Canada has a peculiar twist on multiculturalism: unlike the idea of a “melting-pot” that most “New World” countries refer to, in Canada we often talk about a mosaic, or to be more specific, “Trudeau’s mosaic / la mosaïque trudeauiste.” Pierre-Elliott Trudeau was the prime minister of Canada at a time of great modernisation, which included a major effort to make the country much more democratic and egalitarian. He is widely regarded as the leading contributor to Canada’s Constitution.
Trudeau, in a moment of joy over patriation of Canada’s constitution, performed his now famous pirouette at Uplands Airport here 4/18 /82 following the Queens’s departure for London after the 4-day state visit which climaxed with the proclamation of the Constitution Act, 1982. (CP Photo/Andy Clark). Source.
Although he didn’t come up with the metaphor, wandering around the streets of Canada’s major cities, and especially Montreal, it’s easy to see why the concept would appeal to this Pine Avenue resident: from one block to another, Montrealers draw mental borders based on language, religion, ethnicity and, of course, social class. Then there is the overlay of the “Two Solitudes,” a vision of Canada whereby English-speakers and French-speakers do not take interest in each others’ point of view, much less interact with it. Finally, we have our fractured federal system.
The idea of a mosaic may have been appropriate in the 20th century, but is it today? Again, walking around Montreal, you will still see and hear people of different cultural communities, but the vast majority of these communities do not huddle away. Just in terms of language alone - our favourite point of reference - 120 different mother tongues are spoken in this city. The fact that Canada’s second largest city is the most multilingual metropolis in North America speaks for itself. In most of the rest of the country, where Canadian bilingualism is on much less of an even footing, the mosaic metaphor is even less pertinent.
Perhaps Trudeau was particularly keen to minimise accusations of pushing an assimilation agenda as he encouraged Canadian bilingualism. One of the many links between the movements to protect the French language and for Quebec sovereignty is the threat of being folded into English-speaking Canada, much like other cultural minority currently are. This threat does in fact have a historical root in actual Canadian policy: the 1838 Durham Report.
On that note, let’s take a step back and think about what a mosaic is. Colourful tiles that are not usually particularly valuable or meaningful when taken alone, but when pushed and cemented together, they form a magnificent vision. However, if the mosaic is not carefully maintained, mold and bacteria will infiltrate, the cement will eventually crumble, and pieces will begin to fall off. Maybe Trudeau was right after all.
While the Government of Quebec pontificates about how to find a single so-called “Anglo Leader” on to whom it will be able to offload all its language angst issues - it’s worth pointing out that the province’s English-speaking community is incredibly diverse (like Canada as a whole.) And I don’t think you can get any further from the Westmount upper-crust Board of Trade monarchist-federalist Astronaut-Politician stereotype than the Mooklife crowd. Check out their recent article. I’ll let it speak for itself! - William
“Hood rich” by MookLife, Montreal
A new record smashed - just over 11,000 people visited Fuck Yeah Quebec’s Facebook page last week! Before I started this blog, I knew that people outside the province would be fascinated to learn about our striking and unique culture, and I knew that English-speakers at home were desperate for the opportunity to celebrate who we are. Thank you all for proving me right. There is no place in the world like this, the are no people in the world like ours, and we need to be proud of who we are and what we have when we speak to the rest of the planet. Thank you all very much once again. I am immensely proud.
PS: Don’t forget to like the Facebook page (the content is different!) and if you’re interested in knowing more about what kind of nutcase would run a website like this one, feel free to follow me or add me on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.
Image: The Quartier des spectacles at Nuit Blanche, Courtesy Montréal en lumière.
How does bilingualism work? The etiquette is a mystery for those of us who come from monolingual places. In Montreal, the approach is actually very pragmatic, and I think the question of service in shops offers a good glimpse of how we muddle through. I’ve been meaning to write this up for a while, and this question from an American reader has spurred me into action.
Here then is a spectrum of greetings you are likely to encounter from staff in a Montreal shop, and what they mean:
Image: The Office québécois de la langue française on Sherbrooke Street works to ensure that the legislation surrounding the use of French is respected and to promote the use of the French language. Photo by Michel Ferraro.
Despite all of the above, it’s not unusual to flip back and forth between the two languages during a conversation, especially if complicated vocabulary is required. Do you have any bilingual Montreal stories you would like to share?