Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Quebec Nation and the Two Canoes

It was great to spend a few days in my old Montreal neighbourhood, in the province that denied Stephen Harper his majority.

Only to discover that although I'm still celebrating.

And the election signs are still up.

The province has already moved if the election never happened. As if every year that goes by the federal government is less and less relevant .

Which for some reason brings me to this column by Paul Wells.

Now I don't blame the Quebec Liberals for thinking that enshrining Quebec as a nation in the constitution might be the only way for them to regain some cred in the New Quebec...apart from proposing to abolish the monarchy. Except that it's probably too late. Iggy's probably not the guy.

And of course... details details... English Canada would never go for it. All you have to do is read some of the comments in Paul's post....and these are fairly reasonable ones. A lot of other English-Canadians are just Quebec bashers, and re-opening the Constitution would bring them out in droves.

Which as I walked through the leafy lanes of Mount Royal with my companion Sébastien , made me wonder where the two solitudes I live in are going. I think I know where Quebec is heading.

But where is English Canada going?

Because it seems to me that a country with an English Queen, that keeps looking for its identity in the bloody muck of Vimy Ridge or Passchendaele

If all people get from this was that Canadian troops were the best of the best and saved the day for the British Empire in 1917, and there was once a place called Passchendaele that should be spoken of in awed tones, it was a well done thing. For, on this kind of shared understanding of history is patriotism based.

At a time when most English Canadians called themselves BRITISH....and most of the CANADIENS were against the war.

But is too deadly afraid to touch its own Constitution, and adapt it to its own unique REALITY, is hopelessly lost. Or trapped in a bog of denial...even as American culture hollows it out.

Which seems like a tragedy to me because we're still such a young country and ANYTHING should be possible.

And there's room on the bench for all the different nations that share this beautiful country.

(click pic to enlarge)

So why I wonder are we so afraid of ourselves? Why can't we recognize each other for who we really are? Why don't we have the self confidence to do what needs to be done?

Why do I have to feel like I've got one foot in one canoe, one foot in another, and they're pulling me apart? Forcing me to choose which one I want to ride in. When we could each have our own canoe and paddle on merrily side by side forever. And I could ride in BOTH of them.

Oh well ....the other smaller disappointment was Sébastien and I couldn't find the two sets of initials and a heart I carved on a tree the summer we met.

Somewhere near this little bridge, where after rescuing me from a bloody bar fight, our two lives ....and two cultures .....came face to face for the first time.

But it doesn't really matter. English Canada needs to carve something on a tree somewhere, but I don't.

Because I already KNOW that when you respect someone, and you respect yourself, and you make a real effort to understand each other. Not as each one wants the other to be, but as you both really are.

It's amazing how you can end up falling in love.

And then ANYTHING is possible...


P.S. Just in case that post failed to move you....and you know Montreal .....and you like smoked meat.

How about this tragic shot?

Where's my smoked meat and swiss cheese sandwich ...and my CHEESECAKE ???


Time marches on....


Beijing York said...

Lovely post Simon. Makes one appreciate why we got so emotionally involved in this last election. It was important and political influence on our country remains important.

As for Ben's, well that is disappointing. I do remember wild weekend getaways to Montreal in my youth. They included munching on smoked meat and strawberry cheesecake at Ben's.

Anonymous said...

The week I moved to Montreal was the same week that all the Bens workers went on Strike. The place closed, and now it's being torn down.

Did I miss out or what?

Martin Gamache said...

Hi Simon

The thing is, we (french and english canadians) are often prisoners of the past. For me, a country is as much about where we want to go as where we came from.

Thanks for this moving post.

Simon said...

Hi Beijing York !! I'm glad you liked it.When my friends in Toronto visit Montreal they go wild. But when I'm there it makes me DREAMY.
As for Ben's it's been ding for years but it's still sad to see it go. Just like it would be very very sad to see Quebec leave Canada, because some narrowminded people don't know what they are talking about. Or what kind of hole it would leave in our collective soul...

Simon said...

Hi Mark !!! OK so NOW I know who to blame !!! :)
As I mentioned to Beijing York I only caught the end of it's long act. But it was a great place to go late at night. For one thing it was big, so you didn't have to eat elbow to elbow as you do at Schwartz's. Secondly it was a bright yellow colour with fabulous coloured drawings behind the when you were a little was quite the experience. And then there were the old gay waiters who were right out of a Damon Runyon novel, who didn't take any nonsense but spoiled us gay kids rotten.
Oh yeah...I forgot...they also had a fabulous Wall of Fame with pictures of all these singers and performers from a long lost era.
I wish it could have been saved, but with all the clubs moving to the east end of town I guess it was doomed. Dommage...

Simon said...

Hi Enkidu's palace...thanks I'm glad you liked it.I wish I could have made it better but I was sooooo tired. :)
And I agree with you 100 percent...Franch and English Canadians can be prisoners of the past. I think that Quebec maybe because of the Quiet Revolution has been more successful at moving on from the past. I find it a more confident place happy in it's own skin as we say. I also think that Quebecers recovered more quickly from the last referendum. While English Canadians sank into despair, and lost their confidence.
That's why it's important to build bridges, plan big shared projects that can excite both French and English Canadians, and never forget to point out how great we are TOGETHER...
It's quite a job especially since I don't really fit into either group. But I love them BOTH so I'm up to it !!! :)

Martin Gamache said...

Well your post was really great. La métaphore des canots était particulièrement pertinente et poétique (my english is sketchy at this time of night).

I do hope there are many of us around, But I have to say, there is bigotry and narrow-mindedness around in the Belle Province. I know : although I live in Montréal, I'm from Quebec City, where they voted in about ten conservative MPs... I kinda feel ashamed. :(

Simon said...

Hi enkidu's palace !!! Well thanks again. And yeah there are narrowminded people everywhere. But I just find that Quebecers are in general more tolerant than others. I'm also aware of the Quebec City situation...and their rivalry with "la metropole" or Montreal :)
I blame it on all those crazy radio show hosts and all those civil servants.
But don't worry you should see the Scottish village I came I won't hold it against you... :)