I’ll bet there are a lot of you, who’ve been saying to yourselves, “Just wait ’til she gets to the letter “Q”. This whole alphabet thing’s going to go up in a puff of smoke. To hell in a hand basket.” Well, guess what?
What better topic could there be, but my home province? Quebec. Yep, on second thought, let’s make that ‘oui’. I am a born and bred Montrealer (slightly to the right of Ottawa on the map, in case you’re trying to find it). A Montrealaise. A Quebecois.
And quite frankly, if it hadn’t been for all the political nonsense that’s plagued both the city of Montreal and the Province of Quebec since the late Rene Levesque first came into power in the 70’s, I’m not so sure I’d be living in Toronto.
What political nonsense?
To cut to the chase, there is a very large group of idealistic (and quite militant, not to mention extremely emotional) French Canadians who want nothing to do with the Queen. They are totally anti-monarchy. More to the point, they
don’t want anything to do with Canada, either. They are also anti-federalist.
They want sovereignty. They want Quebec to be separate from the rest of Canada.
And, sadly, these views have wreaked havoc with Quebec, and its prosperity. Or lack there of. It’s a magnificent province, full of history and interesting attractions; and Montreal is, undeniably, one of the most beautiful, most unique cities in all of North America. What’s happened to it, is a tragedy.
I remember the day after the election when Levesque, and The Parti Quebecois, triumphed over the Liberals; and he became the Province’s Premier. Walking to work the next morning, I passed hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of Montrealers, who were lined up outside their banks, waiting for them to open. They were there to empty their safety deposit boxes, get their money and close their accounts. There were similar scenes in most neighbourhoods. I kid you not. Anglophones, and even a small number of more rational Francophones, were scared.
Bank accounts were quickly opened in Plattsburgh and Burlington, in Vermont. In every small Ontario town that was an easy drive from Montreal. In Kingston, Ottawa and Toronto. With very few exceptions (like pharmaceutical companies, for some reason), head offices were, over the next several months, moved from Montreal to Toronto. And then came the procession of all the ordinary citizens, who were looking for the nearest exit.
Down the 401 (the highway that stretches from Windsor, Ontario all the way to the Quebec border) they drove. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of them. Some went to B.C. (British Columbia). Some went to Alberta and Manitoba and, anywhere else in the country where they either had family, friends or good job prospects. Some went to the U.S. To Florida, Arizona, California and New York, to site a few examples.
It was an exodus of mammoth proportions.
All of them leaving behind their friends, their families, their jobs, their pasts and, life as they knew it. They’d be starting over, from scratch. Their futures would be created elsewhere.
You cannot imagine how sad it makes me. I loved Montreal. It had a spirit all its own. It’s a city that always cherished its architectural history, preserving old buildings, thereby ensuring that they will continue to be there, in all their magnificent glory, for the enjoyment of many generations yet to come. It’s a city where the love of fabulous food, excellent wine, good conversation, wonderful company and great times was in its DNA.
It’s a city where everyone took chances. Risks, especially with fashion, hair and make-up. Women dressed the way they wanted to, not the way it was dictated in fashion magazines. It’s a city where men have always embraced style, not just recently, like elsewhere in the world. It’s a city where everyone took time to enjoy life, and to live life. To its fullest.
Montreal. Its joie de vivre was palpable.
What a place to grow up. What good times I had. When Ontarians wanted to party, Montreal was where they went. Our bars were open until the wee, small hours. Beer and wine could be purchased in corner stores. Nobody was up tight, even the police. I remember, once, a friend and I had been out clubbing until quite late. When we finally decided to call it a night (or a day), at about 3:00 a.m., there were no taxis in sight. So I hailed a police car.
Believe it or not, they stopped and asked what was going on. We said there were no cabs, and asked if they’d drive us home. They laughed and agreed. My friend then asked if they’d put the siren on (no, she wasn’t loaded). Again, they laughed and said “Okay”. In Toronto we would have been arrested.
Now it’s not even a shadow of its former self. Every time I go back home for a visit, there are fewer English-speaking people. Fewer businesses owned by anglophones. And I am confronted with more and more stores and restaurants that have gone out of business. More ‘A Louer’ (for rent) signs.
Because part of the problem, aside from the seceding nightmare, is the fact that French has been rammed down everyone’s throats. Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with the idea of ‘bilingualism’. I speak French. I learned it in school. It was mandatory. I wish I spoke better. And understood more. Truly. But having said that, I don’t want to be ‘forced’ to speak French. And no matter how much the government wants to enforce it, it will never be my ‘official language’. I was born into an English-speaking family. It’s my first language. And no law, in the world, is going to change that.
Over the years the ‘Pequistes’ have won and lost many elections. Recently they won again. And are vowing, yet again, to ensure that Quebec becomes a French-speaking province, regardless of the consequences.
They never learn. They don’t seem to care that it drives people away. And stops others from coming. Unfortunately that’s what happens when emotions triumph over rational thinking. They are blinded from the truth.
Everyone will suffer. Including the French. But they don’t see that. Or, perhaps, they just refuse to see it.