Interested in a Crash Course on Quebec Culture?

Interested in a Crash Course on Quebec Culture?

by Sarah Williams

When you come from out of province, whether it’s from the ROC (“rest of Canada” – a term for English-Canada) or another country all together, upon your arrival in Quebec you may be taken aback by the breadth and vibrancy of the French-language culture; as I was when I moved here over a decade ago (Celine Dion and the Cirque du Soleil are just the tip of the iceberg).  

For curious newcomers, or tourists just passing through, the Musée de la Civilisation has several very informative exhibits going on this summer that can help you to become better acquainted with the province of Quebec; its people and its history.  The third of July marks Quebec City’s  404th birthday, so what better way to celebrate than to dedicate a day to learning more about the amazing history of la belle province   

The World of Michel Tremblay

Musée de la Civilisation - The World of Michel Tremblay - Photo : Rachel Bussières, Perspective

During the 1960’s, playwright and novelist, Michel Tremblay, produced works that were considered extremely realistic portrayals of Quebec’s working-class population.  Tremblay’s play, Les Belles Sœurs (The Sisters-in-law), debuted in 1968, and was lauded as revolutionary for its inclusion of joual in the dialogue.  Joual is the term used to describe the Quebec French initially spoken by the working-class in Montreal, but nowadays is a vocabulary of slang that is commonly used province-wide. 

The museum’s exhibit makes use of recorded interviews with Tremblay, images and artifacts to give us a glimpse into the past that inspired the man behind the writing.  For the English-speakers among us, this walk down Tremblay’s memory lane, can still be fairly enlightening as all the written elements are in both French and English, and a majority of the video recordings are equipped with subtitles.

Exhibit runs until August 18, 2013. 

Radio-Canada: A Story to Follow

Radio-Canada: A Story to Follow - "La Petite Vie" costume. Photo by Sarah Williams.

This retrospective of the television and radio programs that have shaped the lives of Quebecers since 1936, is a nod to the 75th anniversary of the French-language public broadcaster.   Evidentially television screens and video and audio recordings are incorporated into this exhibit, but there are also vestiges of past TV productions including paraphernalia such as costumes and puppets.   

Quebecers will likely feel nostalgic while touring this exhibit, while the rest of us will come away better informed about pop culture references like “LaPetite Vie” and  “La Famille Plouffe” (two very popular televised series in Quebec).

Exhibit runs until September 23, 2012.  

People of Quebec…Then and Now

For a brief play by play of Quebec’s story from the first settlement in 1608 to today, this on-going exhibit is a good place to start.

People of Quebec...Then and Now : Charlebois Habs Jersey - Photo by Sarah Williams

And it’s not all boring history either; even the early years have interactive audio recordings: actors portraying some of the people who played a significant role making Quebec a success story.  The National Film Board has also supplied some very compelling footage, including a short film on life after the Quiet Revolution (a period of intense political and social change in Quebec that took place from 1960-66).

There are over 500 objects and artifacts that help to illustrate what is a very rich and vibrant past.  The sequined Habs jersey (Habs is short for “Les Habitants”, also known as The Canadiens hockey team) from the personal collection of Quebecois rock star, Robert Charlebois, was particularly noteworthy.

Permanent exhibition.

As an added note: There are also several other exceptional exhibits worth mentioning at the Musée de la Civilisation…

All Japan – All Summer!

Samourai - Photo by Sarah Williams

East meets west this summer, with the other star attractions all adhering to a Japanese theme. There is the impressive collection of Samourai armour, an exhibit featuring several hand-made kimonos, and two photography collections: one of photos depicting the aftermath and clean-up following the earthquake and tsunami of 2011, and the other illustrating the trend witnessed in Japanese youth where they dress up and adapt their appearance to mimic their favourite anime characters.

Check the museum’s website for hours of operation :


About the author:

SARAH WILLIAMS is a mother of three young children, who says she writes just to stay sane.

Sarah had her first experience living in Quebec while earning her bachelor’s degree in Communications at Concordia University (MTL) in the late nineties.

Hailing from Cobourg, Ontario, Sarah moved to Quebec City in January of the year 2000. For her, this city is the perfect balance of the small town feel of her hometown in Ontario and the vibrant francophone culture of Montreal.

Professionally, Sarah has worked a fair bit in the media as a copywriter and researcher; for Global Television, and for a T.V. cooking show (what’s cooking).
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