The history of Quebec has always been defined by the clash of the 'Two Solitudes', the competition between the English and French communities, a struggle that lasted for over three centuries.
the era of French versus English drew to a close with the election of a
separatist government in the early 1970's. The decline and fall of the
Anglo empire was first signalled, much like the fall of the Roman
empire, by the slow and inexorable withdrawal from nether regions of
Vibrant English communities in the
Gaspé, the Eastern Townships and the Pontiac, melted away like snow in Spring and
today these communities are a mere shadow of what they once were, as the exodus of Anglos
out of the province or to the last safe haven in western Montreal
expanded. While there remains some scattered vestiges of their presence around the Province,
these Anglo communities are no longer self-sustaining and destined to
become historical footnotes.
The Anglo community has
fallen to just 8% of the provincial population, the vast majority holed
up in the western part of the Island of Montreal and like the
Christians of West Beirut, survival and perseverance, is the best that
can be hoped for.
While French language and cultural
militants continue to fight a battle for language supremacy against the
English, a fight, that has already been won, they are blithely ignoring
the growing influence of Montreal's ethnic community.
Once again Quebec is two nations.
battle today no longer has anything to do with language, but rather
culture, the conflict between traditional white, unilingual Catholic
francophone society versus the cosmopolitan melting pot that the
Montreal region has become.
Despite forty years of
sustained immigration, the rest of Quebec (ROQ) remains as lily white
and Catholic as ever. With the withdrawal of the English from the
regions and the refusal of immigrants to settle anywhere but the
Greater Montreal region, it's hard to find a place of worship other
than a Catholic Church outside the Montreal region.
Ethnics are so scare in the ROQ that even the Chinese restaurants have white francophone operators and servers.
25% of Montrealers are members of a visible minority, less than 2% of
those who live in the ROQ can say the same and while 50% of Francophone
Montrealers are bilingual, less than 15% of those in the rest of Quebec
can carry on a decent conversation in English.
cultural differences are so striking that the ROQ looks upon the region
of Montreal as a modern version of Sodom and Gomorrah, a foreign, unfriendly place
where a common language cannot mask the overwhelming cultural
Like tourists with craned necks gawking
at the skyscrapers of New York, visitors to Montreal from the ROQ stare
in utter disbelief at the city's changing face.
in broad hats and long coats, Indian in saris, Muslims in Hijabs and a
Sikhs in turbans leave these visitors shaking their heads in utter
disbelief and muttering under their breath words like, "Ça's peut pas!" ('No way!').
as if they have landed in another country, one that speaks the same
language, but one that is as culturally different as Toronto is from Glasgow.
rest of Quebec remains frozen in time. Crucifixes adorn town halls and
Catholic benedictions are offered before town council meetings. No
'holiday' parties here, it's strictly Christmas and Santa Claus and elves
adorn city offices, stores and public streets.
that immigrants will change their way of life, rural towns that can't
count a Muslim, Jew or Black among them, draw up holier than thou
manifestos, instructing immigrants on how to act, lest they bring
discord to the hitherto harmonious community.
and Anglophone Montrealers have to a large extent made their peace with the
immigrants. Like Toronto or Vancouver, the city has become a vibrant
multi-coloured collage of different elements. While Montreal speaks
French as a common language, it does so in so many different ways and different accents.
society has evolved, while the rest of Quebec
society stubbornly resists and dreams of the good old days of Gilles Vigneault, Felix
Leclerc and Maurice Richard.
As their numbers grow, newcomers to
Montreal are finally shedding their historical role as fearful
outsiders and have become proud and involved elements of Montreal
North African Muslims have successfully petitioned the city to create it's third 'ethnic' neighbourhood and so 'La Petit Mahgreb' joins Chinatown and La Petit Italie as recognized districts.
the city decided to rename an important artery to honour the memory of
the late Premier Robert Bourassa, the city's Greek community organized
a successful defence of their beloved Parc Avenue. Interestingly, the
majority of city Francophones supported the demand that the Greek
community's fierce attachment to the name be respected.
decry the fact that Montreal is now less than 50% old stock francophone
and with 30,000 new immigrants arriving and settling in the city each
year, there's little doubt that the divide will widen.
The immigration debate is only now igniting. Old stock
Quebeckers are sounding an alarm that may be, in many respects, too
little and much too late.
With Quebec set to accept a record 55,000 new immigrants for the next few years, the writing is on the wall.
Quebec society is branching off into two distinct directions.