Over the past decade, I have been living under a rock, finishing a book that took years to put together, and I acknowledge that I have a much better understanding of how the mythical Rip Van Winkle felt, waking up after his decades-long snooze. The world is a changed place. It is easy to blame the growth of social media and the advent of COVID 19, but do we share no responsibility? Is there not more we can do as a community to reach out to each other and see who is still here? The energy invested in this publication gave it – and us – a sense of ourselves. It is true that 4Korners is taking up some of the slack, and they have helped many rural Anglos get online, reaching the isolated elderly, many of whose children have moved away to other provinces. It goes way beyond that with some interesting programming on ZOOM, but it is not a replacement for Main Street, the Laurentian Club and other initiatives of the past. Are we accepting that our small, rural community is simply dying out?
This autumn we attended an English play at Theatre Morin Heights. It was well-attended. One of the organizers told me that a lot of the audience were new English residents, part of the urban exodus triggered by the pandemic. These people are not yet integrated into the community, but Theatre Morin Heights managed to reach out to them, so it is possible. Perhaps we need that organization’s help for ideas of what to do to further our reach. As Jack Burger said when he reached out to us, our population would constitute the second-largest town in the Laurentians. Evidently the demographics have changed, but have we also changed? Are we, the English still here after all these generations, accepting the Legault picture that we don’t really belong? Is there no fight left in us?
The issue goes beyond the English community. We need to stand up again and fight back. This is not simply a problem for an aging cohort of the Laurentian English. It is an endemic problem with the current mentality that has come to accept that the majority has dictatorial power. It doesn’t. At the same time, “English community” is somewhat of a misnomer. It should at least be understood as the English Communities, or more pertinently in the face of a dictatorship of a homogenous majority, we should see ourselves as a part of the Minority Communities.
How will it help us to see ourselves this way? First, it establishes that we are genuine Quebeckers, not tolerated guests. Second, as a part of a minority community in Quebec, we are the people for whom the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms was written. Any modification of that document must be discussed with the minority communities that it was designed to protect.
Jack Burger’s Laurentian minority community has become a sleepy town, overwhelmed by cultural illusions promulgated by the Quebec majority. We must wake up, find our minority companion communities, and work together to fight back. Jack managed to find all of those communities, but it is a never-ending task to keep in touch with them all.
Here are some of the concerns we need to address:
1) The official rewriting of Quebec history for our school children. See Sam Allison and John Bradley, in the Spring 2019 issue of Quebec Heritage News, page 20, in which they accuse our English educational leaders of collaborating in the dissemination of a false history of Quebec.
2) The erasure of our names. The first that comes to mind is the disappearance of St. Andrew’s East, but there are many, many more.
3) Bill 21 and Bill 96 of this government, telling us how to dress and over-riding our Charter rights in an attempt to suffocate the English language.
4) Local concerns: We must learn to reach out to all cultural and linguistic minorities, encouraging their voices.
5) English schools: for many years our school taxes were multiples of those in the French system, so people changed over, allowing the government to assume that we did not care enough to support our schools.
Quebec’s minorities have always risen to the occasion, to stop the tendency to homogenise that has been present in Quebec’s culture ever since Champlain invited the Recollet Brothers to come and administer the colony. Immigrants from non-French-speaking and non-Catholic areas in France were absorbed as French Catholics. French Huguenots, victims of violent ethnic cleansing in France, were forced to become Catholics here.
The English minority has been scapegoated for the sins of the Catholic Church. From the beginning of the transfer to the Protestant kingdom in 1763, French businessmen began to flower, some out-competing English and Scottish entrepreneurs, until the Catholic Church dropped its dark robe upon them in the 1840s. Today, the goals of the Catholic Church are being fulfilled through an aggressive program of secularization.
Join the conversation: What does it say about our region that we do not have a popular community organisation to represent us? Watch events posted on Quescren and QAHN. Our situation here is not unique and English-language groups are doing what they can to help us wake up to the situation and stand together for our Charter rights. Heritage Canada, and even the Quebec government are helping underwrite their costs. If we do nothing, then the Quebec government can demonstrate that they were there to listen, but we stayed silent. Our sleepy little town must awaken.