them to private schools that don't receive government money, although they've shut a number of those remaining loopholes so I'm not totally clear whether or if that still gives you English eligibility). After high school (which ends in grade 11), you can go to an English language school.
posted by jeather at 6:19 PM on September 8, 2009


Thanks, jeather, for the clarification. And that clarification serves as a perfect illustration of the draconian and oppressive set of language laws that, if they were aware of them, would horrify Americans otherwise inclined to support the oppressed minority, were they forced to endure them.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 6:26 PM on September 8, 2009


3/4 or more of the Presidents, thoughout the history of the USA, have come from Mexicola. (They are derided by the ethnic Mexicolis as being 'sellouts' whenever their policies are considered to be more to the advantage of the US than Mexicola in particular.)

Mexicola has very little in common with Canada; 6 of our 22 Prime Ministers have been born in Lower Canada/Quebec, tying with Ontario. Funnily, 4 Prime Ministers have been born outside of Canada, including our drunken father of confederation, and most recently, John Turner, who says he was born in England, but many claim has a Kenyan birth certificate hidden in a safe deposit box in a Smithers, BC credit union.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 6:27 PM on September 8, 2009


Okay, Alvy, you got me on that one. But there were a bunch of them from Quebec (sorry, Mexicola. Sir Wilfred Laurier (an actual ancestor of mine), Louis St. Laurent, Pierre Trudeau, Jean Chretien, (so far real frenchmen), Brian Mulroney, Paul Martin (okay but they both spoke French).

But you're right, I got that pretty wrong. Though, to be fair as to my point, it's not as though the oppressed people have failed to gain representation in the federal government, right?
posted by Turtles all the way down at 6:40 PM on September 8, 2009


Turtles all the way down, I do not agree with all the language laws, though I agree with some of them: I don't have any particular disagreement with disallowing unilingual English signs, for instance, or even requiring French to predominate on signs. I'd probably have fewer disagreements with the schooling laws if there were as much English taught in French schools as vice versa. Certainly the hypocrisy of the politicians on English language schooling is obnoxious. But -- other than some aspects of the schooling laws -- I don't think they're particularly oppressive.

I also think comparing this with the US, which has historically had one language that most people speak, is an absurd comparison. It might have been interesting to compare it to some of the more French areas in the US, except of course they all ended up pretty anglicised. There are interesting comparisons to be made about anglophones in Quebec vs francophones in the rest of Canada excluding New Brunswick (which is officially bilingual, unlike any other province).

I agree that oppression is a poor word for the current status of French,
posted by jeather at 7:12 PM on September 8, 2009


He went along with it as we all voted to go to Les Pierrots. Once we got there, he couldn't wait to leave. He was embarrassed.

Maybe it was the comedian warming up the audience before the songs that embarrassed him? Last time I went to the Pierrots (a few years ago), they had crawl-under-a-bench-embarrassing François Massicote trying his new material.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 7:34 PM on September 8, 2009


Since when is oppression in its most extreme sense a requirement to want independence? Why keep dragging out that red herring?

Isn't it enough to value your unique culture, your relative separateness from the Americanization of your country, your desire to want to keep it that way, and the palpable sense that your being held hostage politically, even if your nation's leader is occasionally a local who is "safe" enough for the rest of the country?

Was living under Bush oppressive to some? What about Harper? Aren't people entitled to define for themselves what they consider an oppressive situation best remedied, if possible?
posted by markkraft at 9:48 PM on September 8, 2009


markkraft -

The world's got too many borders already.
posted by philip-random at 10:42 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


> Is it really unexpected that I am resentful, and vitriolic in the extreme, not to my family and friends in Quebec, but to those perpetuating these utterly evil, nasty, contemptible ideas?

Of course it's not unexpected, any more than any other form of bigotry, but it's sad. I am not Canadian and have not spent much time in Quebec, but I am fairly familiar with the history and politics involved. I am not some knee-jerk liberal latching onto an "oppressed minority" and taking their side in everything. I think the anti-English laws went way overboard, and the idea of Quebec as an independent country is pretty absurd. I also, however, understand why the Francophones felt the need for those measures and that ideal of independence, and I also see that a difficult situation is being worked out amazingly successfully. These days, as you acknowledge, Montreal is a vibrant city, one of the more pleasant I know. I enjoy practicing my French there, but my wife, who doesn't know the language and has to use English, has never run into any nasty responses even in the Francophone parts of the city. I liked your story, and I'm glad you appreciate all those things about the city and its Francophone culture, but it's all the more bewildering to me that you can't get beyond heavy-breathing rhetoric like "utterly evil, nasty, contemptible ideas." How about we reserve descriptions like that for the Nazis, and dial it down to, say, "excessive and unproductive" for something like the Quebec language laws? That, of course, wouldn't allow you to get your resentful-Anglophone rocks off as excitingly, but perhaps one day you'll make the sacrifice. Meanwhile, thanks for expanding on your feelings; you've painted a more rounded and likable picture of yourself, and I prefer thinking well of people to thinking ill of them.
posted by languagehat at 7:08 AM on September 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


The great band Cordelia's Dad do a haunting version of the old traditional song "Montcalm and Wolfe" (eMusic preview), just solo vocal by Tim Eriksen with guitar accompaniment, which tells the story more or less from the British point of view.

Daniel Lanois has a beautiful song called "Acadie" (which oddly enough never appeared on the Acadie record or anywhere else that I know of other than a live KCRW compilation cassette of live performances from 1989-1990) which tells the story from the French point of view and ends with the song's protagonist and his love departing "to Louisiana, where we will be free."
posted by chuq at 10:58 AM on September 9, 2009


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