'A stranger in my own land'
SOLANGE CHAPUT ROLLAND
In 1965 the Centennial Commission offered a grant to Gwethalyn Graham and Solange Chaput Rolland that would enable them to continue the bicultural dialogue begun in Dear Enemies. The plan was that both authors should journey together across Canada and record in a diary their views of the present Canadian condition. Gwethalyn Graham's death in November 1965 necessarily changed the original concept of the project, so last February Mme Chaput Rolland decided to make the trip alone. The result of her six-month journey in search of a nation, My Country: Canada Or Quebec?, will be published soon by Macmillan of Canada.
As the following extracts from her diary show, it was not a sentimental journey. Mme Chaput Rolland makes no attempt to supply the balance and objectivity that an English-speaking collaborator would have provided. Her diary is highly personal, at times raw, and always honest. It will offend and even wound many English-speaking Canadians. It will sadden all Canadians who care for Canada. Mme Chaput Rolland set out by asking a question that had haunted her since the publication of Dear Enemies: “Is my country Canada or Quebec?” Her conclusion is that Quebec may some day be a country — her country. But Canada, never.
February 20, 1966: “Why did you accept this
difficult mission?” my friends asked. I do not know, and yet in some mysterious way I do. How could I live with myself if 1 did not once again
'If there is a common denominator between French and Canadians,! haven’t found
try to bridge the gap between French and English Canada? ... A woman sits at my table in the dining room. We smile at each other, and open a conversation. My companion was born in Calgary, and does not speak French. Realizing my French identity a little too soon for my bilingual vanity, she naturally excuses herself for not knowing my language, thus projecting me instantly into the core of our problems.
“1 learned French in high school. 1 can still read it. but 1 cannot speak it.”
How' could she. since most of her teachers taught French without being able to speak one word of it? Every Canadian deplores the poor quality of French in English schools, hut do we really try to improve the situation? Our dialogue slowly fades into silence.
Less than 20 minutes from Dorval. I lose my name: I am now known as Soulange Chapootc Rollande. I also lose my newspapers, my language, my Quebec magazines. Every traveler leaves his country behind when he travels abroad, but as a French Canadian, l become a stranger in my own land simply by crossing a street! All French Canadians feel this estrangement when they travel in Canada, and most of them resent it. 1 do. too.
February 21: Halifax is a peculiar town: the wooden houses all look / continued on page 38
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A STRANGER continued from pape 25
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To Quebec: “Shut up, leave us alone”
alike. The people are somewhat grim, little inclined to be facetious. It must be difficult to be accepted here, but fortunately, through my long association with Voice of Women, old friends are helping me to meet the residents of Halifax.
Distressed, I realize my visit will implicate my friends.
“We will be considered pro-French,” they say.
“And is it a sin to be pro-French?”
“No, but it is compromising.”
With this blow to my pride, I inquire about this veiled animosity toward Quebec.
“Yours is a rich province, and ours is poor. Ottawa stoops down to you with all kinds of concessions; you have the power of blackmail and you use it well.”
Maybe I have discovered the core of the Maritimers’ bitterness against us.
February 22: At nine this morning I gave a lecture to history students at Dalhousie. I begged the permission of my class to ask the last question: “What do you want or expect of Quebec?”
The answer was hard, blunt, and very honest: “We want you to shut up and leave us alone.”
Needless to say, I was startled. The young student was, I realized, equally surprised at her own vehemence.
February 25: I am this morning painfully conscious that it will be impossible for me to pass an exhaustive judgment on Canada. Because of the limits of my Centennial grant, and because of my family obligations, I cannot reside very long in each province. Therefore I will accept humbly and readily the criticism of those who will surely ask how I can form an opinion of a town after spending so little time in it. But surely I can say that though there is a great difference between Vancouver and Halifax, this whole country becomes a monolithic block when it reflects on the situation of Quebec. I have been here for less than a week; already I have been told three times, “Some of us are quite ready to go back on the Plains of Abraham and clean up your mess.”
PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND
February 28: At 10, the premier, Walter Shaw, receives me with cordiality, friendliness, simplicity. “And why are you visiting PEI?”
“To find out, Mr. Premier, if your island is ready to make room for us in Confederation.”
I am literally deluged in a flow of words from the premier. He affirms his admiration for Jean Lesage and stresses the fact that his province would be happy to obtain the “same concessions from Ottawa that your people always get.” I wince at the word “concessions,” and noticing my tenseness, the premier assures me of his admiration of “your people, and your culture, which should be preserved in Canada But.” says the premier. “you should tell your people that bilineualism works both ways ” I am speechless. It seems that Mr.
Shaw could not find at the border of Quebec and New Brunswick a single waitress to speak English to him. “If you want us to speak French, then you should learn English.” I tried to explain, in English, that we did not want to force French on English provinces, but to no avail.
FREDERICTON March 3: A lovely young Acadian girl accuses me of being unconscious of her people’s plight, of bearing contempt for her language. Once again I stumble against the deep and sometimes unconscious resentment of the Acadians for Quebec. I am ill at ease because we French - speaking Canadians set a poor example to our young students of the bonne entente between French people in Canada.
“You speak loudly in Quebec and sometimes unwisely. And your young people do not care much for us, nor for the consequences of their attacks. The more they yell, the more we are persecuted here.” The bitterness of her words startled me.
“And what do you wish of Quebec, mademoiselleT’
“Nothing, except a little more maturity in your demands to the rest of this country.”
March 27: The Torontonian is rather prone to view himself as the typical English Canadian. The CBC in Toronto expresses itself as if its broadcasts were speaking for the whole country, and this infuriates the other provinces. When I queried an old friend as to the common denominator of English Canadians coast to coast, she answered seriously, “Their hatred for Toronto.”
I do not expect Toronto to become suddenly pro-French, but at least I hope to find here a reasonable awareness of Quebec’s life, thoughts, and aims.
March 30: A long discussion with the managing director of the French radio station CJBC reveals the wonderful' change of climate in Toronto. TwOi years ago, 1 had been a witness of the! collective hysteria of Torontonians dis-j covering that the CBC had decided tc; transform CJBC into a French-lan-1 guage station.
“It was as if we had become ar| Oriental menace. The Orangists Toronto were outraged because the;* thought we in CJBC were undercove| papist agents,” laughed one youn^ French reporter.
Yet, here in Toronto can we refusej to applaud the Star and the Globe ani Mail for their honest effort to explair* understand, and analyze Quebec? aims? The quality of their editorial has done much to bridge the gap K tween Quebec and Ontario. It is no^ possible to predict that if our Canadian dichotomy is to find a happy solutior! it may be because Ontario leads Enf lish Canada into an acceptance °j Quebec’s position in Canada. I do ncj for one minute forget, however, thj entrenched hostility to Quebec stS existing in some parts of Toronto. Ye? the Star and the Globe are doing thej
A STRANGER continued
“Accept what English Canada decides for you, or get out”
best to buttress some of our views, but since my arrival here I have read numerous letters from irate readers all wishing that Quebec would get out of Confederation.
April 1: This morning I visited the French School of Toronto. I am full of admiration for the ease with which all these very young Torontonians are learning French, but I would have been elated if I had found that this French School, inspired by France, bad adopted a few Quebec books as part of its curriculum. This kind of ¡international bilingualism has no Canadian reality.
April 3: I am back at my hotel after having shopped at the bookstore, the grocer’s, and other shops. Everywhere 1 spoke French, and everywhere I was met with courtesy and with a desire to help me. I feel comforted by this forgoing of the rude “Speak English’’ with which, years ago, I was told to use the other language of Canada.
April 4: T am less than three hours from Toronto, but nevertheless I feel as if I had gone back 10 years in time. After the interesting hubbub of Toronto, London happily sleeps its richness away.
“The richest town per capita,” everyone repeats.
The University of Western Ontario, anachronistically draped in Gothic hauteur, sticks out as a barren fortress of learning.
THE PREMIER’S OFFICE, TORONTO
April 6: For more than 30 minutes, Mr. Robarts has answered my questions frankly and with a great deal of self-assurance. In his presence. I suddenly realize that whoever he may be, the premier of Ontario carries much power in Canada.
“Do you believe that Quebec will become an independent state?”
His answer was blunt, hard, and very cold. “No, this will not happen. I will not let it happen.”
“Will we see federal troops surrounding Quebec? Do you fear a civil war in Quebec?”
I leave without exactly knowing whether Mr. Robarts is won over to us, or if he is calmly waiting for the right time to pounce on us.
April 8: My last evening in Toronto has been spent with Franco-Ontarians and Québécois. One phrase forms the motif of our discussion: “Here we
have no rights, only privileges. The Ontario government must change this situation.” I am an outsider in their midst. I feel spoiled, wealthy. My life in Quebec is easy; theirs in Ontario is complicated. But I understand their feelings. If I were to live outside Quebec, I too would form a “resistance,” and I would let no one deprive me of my French identity.
L AC MAROIS. QUE.
April 15: Montreal is definitely not a
separatist town, but many Montrealers are separatists. Toronto is not antiQuebec, but some Torontonians are “fed up with French Canada.”
I have forgotten to note that during my euphoric stay in Toronto I was brought down to earth by an article in the Telepram, titled Either Shut Up Or Get Out. In other words, accept what
English Canada decides for you, or get out of Canada. Those of us who are not separatists will become so, simply to offset such harsh words.
MONTREAL-VANCOUVER May 1 : “Do you speak Parisian French or Quebec French?”
How can the English Canadians be
convinced of their utter ridiculousness when, unable to say one decent word of French, they come out with such a stupid question?
"Non. monsieur, I definitely and proudly do not speak Parisian French. I try to speak international French with, of course, a Quebec accent. Do you speak London English?”
“No,” he says.
May 2: Here, so far, I have discovered no animosity but a jaunty indifference
A STRANGER continued
In Vancouver: “We don’t mind Quebec, but Ontario, yes”
toward French Canada, who would “never dare leave Confederation.” “We don’t mind Quebec, but Ontario, yes.” Why this hatred for Bay Street?
May 3: The editor of the Province has widened my knowledge of British Columbia, for I have learned that the population in BC is largely ignorant of the Quebec situation.
“We hear about it, we read about it, but it never has a real impact on us.” Paddy Sherman speaks of British Columbia in terms of “this country.” “Is BC separatist?”
“No. There is no question of our leaving Canada, but if the political situation became too tense, we might seek the status of a dominion allied with the British Commonwealth . . .”
May 9: My husband Andre arrived yesterday from Montreal and brought me some newspapers and news of the children. Somehow British Columbia feels a bit like home. With him, I live at least a few hours a day in French.
I had dinner with some good friends a few days ago, and they all were curious about Quebec. What a relief! Bui during ihe evening I stumbled onto an argument which has always angered me: “When I go to Quebec,” said a businessman, “why am I obliged to speak French?”
“In a province in which 80 percent of our population is of French origin, it is perfectly normal to express ourselves in French, 24 hours a day,” I stated impatiently ... I cannot understand the average English Canadian who seems literally terrified at the idea of saying one or two words in French. I like to quote the exasperated exclamation of a famous British sociologist attending the 1965 conference at Couchiching: “What’s the matter with you English Canadians?” he asked. “You all act as if it were a sin to speak French.”
May 14: We live in a country in which there is everything to see; practically nothing to visit . . . Where is the panoramic vision and spirit of our ancestors who built against perilous odds a railway to unite this country? Canadians paid a fortune for this steel link, but once the railway was finished they sat on each side of the tracks and were content to watch the trains going by.
May 15: I have learned a great deal from my visit in British Columbia. If I lived in this flowering province, the Riviera of Canada, if my education had been pragmatist and practical. I too would probably feel quite detached about the Canadian problems. But it is impossible in 1966 to ignore the soul of this nation.
May 17: “Here we live in harmony, in peace.” affirms a French Canadian born in Edmonton, “and the disturbances in Quebec infringe on our tranquillity. We read the newspapers, watch television, but we are not deeply concerned with Quebec.”
I wonder then why those of the French-Canadian diaspora resent our complacency toward them.
“We have founded a French kindergarten,” continues a French-Canadian housewife. “We have no real teachers but our classes have met with great success.”
Everywhere in Canada, and here in Alberta particularly, I have noticed a renewal of interest in bilingualiam but always it is the French Canadians who, under tremendous difficulty and at great personal cost, are responsible for maintaining French as a living language. They are to be commended for their devotion.
May 19: I shall carry back with me from Calgary a wide range of opinions. Everyone is more than friendly, eager to talk with me, but no one agrees with one another. I am bewildered by this harvest of views on government policy, education, bilingualism, and anti-Semitism (“which exists in Alberta,” affirms a Jewish businessman). No one, except journalists, questions me on Quebec, but nearly everyone I have interviewed has told me what we are supposed to want, and what we will not get!
May 22: While I torture myself to come up with some bold ideas to alleviate our national difficulties, I learn of the refusal of L’Union Générale des Etudiants du Québec to take part officially in a project sponsored by the
students of the University of Alberta to celebrate Confederation. L'Union will not take part in this project because they reject all Centennial celebrations. Because I am no longer 20, I have lost patience with their childish tantrums. Their refusal to mix with students of other provinces, their lack of courtesy in not inviting them to their campuses, are forms of narcissism, and one day they will find themselves alone, and alone in admiring each other.
May 24: “Day by day, month by month, we are losing our desire to fight,” confesses a French Canadian working for the French radio station CFNS. “We cannot always count on the same people to defend our rights and more than often our own compatriots turn their backs to us.”
“But how do you in Alberta and Saskatchewan speak such good French?” “We nurse our French, madame, and we respect it. But unfortunately,” she says rather bitterly, “when young Quebeckers arrive here to work with us, their language is inferior, sometimes vulgar.”
May 27: “To understand Saskatchewan,” Woodrow Lloyd, leader of the Opposition, slowly and prudently observes, “one must keep in mind the ethnic mosaic of this province.”
I quietly close my notebook: once again I am going to hear the same
story about egalitarian policy, the Canadian mosaic, et cetera. Mr. Lloyd does not compromise himself; I ask him if he shares Premier Thatcher’s idea concerning a strong central government, but he evades my question with a smiling serenity. How I wish I could feel as sure as all these English-speaking Canadians, that they have inherited by fate or by God some kind of ancestral truth. “In Regina, we recognize the equality of all Canadians” — but a few hours ago, I was told by New Canadians how hard it was for them to be accepted by the Anglo - Saxon minority. I seriously doubt this so-called partnership between all races.
“What do the youth of Saskatchewan think of Quebec?” I ask a young journalist.
“They could not care less,” she answers promptly.
May 29: Suddenly all my fears and my anxiety for the Canadian dilemma are expressed by Professor W. L. Morton, head of the Department of History at the University of Manitoba. “I am today more ready than I ever was to accept the cultural duality of Canada, but if we must be forced into political duality, then I think it would be best for Quebec to secede.” A very simple phrase, which points irrevocably to our different views on the constitution.
July 20: Newfoundland reminds me of Quebec . . . Like Quebeckers, Newfoundlanders have a sense of history and of the oppressor’s injustices. They voted 51 percent for, 49 percent against Confederation, and though their union with Canada helped them reduce their secular poverty, most of them regret, today, their lost freedom. On April 1. date of the alliance between Newfoundland and Canada, many flags fly at half mast, and many islanders wear dark ties.
“You come from Canada?” I am asked upon my arrival. “My son goes to Canada to school,” continues someone else. An islander is a Newfoundlander first, then a Canadian. Where have I heard this point of view before?
I have spent my first evening in St. John's with Dr. Alain Frecker, former minister of education.
“Your system of education in Quebec is in many aspects superior to ours,” states Dr. Frecker. “Your schools may not have turned out as many technicians, scientists, economists, and financiers as those of Ontario, for example, but your determination has turned you into a nation which English Canada must now recognize. We have not yet achieved this sense of nationhood. Here in Newfoundland we think we have it, but the rest of Canada is still searching for a definite identity.”
I must be dreaming! For the first time in months, I am not obliged to defend our education against prejudices, against the many faults we have ourselves denounced.
ST. JOHN’S-MONTREAL July 28: I shall see the premier after all. I am introduced to him at the
A STRANGER continued
“Collectively, the French Canadian deserves a swift kick”
airport, and discover that we shall travel together . . . Mr. Smallwood's conversation, however, ends my numerous interviews with English Canadians on a sour note.
“If the pretensions of Quebec to think itself equal with the rest of this country were not so ridiculous, 1 would die with laughter," states the premier of Newfoundland. He goes on to say bluntly what I had implied sadly to a French-Canadian journalist attached to La Presse of Montreal, that individually a French Canadian is extremely well received everywhere in Canada, but collectively we arc not accepted: “The French Canadian is one of the most lovable human beings in Canada, but collectively he deserves a swift kick."
I listen to him in a furious silence. The premier goes on: “Your politicians pay lip-service to your intellectuals, to their voters. But they don't mean what they imply. The day your province decides to leave Canada, they will lie committing suicide.”
I do not judge English - speaking Canada by Mr. Smallwood's immortal thoughts, but somehow he has said quite bluntly what many people have uttered with a great deal of subtlety but perhaps less honesty.
LAC MAROIS. QUE. August 2: I am definitely not in possession of simple national, constitutional. political, or ethical truths. I have not found The Solution to our numerous problems. But through the conversations I have had with hundreds of Canadians throughout Canada. and because of the many places I have visited or revisited, I have slowly become aware that if Canada is beautiful and exciting in a geographical sense, it is not on a human level.
August 6: I have been living in a French house in Montreal for a few days, and I have suddenly stumbled against the tragic dichotomy of this great city. Montreal — a French town? No. A beautiful metropolis alive with gardens, trees, mountain, bistros, theatres, rich quarters, and historic streets, but, alas, also made ugly by the bad taste exhibited in its commercial advertising. 1 still wonder by what kind of illusion we speak of Montreal as being a model of the so-called Canadian mosaic! This big and flourishing city gives to Canada the vivid image of our segregated societies. Montreal is not united by cultures or shared activities. Each ethnic group goes its separate way. And it is difficult to understand why its French population licks the boots of its English minority and willingly uses English for most of its public signs.
September 12: Yes, I am pessimistic, but I defy my reader to live for months among people who have nothing much in common and to come out of this experience without being morally bruised. Like all French-Canadian nationalists, I w'ould love to write firmly that my country is Quebec, but again I face the problem that
Quebec as a country does not exist. And I will not create it with words of anger, with dreams, with love or hatred; I will not invent a country by refusing to live in step with an AngloAmerican rhythm, by justifying my hunger for freedom, or by seeking revenge because Ottawa has refused to give what I considered vital. Quebec
will become a country only when the whole nation wants it.
I am also aware that though 1 have tried to remain serene and objective. I have probably not reported all 1 have heard and seen, nor have I been able to study extensively the imperatives for each province. But for more than six months, l have looked in all
sincerity for a common denominator between French and English Canadians, and I have not found one.
Consequently. I have come back to my land, ma Perre-Québec, more Québécoise than Canadienne, because I have learned harshly, with pain and anguish, that to remain true to my past, to my culture, to my language, and to the very French individual that 1 have become, 1 must live in Quebec, in a Quebec that one day may yet become my country. ★