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My Image of Quebec

by Gianne Broughton
Kitchener Area Monthly Meeting
Stratford, Ontario

I grew up in Beaconsfield on the West Island of Montreal. The colours and shapes of the St. Lawrence valley are my image of home. So are the signs and symbols of both languages. My earliest memory of an exciting family trip is the Valleyfield Fair. My parents came to Quebec to take up a position at MacDonald College: Dad is a professor of Agriculture, and Mom looked after him and the four of us children. Many Saturdays were spent in the fields of Québécois farmers taking drainage and irrigation measurements and warming up in farm house kitchens, for many of these field trips were in wintertime. When we were children, we weren't self conscious about being anglophones in a francophone world. That came later, perhaps when I started high school. I became very conscious that although my French immersion classes had helped me become bilingual, there were very few French - speaking people to meet in my daily life. As a teenager, I accompanied my father less often on his field trips since I had more homework and other interests of my own to pursue. To give you a sense historical period, I should say that the year I graduated from high school, 1976, was the year that Réné Lévesque took office as Prime Minister of Quebec under the first Parti Québécois government. I always thought that speaking French was fun, so I learned it easily. I found it hard to relate to my classmates who seemed to resent having to learn it.

My parents' families are from Southwestern Ontario, and I remember uncles and aunts and cousins being mystified at how we could enjoy living in Quebec where we had to learn French in school and read French signs. There was also a certain cachet to being from Quebec. Young people from Ontario considered it an adventure to come and visit us and venture into Montreal or Quebec City. I remember going to a camp for teenagers in Brantford, Ontario, and being peppered with questions about what it was like to live in Quebec. I found that these questions forced me to express ideas and experiences that had become subconscious, and in answering one young man's question, I actually said, "Well, in my country we do it differently." When I came to Ontario, people assumed that I was francophone because I spoke English with a Montreal accent: a very slight shortening of vowels that I was totally unconscious of when in Quebec. I remember walking down the street in Peterborough and absentmindedly translating all the shop signs into French before understanding what they said: I was so used to seeing two languages on signs that I had to provide the missing language myself. When I was in France for a period in 1985, I felt that Parisians were speaking French with an English accent, and often felt like correcting them! I was shocked to see French subtitles on French Canadian films in France, because it was assumed that the French wouldn't be able to understand Québécois. Quebec is truly a unique place in the world.

The greatest gift that growing up in Quebec gave me was a sense that it can be good to be different. "Vive la difference" was an attitude that was taken for granted. The second great gift was the confidence that I could find my way anywhere in the world: language was not something that would keep me from enjoying a place.

Although career choices have brought me to Ontario, and I am comfortable here, Quebec is still home. Every city I visit, in the United States, Canada, or elsewhere, is compared in my mind to Montreal, and usually found wanting.

Gianne Broughton is a community economic development consultant living in Stratford, Ontario.