Guy Rex RodgersWhat We Choose To Remember

Tell me your story and I’ll predict your future. If I know what you believe, I can predict what you will achieve.

The main reason I chose to spend my adult life in Quebec was its inspirational story. Emerging from generations of oppression, a small but proud underdog cast off its shackles and threw an extraordinary coming-out party. When Canada celebrated its 100th birthday, Quebec not only crashed the party, it hijacked the entire celebration.

Jean Drapeau, mayor of Montreal (1954-86), was determined to use Expo ’67 to make Montreal the most famous city in the world. He produced a series of monthly magazines 1964-67 and sent them to opinion-makers around the world. Every month for four years, Mayor Drapeau’s promo team portrayed Montreal as the hippest city in the most sophisticated province in the most advanced country in the world.  It was a rip-roaring, fascinating story.

Drapeau’s Montreal combined all the charm of Old Europe with the advanced technology of the Space Age. The second largest French-speaking city in the world, and proudly French, Montreal could also welcome visitors in English and all the languages of its diverse, post-war population. Each magazine was bilingual and every photo was captioned in at least four languages.

The response to Expo ‘67 exceeded all expectations. Quebeckers from every region came to the metropolis to participate in the celebration, along with visitors from every province and territory of Canada and almost every country of the world. Attendance reached 50 million at a time when the entire population of Canada was 20 million. Drawn to Montreal by the buzz, visitors went away fans and ambassadors.

Montreal came of age during the 60s and 70s with new highways, a metro system and a huge airport to accommodate the anticipated exponentially increasing traffic. During the disco era, jet-setters flew into Montreal to party when they were bored with Manhattan, London and Paris. The crowds returned for the 1976 Olympics. Montreal had become a world city. The impact on the boomer generation was immeasurable, creating global friendships in every area of creativity and enterprise.

It was all part of the story. A small but proud underdog had cast off the Great Darkness in a Quiet Revolution to create a modern, progressive, prosperous society that welcomed immigrants from around the world, asking only that they adopt the official language of French.  It was a compelling and inspirational modern myth – for those who believed it.

How well does reality reflect the myth that inspired Quebec for the past half-century? The CAQ government and many voices in the media have decided it was a grotesque delusion and an utter failure.

However, if you want to read a fascinating compendium of dissenting opinions I highly recommend Le francais en déclin?  Repenser la francophonie Québécoise – edited by Jean-Pierre Corbeil, Richard Marcoux and Victor Piché (Del Busso éditeur, 2023).  The many authors who contributed to the book make the case that French-speakers in Quebec now greatly exceed the number in Nouvelle France the year of The Conquest. The percentage of Quebecers who speak French has increased since the 1960s, as has the visible presence in signage. The quality of French has improved since the days of Joual and the rate of literacy has steadily increased due to massive investments in education. Even the percentage of Anglos working exclusively in French has significantly increased. This all could be, and should be, cause to celebrate.

Instead, politicians and opinion-makers tell us that the state of French in Quebec is a disaster, out of control, and rapidly deteriorating. They repeat the mantra, with increasingly manic stridency, that Quebec is at the tipping point of Lousianisation; there is too much English because Quebec has been invaded by English-speaking students, immigrants, temporary workers and refugees.  There are too many people whose mother tongue is not French, especially in Montreal, which has become an alien and frightening territory for Quebecers from the regions.  Worst of all, Francophones-de-souche, particularly the young, are using English more often for entertainment and even at work, and Francophones-d’adoption are not becoming unilingual.

Quebec’s emerging myth is a depressing story that defines the inexorable increase of bilingualism as failure and betrayal by Anglos, Allophones, immigrants and bilingual Francophones.  If the majority of Quebecers enjoy being bilingual and multilingual, why are we allowing a minority of prophets of doom to portray us as the enemy?

No need to be Nostradamus to predict that a story denying reality, and alienating the majority, will fail miserably.

Guy Rex Rodgers was founding Executive Director of the English Language Arts Network (ELAN) and recently returned to filmmaking. You can reach Guy at: [email protected]

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