Montreal → Montréal

Montreal used to be a bilingual city. It now  has a unilingual-French “face” which is better for its majority-French-speaking citizens, I suppose, but not so wonderful for all the speakers of English, Italian, Greek, Chinese, and so on, who still live here.

Over 100,000 mostly anglophone residents have left Montreal since 1976, when an avowed separatist government took over the reins of Quebec and passed laws declaring the supremacy of French. A kind of frenzied affirmative-action phase followed, as a spate of laws were passed (e.g. Law 101), which decreed that French would now take precedence in the province, and in fact Quebec would now be unilingual French – regardless of the fact that it was (and is) still a province of officially bilingual Canada.

For us anglo Montrealers who were schooled here during the 50s, 60s and prior, this  “French First” decree has made things particularly difficult. In our educational era, French language lessons consisted of “la porte” and “la fenêtre.” Not too useful. Yes, many of us took additional classes later on, but let’s face it, it’s virtually impossible to acquire fluency in a language unless you are completely immersed in it.


French text pic
photo (cc) by Kaitlin Shiner

Immersion classes didn’t gain traction until the ′70s. You really need to live in the language, or at least work in it, speaking, hearing and reading it all the time. My lack of French skills hampered my various job-hunts throughout my working years, since perfect bilingualism was almost always a prerequisite.

In 2016, the “face” of Montreal is still very French, in spite of the incredible linguistic diversity of its inhabitants. I don’t see this changing anytime soon. I guess I’ve become used to it.

I’m newly retired now, and since I live in a suburb with a very high proportion of anglophones, I get along fine with my rudimentary French. I exchange a “Bonjour!” and “Merci” with bus drivers and other francophones I encounter. It is, after all, still my Montréal!

12 thoughts on “Montreal → Montréal

  1. A brief conversation with a 2nd gen Jamaican-Canadian on the cross-town bus:
    Her: If I went to English school, I would be CEO of a major Co. Now.
    Me: What do you mean?
    Her: Under the law, I had to go to French school. My parents did not go to English school here.
    Me: I mean, why do you think CEO?
    Her: English schools give you better job skills.
    Me: I went to an English school, and I am a far cry away from any CEOs!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Let’s face it, bilingualism (not to mention multilingualism) helps to give a person the best chances for success. Of course, as you imply, there are other factors in becoming successful, too! Thanks for visiting, Paul.


  2. Let’s be frank: The 600,000 who left Quebec, almost all anglos, were made to feel lately unwelcome and vowed as “The Other” by all-too-many francophones, particularly among rural Quebecois, labour leaders, and political leaders. The hidden message of the vehicle license plates says it al: “Je me souviens”. We need to tell the truth: this mass exodus was ethnic purging and racism on a grand scale.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sigh… only if you define “ethnic purging” VERY broadly. People left voluntarily. They weren’t forced out at gunpoint.

      I love the irony inherent in the licence-plate slogan. The full quote is actually: « Je me souviens que, né sous le lys, je croîs sous la rose. » Our province has always held a fascinating mix, making us exciting, diverse, tense, and *never* ever boring!


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