Quebecers love Quebec. Never have I been in a state or province and seen so many flags of that state/province. Of course, I wanted to know why, and I wanted to see actually how different this place is to the rest of Canada.
There is a bit of history here – A French explorer made first contact at Quebec City, and after a few tussles, the British took over in 1759. But after British loyalists left during the American revolution, almost all the French moved into the Quebec region. And this right here is where their unique position stems from. There’s a sense that the English did not rule well, yet they did take over the colony, and contempt towards the British prevails. (more background in the footnotes)
So now we have a uniquely French region among the rest of Canada. An area where most people are Francophones where the rest of the country are Anglophones. And just by this difference in language, Quebecers now feel a need to preserve their French culture by preserving their French language (note that I say their French language, since it’s quite different from the French spoken in France).
So everything in Quebec is in French – news, magazines, advertisements, TV shows, music – all in the official language of Quebec.
But apart from the language, how different is Quebec, really?
The main differences I’ve noticed is the prevalence of music, art and comedy – Cirq Du Soleil, a big improv scene and apparently crazy underground house music and the world’s largest jazz festival all come from Quebec. There are also more old buildings considering how long ago the Europeans made contact, and I noticed more beards, tattoos, cigarette smoking and beer drinking.
But is this enough for them to be uniquely separate from the rest of Canada? I mean they still love hockey (ice hockey that is), they love the outdoors, they consume plenty of American media and follow a lot of American sports, they’re still a province of Canada, under the Canadian democracy, they’re generally nice people – they’re still very much Canadian. In fact, and I know this may be controversial, they are more Canadian than not Canadian, and definitely more Canadian than French.
So what’s all the fuss about? If they’re not so different from the rest of Canada, then why is there such unrest? Is it much ado about nothing? Well let’s not underestimate the power of language.
“We are the only Canadians to speak French and I think this is a biggest difference and why I consider myself more a Quebecoise than a Canadian,” explains Chanèle, a born and bred Quebecer.
Just the language is enough for Quebecoise to want to distinguish themselves from the rest of Canada.
And having their own French media – “We don’t have the ‘need’ of being in touch with the rest of [Canada] because we feel like we are okay and fulfill on our own,” says Etienne, another Quebec local.
And language is as much of a barrier as it is something that connects people. When the official language taught is French, you are much less likely to get immigrants wanting to move to Quebec if their children won’t be learning good English. And so you get a much less international and diverse population than the rest of Canada.
And when you have a region that does not teach the same main language to a fluency that the rest of the country speaks, suddenly you have to cater to two languages for anything that is national. Now all your cereal boxes need to have their nutritional information in both French and English.
And when you have one region that is proudly French, it’s much harder to have conversations about the future of a nation and, well, anything with the rest of Canada when English is despised by one party and French is seen as archaic by the other.
And here is where Canada sits today. A weird tension remains between Quebec and the rest of Canada, yet it’s still the one nation. But despite this tension, let’s remember Quebecers are still very much Canadian, even if their Quebec pride is greater than their Canadian pride.
Additional background information
Threatened by English dominating as the international language, Quebec decides to mandate French be used – Loi 101 (Bill or Law 101). Now all signage and menus must now be in French, and if other languages are to be used it cannot be more prominent than the French text. Now (unless you received some English schooling previously) all schooling must be in French. Now, English is taught as a second language.
And it’s definitely a second language.
Unlike Sweden or Norway or Germany where pretty much everyone coming through school speaks fluent English, it isn’t taught well in Quebec. Perhaps it’s because of this history, this ingrained desire to separate themselves from the rest of English speaking Canada, but school taught English isn’t anywhere near fluent. I spoke to a 20 year old who really struggled with English, and the ones that spoke better English learnt it from consuming copious amounts of American media.
But this law pervades further – Starbucks can’t just be named “Starbucks” – that’s too English – it’s “Café Starbucks” in Quebec. And The Voice in Quebec? La Voix. But in France? The Voice.