Guy Rex RodgersWhat We Choose To Remember

I am releasing the subtitled version of my documentary film this month. What We Choose To Remember will become Ce qu’on choisit de se souvenir. Anglophones, Allophones and Francophones in Quebec have not lived the same history so we choose to remember different things. These differences can be exploited, as we have seen with Bill 96, to divide Quebecers into opposed linguistic and ethnic tribes.

During the past year, I have shown my film more than 30 times in communities all around Quebec.  The audiences have been mostly English-speakers. Who are these Anglos living in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, the Gaspésie, the Outaouais, the Laurentians, Lanaudière and Estrie? What are they doing there? One of the strongest myths in Quebec is that Anglos live in Montreal, on the west side of Saint-Laurence Boulevard, concentrated in Westmount and the West Island.

As I have visited Rouyn-Noranda, Baie-Comeau, Sept-Iles, Stanstead, Knowlton, Morin-Heights, Aylmer and many other communities I have been struck by the important contribution English-speakers in so many regions have made to the development of modern Quebec. Some of them were bosses, but most were workers, farmers, teachers and shopkeepers. Their legacy is visible in schools and churches, and in the names of streets: Maple, Mill, King. The buildings and place names are facts, but they are remembered and interpreted differently. The Anglophones and Allophones who lived and worked in these communities did not see themselves as foreigners or invaders. They were friends and neighbours with Francophones. They lived and worked side by side.

What We Choose To Remember addresses a number of questions. Why did so many English-speakers leave the regions? Why did so many English-speakers leave Rosemount, Hochelaga and Montreal East?  Did hundreds of thousands of Anglos leave Quebec during the years of turbulence because they had never been real Quebecers? Or because the Quebec they were born into became inhospitable to their ‘foreign’ names and accents?

How many schoolchildren are taught that the inhabitants of West Quebec and the Eastern Townships were once 60% English-speaking? Or that Baie-Comeau, Noranda, Outremont and Montreal were all more than 50% English-speaking, Quebec City 40%, Gapsésie and Rosemount 25%? Anglophones and Allophones with deep roots in Quebec are proud of the role their families played in helping to create the modern, peaceful, progressive and prosperous society we enjoy today.  Again and again, I have heard them say they wish their contributions to Quebec, and their love for Quebec, could be recognized.

One of the first Francophones to screen What We Choose To Remember was journalist Josée Legault. I wondered if a positive view of the history of Anglophones and Allophones, particularly in the heated climate of Bill 96, must necessarily be interpreted as an attack on Quebec’s official Francophone version of history. I was gratified that the film reflected her reality as a bilingual Quebecker who has seen how Francophone media too often give Anglo stories a negative spin, while English media too often prioritize stories about historic Anglos demanding their constitutional rights. Josée Legault found it refreshing to see Anglophones and Allophones – from different backgrounds, speaking many combinations of language – simply trying to make a good life in Quebec and being happy to live here.

The few dozen Francophones who have seen the film during the past year have constituted a diverse group ranging from Acadiens and Franco-Ontarians to immigrants from Haiti, the Maghreb, Belgium and France as well as federalist québécois spouses and indépendantiste friends. They have all been surprised to discover English-speaking communities as diverse, complex and interesting as Quebec’s French-speaking communities. I am apprehensive but mostly curious about the reaction Ce qu’on choisit de se souvenir will receive from a wider Francophone audience.

I am also interested in your opinion.  The original version of the film and the new subtitled version can both be accessed free of charge on the film’s website

You can reach Guy at: [email protected]

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