If You Can Read This, You’re the English-speaking Community

If You Can Read This, You’re the English-speaking Community

Preface: This was read by Farnell Morisset during the Community Future Forum, organised by the Leadership Table and Voice of English-Speaking Quebec.  For those of you not familiar with either organisation, they represent a loose affiliation of institutions which include English-language schools, churches, cultural groups, and health care providers, which they commonly refer to as “the English-speaking community”.  It was in the context of a discussion forum on the future of this “English-speaking community” that the following was presented: 

Good morning ladies and gentlemen,

Life in Quebec Assistant Editor Farnell Morisset speaking at the Future Forum. Photo courtesy of VEQ.

My name is Farnell Morisset.  I was born at the Jeffery Hale in 1988.  My mother was a teacher at Quebec High School then, and now she’s Vice Principal there.  My sister and I both attended Holland School, Quebec High School, CEGEP Saint-Lawrence, and St-Andrew’s Church.  I learned to play the bagpipes with the 78th Fraser Highlanders, volunteered with the Christmas Hampers, the Literary and Historical Society, and sat on the QHS governing board.  Today my sister is a manager at La Maison Simons, and I work in business development for a technology firm where the majority of our clients are English-speaking.  I’m starting with this because I feel I’m as pure an example of the Quebec English community as there is.  I feel strongly connected to this community, I love this community, and I want to be an active part of this community.

So when I was given an opportunity to speak here about the future of the English community, I jumped at the chance.  And then I realised… I don’t know what the English community even is.  So I started thinking, and that’s when I got into trouble.

I started with what seemed like the general consensus of what was “in” this community, to see if I could somehow define the loose association of organisations I’ve always associated with the English community.  So that’s the English schools, then.  Add to that, of course, Jeffery Hale hospital and Saint-Brigid’s Home.  Then you also throw in the churches, of course.  And the Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph, which writes about all of the above.  These, then would be the pillars of this “community” notion I was trying to define for myself.

With what seemed like a solid foundation, I did the next logical thing, which was to find what they all have in common.  That was pretty clear – they’re all institutions that are pretty old, by my standards.  Also, they’re all very British institutions (and by “British” I mean the British Isles – Ireland, Scotland, England and the like).  I stress this is not a bad thing – it’s merely a neutral observation that these are institutions which were established and developed at a time when these British interests were economically, politically, and therefore socially predominant.  The institutions I named earlier, therefore, can be seen as the remnants of that time, which would mean the English Community seems to be, as part of its core definition, an ethno-cultural identity.

And I deeply, deeply dislike that notion.  I dislike it for two reasons.  First, it’s simply irreconcilable with the English Community’s professed openness.  It’s socially suicidal to expect potential newcomers, whether they are immigrants or Québécois, to want to join a community which is based on the institutions of an ethno-cultural reality with which they don’t identify themselves.  Second, those who do grow up in this ethno-cultural community are, by and large, leaving as soon as they get the chance.  Of those friends I had from elementary school to CEGEP, most of them have left, and of those who have stayed only very few feel any sort of attachment to this “community” of ours.  These are bright, ambitious, skilled, and highly valuable young people who leave because they feel, for reasons I have been trying to understand for years, that they more closely identify to, and will be better served by, a community that defines itself differently.

Ladies and gentlemen, what I am trying to tell you is that for this community to survive into the future, we will need to define ourselves differently.  Merely defending our institutional pillars is only a vision in which our community ends up a quaint, albeit expensive, picture on the wall of days gone by.  I do not want this for us.

Now I’m certainly not one to say “we need to do things differently” and leave it at that.  I do have a definition – a vision of ourselves – that I want to propose instead.  This vision will, for some of us, require considerable open-mindedness.  However, I feel it brings the very best of what we have to offer to the reality of the present – and future – of our region.  It will bring value to our region, which will in turn bring our region’s value to us.  And most importantly, it is already happening, we just need to get on board.

It all started with a simple question I came onto while trying to define the English Community to myself.  I wanted to know how big the community was – how many people are part of this community.  That in itself is a hard one to answer, because it means you also need to have answered “who is English” by our definition?  Does “English”, to us, mean “unilingual Anglophone” or “predominantly Anglophone”?  Je crois sincèrement que non, parce que si c’est le cas, et bien moi-même je ne suis pas – et je ne voudrais pas être – membre de cette communauté.  I prefer, rather, thinking of “English” as meaning simply “person who speaks English”.  I know I’m not the only one to think that way, since VEQ takes great pains to remind us the “E” stands for “English-speaking”.  So, how many of those people are living in the greater Quebec City region?

205 570.

I’m not making that number up from the top of my head.  According to the most recent census data[1] I could find, 37.75% of the 544 495 people living in the Quebec City census metropolitan area consider themselves bilingual French and English speakers.  That is who “we” are, and therefore that is who we need to start thinking of ourselves as when we talk about providing services and lobbying for recognition.  You ask an average person walking through Place Laurier if they are one of us English speakers and there is more than a one-in-three chance they will say “yes”.

Ask them if they identify themselves as members of the “English Community” though, and you’ll almost certainly get a negative response.  English, to them, is most likely a tool – not an identity.  There is no common ethno-cultural thread that binds them together and sets them apart from the other two thirds, and so it is self-defeating to define ourselves by any ethno-cultural institutions and community-gathering initiatives. 

I propose, therefore, that we define ourselves instead by the function we serve to the greater community.  So what do they have in common?  What function do, by and large, English speakers in Quebec City fulfill?  I would answer this: we’re the city’s… salespeople.

Whether its tourism, aeronautics, festivals, videogames, data processing, film, business, and / or finance – those are the places where you are most likely to find English-speakers for whom a significant part of their business is regularly conducted in English, with English-speaking clients from everywhere on Earth.  These are the people essential in taking our existing and growing local skills and expertise, developed here in Quebec City, and turn it into profitable operations that bring visibility to our metropolitan community while bringing back wealth for the people who live here.  These are the people who make our artists known internationally, who make our videogames known worldwide, who make our technology enterprises renowned for their innovation and ingenuity, and in so doing build our city’s place on the world stage.

These are not les maudits anglais, these are the city’s partners in economic, social, and cultural growth.  And who better than one of us – one of those English speakers who chooses to live here in acceptance and harmony with the unique cultural reality of the city – to specialise in this field.  The fact is hundreds of thousands of Quebec City residents have already done this on their own, without any help or consideration from us.  Just imagine what we could do if we could make them realise the value of who they are – who we are – as a group.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is my vision for the future of the English community.  Please consider it during your discussions today, and in the coming months and years.

[1] Select « Québec » from the list.

About the author:

Born and raised in Québec City, Farnell Morisset attended English school throughout his primary, secondary, and CEGEP studies, before ultimately choosing to stay in Québec City and study civil engineering at Laval University.

While at Laval, he served as president of the civil engineering student association. It was there that he discovered his affinity for writing and commentary, preparing a weekly column in the student newspaper dealing with the issues he, as president of the association, felt were important and relevant.

Farnell is passionate about discussing (amongst other things) the issues of modern social identity for many Québecois who, like him, feel deeply connected to the Québecois nation and culture yet do not identify with the traditional francophone non-practicing Catholic nationalist image.

He is also alarmed by what seems to be an invasive and aggressive polarization of complex social issues for which there are no black-and-white answers. This eventual identity crisis, he feels, will only be solved through good faith in, and honest communication with, all sides pulling on our ever dwindling “pure laine” blanket.

It is with this in mind that he contributes to LifeinQuebec.com as a valued member of our, in-house, writing team.

Categories: Opinion

About Author

Farnell Morisset

Farnell Morisset has an engineering degree from Université Laval and common law and civil law degrees from McGill University, where he also studied economics.


  1. jobp
    jobp 4 December, 2012, 08:51

    I presume that this 37% are also Federalists, which is also impressive considering the past support for an independant Quebec was very strong in this area. Good work Farnell.

  2. Farnell Morisset
    Farnell Morisset 6 December, 2012, 19:51

    I’m not sure of that Job. That 37% does technically include Pauline Marois, since her English has gotten considerably better and she does work in the Quebec City region, as well as the majority of PQ MNAs. I doubt there’s any significant correlation between political allegiance and knowledge of English at all.

    You’re also mistaken in saying that support for independence is strong in the Québec region – it is considerably less strong than the rest of the province, as our region has historically voted for federalist parties in much larger proportions than the rest of the province.

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