This opinion piece was written by Jacquelyn Smith, a native of Hamilton, Ontario, and who now resides in Quebec City.
What is written below is aimed squarely at residents of Hamilton, Ontario, and McMaster University.
The views expressed below are the author’s, and are not necessarily shared by staff and owners of LifeinQuebec.com.
I woke up today with an image that shocked me. A picture taken of Université Laval’s Rouge et Or football team taking the field during the Vanier Cup played on the 23rd of November 2012 at the Rogers Centre in Toronto.
In the corner of the photo, a huge banner that states “French Second Language… Laval Second Place”.
Is the Rogers Centre not in the most multicultural city on the planet? Is racism not frowned upon and tolerance encouraged? How is it possible that fans from McMaster, I am assuming, a university that is renowned internationally for its academic excellence and scientific research, not to mention its ethnic diversity, could cook up such a racist sign?
I am from Hamilton, born and raised. I moved to Quebec City six years ago after attending a French programme and I am now a Law Student at Université Laval. Being an Anglophone (and an Ontarian at that) is not the terrible experience I assumed it would be.
When I moved to this province of “scary separatists” in 2006 I was waiting for a fight. I was waiting for people to tell me that if I don’t speak French I should get the heck out. I was waiting for people to tell me that there was no place for an English girl in the capital of Québec.
That has never happened.
In fact my experience has been quite the opposite. People have shown incredible patience and tolerance as I struggled learning the language of Molière, butchering it along the way.
When I first arrived every francophone I met was ready to speak English, so they could practice, but equally enthusiastic that I was an English Canadian who wanted to learn French. In this group of wonderfully tolerant people I must include Me André Joli-coeur, (the attorney whom was appointed amicus curae by the court to defend the Province of Québec at the Supreme Court in the Reference concerning questions relative to the unilateral secession of Québec after the last referendum).
At a Parti québécois event, organised by one of my friends at the faculty, Me Joli-coeur complimented me on my French and offered to speak in English if it would make me feel more comfortable.
After he asked me if I intended on returning to Ontario after my studies and I said no he replied «Bienvenu chez nous» which translates to “Welcome home”. To put this in context: at the alma mater of Lucien Bouchard, during a wine and cheese organised by the Parti québécois by a man who defended sovereignty to the Supreme Court, I was welcomed with open arms and congratulated for wanting to stay in Quebec City because “there are not enough people who can read and write English very well in Québec and English is important” as I have been told time and time again.
Would we be so tolerant of Quebeckers in Hamilton? Would we be thrilled that they are moving to our province, to our city to learn our language? Or would we just staunchly ask them “So why do you want to separate?” or “Why are you protesting, don’t you know you have the cheapest tuition in the country?” And followed by a comment I am all too tired of hearing: “Quebeckers are just a group of complainers”.
Quebec City has the same population as Hamilton, which means that it doesn’t have the capacity to have professional sports teams like Montreal or Toronto. So university football is a big deal here, the Rouge et Or are like the Ti-Cats are, or at least were, to Hamiltonians.
A few years ago I met a man who had gone to Hamilton to support Laval when they were playing in Ivor Wynne against the Marauders. The man was thrilled that I was from Hamilton! As he told me about his trip, I realised that his zeal from Hamilton came from the excitement of a road trip with his buddies and the misadventures he had in Steel Town, not necessarily from the hospitality he received. Nevertheless, the gentleman said that he was really thrilled to meet someone from Hamilton in Quebec, even though his welcome from our city was as warm as a November afternoon, but he was still willing to be my friend.
If we have learned anything about Quebec since 1867, it is that the French language is an essential element to their culture that they work hard to protect. There is legislation protecting it, there are programmes to encourage it, there are many faculties at many universities to research it. Language debates come up in every provincial and federal election. The French language, more importantly the Quebec French language, with all of its history, its nuance, its complexity, is sacred to Quebeckers. That sign, in six words, sums up why the Quiet Revolution took place.
On an institutional level, Université Laval requires that everybody graduates with a certain proficiency in English and in French.
However, with permission from the professor, Anglophone students can write their tests and assignments in English.
I wonder if McMaster would be so tolerant as to allow francophone students to write in French at the permission of the professor?
I wonder if McMaster is worldly enough to have a language requirement?
I wonder if McMaster students would be so willing to try to speak their second language to their non-Anglophone colleagues?
I wonder if this world-class institution would have so much class to exercise tolerance towards difference?
Judging from the banner flying at the Rogers Centre, I really wonder.
Laval won the cup, McMaster is second place.
Jacquelyn Smith was born and raised in Hamilton.
She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in International Developement from the University of Guelph and is currently studying Law at Université Laval.
Jacquelyn Smith lives in Quebec City.
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