July 10, 2007
Under the Charlevoix Street Bridge
Posted by aj_kandy at 2:00 AM
June 11, 2005
Le Montréal est une ville Québecois
(Avis: français pas nécessairement correct suivra. Envoyez vos plaintes à ajkandy1 at mac dot com...)
Pas pour ouvrir un boîte des vers encore (!) mais je veux répondre au billet de miss.sushi, qui demande:
00h29 - Sur les 30 billets apparaissants sur YULblog, 27 sont rédigés en anglais.
Je me pose soudainement de sérieuses questions.
Telles que: Est-ce que Montréal est toujours une ville du Québec? Le Québec est-il toujours une province francophone? Où sont les carnets francophones.
Plein de questions du genre. Rien de négatif en tant que tel, mais ça m’intrigue.
Avant qu'il y a même l'idée de "Québec," ce territoire appartient aux premiers nations...n'est-ce pas? Alors, non, ce n'était pas toujours un province francophone. Anglo ou franco, ne sommes-nous et serons-nous pas toujours immigrant(e)s içi? :) Un autre question sérieuse...
J'affirme: le Montréal est toujours une ville de Québec.
De mon point de vue personnelle, je serai -- même avec des origines très mixtes, même si l'anglais c'est ma première langue -- dans ma tête toujours Montréalais et Québecois, parce que j'était né ici...elevé ici...etc. Je ne me prends jamais pour un ontarien ou albertain...
Certainment je ne serais jamais un "kébekwa" dans le sens populaire des anciens purs et durs laines de souche etc. etc. Mais je contestera tous qui dira que je ne suis pas un 'vrai' quebecois! "This land is my land....this land is your land...la la la..." :)
Est-ce qu'on veut vraiement definir "Quebec" comme synonyme pour seulement le plus nombreux des plusieurs tribus qui habitent ici? Ou comme un nation moderne dans le sens d'un état composés de plusieurs individus ou communautés culturels qui partagent en commun d'histoire ici, des institutions, droits, une langue etc?
Les anglais, ecossais et irlandais qui ont vecu ici, construit des edifices, des communautés, des villages, des institutions....pour des centaines d'années.... leurs descendants sont quebecois aussis...n'est-ce pas?
D'après moi, le Montréal répresent le futur du Quebec; dynamique, vivace, et surtout pas un musée...
Pour le manque des carnetiers francophones -- je ne sais pas pourquoi. Peut-etre que tout simplement ils ne sont pas connectés aux yulblog.com ; peut-etre que, parce que les logiciels populaires ont des interfaces unilingue anglophones, les carnets s'attire moins des quebecois unilingues francophones?
Lecteurs, avez-vous des idées?
May 26, 2005
The Quebec Thing
So, long string of posts over at Alex's joint, on the occasion of our newly minted Journée des Patriotes, formerly Mrs. Fête de Dollard, née Victoria Day.
First off, I respect Alex's point of view - he's one of the best writers and thinkers I know. He raises some interesting examples of Quebec successes in response to one commenter in particular, former sovereignist-turned-federalist, David, who in turn has raised tough questions that, in my mind, neither Alex nor his supportive commenters have really answered yet - unfortunately things seemed to have degraded into a flamewar.
So here's my thoughts. I know this is going to be a bit scattershot and more than a little Socratic, but here's my take on some of the points Alex raised. I know some of them were intended to be tongue-in-cheek, but there's always a grain of truth in a joke. In truth, I do agree with some of them - and that's the topic of another future post.
It's easy to adopt reflexive positions based on your background, upbringing, schooling, or political affiliation, that risk becoming inflexible lines in the sand. It's sad, because rhetoric like this rupture friendships and community. Neither position really seems to want to examine the other's ideas openly, because of years of distrust / disappointment / resentment, etc.
I understand something of what Alex says when he claims not to have an attachment to the rest of Canada, of which more below. But in a perverse mirror of that, I have that kind of relationship with franco-Quebec culture, and it's not something I'm proud of.
Je ne me retrouve pas dans la culture canadienne, ou si peu. Je ne m'associe pas aux Canadiens. Je n'ai à peu près aucune idée de ce qu'ils mangent, ce qu'ils écoutent, ce qu'ils aiment. Sont-ils heureux avec leurs choix? Comment entrevoient-ils leur avenir? Je ne le sais pas mais je sais une chose: je les trouve trop loin de ma réalité quotidienne à moi. Ils sont en général plus à droite et moi je suis plus à gauche. Voilà. Comment aimer un pays dans lequel je me reconnais pas?
I think it's sad, because he seems to reject something out-of-hand that he hasn't even attempted to truly experience.
To truly reject something, you first have to have made the honest effort to embrace it, understand it, live it, be it, and still find it lacking.
Do Quebecers really have such a lack of curiosity about their neighbors? The current generation seem pretty well-travelled and Internet-savvy, but I wonder if years of Quebec-centric educational materials (some of which I got in my immersion program) and an almost completely inward-looking mediasphere haven't sort of created a kind of Truman Show bubble effect as regards Canada. "Oh, you can go outside the dome, but you won't like it."
What do they eat? Turn the cereal box around and find out! (© douglas coupland)
What do they listen to? Same stuff. Crappy corporate manufactured pop music. Heavy metal. Techno. Local music promoted by Cancon regulations....
What do they love? Hockey, ice fishing, shopping, soccer, their kids, dancing all night, surfing the web, eating bad Chinese food, watching TV, drinking beer, driving monster trucks, line-dancing to country music (straight outta St-Tite, yo) -- in short, the exact same stuff that Quebecers do, except in English, mostly.
This is the great secret. We're really not that different, individually. I don't think you can point to random anglo Ontarian A and random franco Quebecer B, examine their daily routines and find much difference on that granular scale. There are vast differences between individuals within a single group, after all - you'd hardly think Jacques Parizeau and Jean Leloup were from the same species, much less the same ethno-cultural makeup.
There is much more difference at the aggregate level - you can draw shared cultural generalizations about Montrealers vs. Quebec City, or Toronto vs. London - but even then you end up with some real surprises.
For example, check out these CROP-Environics poll numbers from after the 1995 referendum.
About 75% of Quebeckers feel an affinity for Canada; only 25% see themselves as "Quebeckers only". Another 25% say they are "Quebeckers first, Canadians second"; 30% identify as "Quebeckers and Canadians and 20% as "Canadians only." Two-thirds of Quebeckers would rather have more power within Canada than separate. In this same poll, 80% of people across the country agreed that Quebec is an essential component of Canadian identity; we are a society founded by two nations of two different ethnic origins and we have lived together for a long time.
(CROP-Environics, March 26/96, Globe & Mail)
So what's the truth of the matter, as to how Quebecers feel about Canada? I think there are as many answers as there are Quebecois(es). But statistically, they seem pretty positive on the idea.
On a related note, Alex also said:
Je n'ai pas une personnalité canadienne comme un Italien a une personnalité italienne. Ou un Français. Ou un américain..
Would that be a Milan Italian personality? Roman? Sicilian? Calabrese? Swiss Italian? Italian-American? New York Italian vs. Chicago? Toronto? Rio de Janeiro or Brasilia Italian, for that matter? And I can think of at least fifty different responses for American -- Vermonters and Texans are definitely different breeds and they will tell you so.
Nobody has a "Canadian personality" - what's a Quebec personality for that matter?
Quebecers as a group, have evolved their own attitudes and morals, laws, media, dialects and (not unrelatedly) musical styles. So yes, that's culture.
But personalities are...personal. If you say Quebecers are more passionate, I can point to several who aren't, and if you say Torontonians are more reserved, I can find exceptions there as well.
By that reckoning, what am I supposed to be - a one-quarter passionate, one-eighth each penny-pinching and alcoholic, one-half mystical guru floating on a lily pad? Come on.
The idea that different nationalities or ethnic groups share some sort of hard-coded mental wiring is a pretty cartoonish idea of the universe, straight out of Asterix. I have found these ideas to be pretty common among Quebecers of a certain age, who grew up never encountering visible minorities -- and they certainly weren't seeing images of anyone but pure laines in the media.
ironically, their kids, at least in Montreal, are in the most multi-ethnic school environments in the province's history....
In life, you must be willing to go out and find the best in a situation, to brave something new, to go someplace where, yes, you will be at a disadvantage, either being an outsider, a tourist, a city slicker or a yokel out of your environment, where quite possibly you don't speak the language. You have to watch the TV shows, read the newspapers and magazines, talk to people, get a leg up on the culture.
If there would be one good thing done with my federal tax dollars, it would be to take every young person from the ages of 16 to 21 and send them every summer to live and work in another language, in another province. Quebecers get the rest of Canada, the rest get Quebec. New Brunswickers can go to the next town over, if necessary.
Dating a unilingual person from the other language group will be mandatory. There's a challenge for the homme rouge...!
un truc qui me donne espoir, c'est le sentiment de rejet du Québec qui se développe dans le ROC à cause, entre autres, du scandale des commandites. C'est peut-être le Canada qui va se défaire du Québec!
Uh? What rejection of Québec? The sponsorship scandal has brought down faith in the Liberal party machine, and I suspect there would have been the same outrage if it had originated in any other province. I really don't see a nation rejecting a whole province over a government scandal - the fact that it was related to the referendum is tangential, the real point is that money was paid illegally and under the table to bypass electoral financing laws.
I could point to very real (and now, documented) case of the PQ organizing and instructing scrutineers at polls to reject perfectly good "No" ballots in that same referendum, but that would be an indictment of the PQ, not of Quebec as a whole.... I mean, would you excise your liver over a case of sunburn?
On top of that, can we just once and for all stop the myth of some sort of united, monoculture, mono-opinionated "rest of canada?" If one travels (ahem) one learns that every province has a history and a distinct culture / cultural mix of its own.
BC is not like Alberta is not like Saskatchewan is not like Manitoba, anymore than Switzerland is like Italy, France or Germany - sure, they might speak the same languages to each other, but they are really different countries. Just as a nationalist Quebecer might take umbrage at being called a Canadian while abroad, so too does anyone from any Canadian province resent the loss of identity when lumped into an imaginary beast called "the Roc."
On the subject of Quebec cheeses: So if there's a dumb governmental policy about exporting raw-milk cheese, do you change the law, or change the country?
Every society has a dumb rule on the books that comes from some incident in the past. Maybe people died from bad raw milk cheese in the past, when we didn't know how to make it properly. Who knows. Quebec still requires margarine to be another colour than butter -- like you can't taste the difference -- and that's equally stupid. So petition your MP and the minister for Agriculture...
What I do know about the dairy industry in Quebec and Canada is that without substantial subsidies by the Canadian government to dairy producers (under the guise of provincial transfer payments), Quebec milk, cheese and yogurt would not be as competitive in the world market.
The WTO ruled in 1999 in a case brought by US and New Zealand dairy producers alleging that Canadian dairy exporters did not pay market rates for their milk - and Canada had to comply, cutting those subsidies to the point that one of the largest processors, Lactel, was forced to close.
On the issue of school costs -- well, sure, they're the lowest, but at a certain point, you get what you pay for. Every time a school begs for more money to keep the lights on, students march in force and we get another tuition freeze. It's a political hot potato, but eventually the students get burned.
Because of this, Quebec post-secondary schools simply don't attract the same teaching talent as their counterparts in other provinces or in the US, they expand less, their facilities are smaller and less well maintained / refurbished. Compare McGill or UQAM to U of T, Queen's or even Ryerson - they run a distant third at best - and then go to Boston and walk around a bit and compare all of those to MIT, Harvard, Yale... If we want to keep our cost of education low, and quality high, then we have to find a new funding formula.
And if we want to do it without transfer payments from Ottawa...good luck.
If there's one thing that disturbs me about patriotic ideas of "nationhood" - besides the risk of bloody, Balkan-style conflict - is the unspoken ethnocentric idea.
Even though later PQ leaders have tried to defuse the racial overtones of "quebec aux quebecois" by generously redefining it to mean "anyone who lives in quebec," I cannot help but feel that when "We" talk about ourselves, "We" means Quebecois de souche, pur et dur. It just seems to be understood, assumed, drilled into the consciousness of everyone born after 1970.
I don't think sovereignists operate in bad faith necessarily, but I am wary of the unintended consequences of their assumptions. By and large, this idea of "nation" excludes people like me, or tolerates me as long as I don't get in the way of "the majority."
I come by this unease from a lifetime living under laws that discriminate based on what you speak at home, having your language be second-class, to be taken off the sign, half-sized, assimilated in school in some sort of reverse-Durham Report fashion. I worry that a sovereign Quebec would see independence as a mandate to remove hard-won minority language rights.
Don't get me wrong, I think Quebec's situation is unique and yes, it should promote the French language, culture, and heritage as one of its #1 goals. But I think now is the time to put away the old reasons and the old methods. I don't think you need to put other languages down in order to elevate French, and we have to let go of all the cliches and folktales about the Anglo Boogeyman who's out to "get" the Quebecois.
From my point of view, the battle is over - ever since I can remember, Francophone Quebecers have been at the reins of power, not least of which in the banks, the crown corporations and public agencies, the media, and of course the corporate boardrooms. (Pierre-Karl, line one...)
So to still claim oppression at this point reminds me of how the conservative-evangelical Right, which controls the House, Senate and Executive in the US, claims to be some sort of persecuted minority, and how liberal-left politicians, who are far from having power, are demonized as some sort of threat. It's patently false, but the culture of aggrievement gets votes.
Sadly, it really ends up just dividing people who ought to be on the same side. There well may be good, positive, rational reasons for Quebec to "leave the nest," as Alex puts it; I'd hate for old, irrational ethnic divisions to be one of the forces involved.
So to get back to the beginning, I find it sad Alex has practically no relationship with the country outside his doorstep. To be honest, I have that kind of relationship with the rest of Quebec outside Montreal, and it's something I am not proud of.
I was born in Montreal, raised here and lived here all my life; had bilingual education even to the point of French immersion - the good school-French that lets you understand the SRC evening news and Le Devoir, but not a word of Louis-José Houde. Other than Goldorak, Albator and Capitaine Flam, the media bubble I grew up in was Anglo-Canadian, British and American.
My mother grew up in Abord-a-Plouffe and can switch into a sort of old-school joual when she pleases, but it takes me 30 seconds to get into French-mode, and even then, I can just forget about using idioms, new slang, or telling jokes.
Still, my heritage, in part, is as souche as anyone - I can trace my lineage back to the first Gendreau that ever stepped off a boat in New France, and I'm distantly related to all the other Gendreaults, Gendrons, and even a couple of Beausoleils. Like most French-Canadians there's First Nations in the mix - Mohawk, apparently - and the other eighths on that side came directly from Ireland via Liverpool, married to Alexandria, Ontario Scots.
The other side? From Ahmedabad, Maharastra province, India.
So I know what it's like to feel like you don't belong, or even that you're unwanted. I never had the natural confidence of pure-bred kids, of any race in particular. I could never be part of anyone's crowd, except the misfits. I had to pretty much invent myself from whole cloth, because while I'm proud of all those roots, I don't feel particularly attached to, or shaped by, any of them.
My primary identity is as a Montrealer, then a Quebecer, then a Canadian (depending on the context of course; a Canadian abroad, a Quebecer in Canada, a Montrealer in Quebec.)
Which explains the weird feeling I get whenever I have to go off-island: It isn't my territory and it's strange. I'll always feel much more at ease in other cosmopolitan cities than I will in any countryside, whether it's my "home province" or not.
That said, I'm becoming more at home the more I explore Quebec, because I'm open to the idea that this is mine too, a sense of wonder that I am disappointed Alex doesn't share, presumably, when he sees a picture of the Rockies or the Prairies or even the Casa Loma...
In the end I count myself as a Quebecer - I was born here, my roots are here, even if I am a bit disconnected from them, but dammit, doesn't my voice count too?
(Edited for clarity, May 26.)
One rule - if there's any commentary, let's keep it civil and on-topic, no personal attacks, folks...
January 7, 2004
Gentrification and the Faux-Bombardiers
Why is gentrification such a dirty word?
James Kunstler wrote quite eloquently about the misguided politics of anti-gentrification activists in his book The City In Mind. In an interview with the right-on Christian Science Monitor, he said:
"If you're against gentrification, you're saying, well, we don't want the well-off to come up and fix up this property in the city. Are you simply going to say, the well-off have no business fixing up urban property at all? Are they morally restricted to living somewhere else? Where is that somewhere else? The suburbs? Because that's where they are."
So now that our faux-bombardiers have our attention, I'd like to know: what exactly do they want instead of condos? And more importantly, why?
Michael Moore has a great chapter in Dude, Where's My Country? -- a facetiously dreamed Socratic dialogue between himself and his future granddaughter, in an energy and resource-starved post-oil future. "People left the cities to live in suburbs because they didn't want to live next to people that were different from them," he patiently explains to the puzzled child and to We, the Readers.
Well, isn't that what the anti-condo activists are saying? "We don't want your kind next door?"
Postwar tract suburbs are commonly derided as "cookie-cutter," "boring," "soul-crushingly dull," "whitebread," etc ad infinitum. Well, doesn't that sound like a description of life in a Modernist social housing project like Les Habitations Jeanne-Mance? (Substitute "no bread" if applicable.)
Suburbs and housing projects are both ghettoes: each a perverse mirror of the other, based on the unstated assumption that these two groups - people with and without money - cannot and should not live intermingled.
Look at Beaconsfield: somewhere around Walpole Avenue or Windermere Park, let's say. A land of three-story ranch houses, mock-Tudor manors, and split-levels. It's affluent, and you can guess that everyone is pretty much of the same educational level and professional cadre. There might be a wealthy barber in there somewhere, but mostly it's professionals, business owners and executive types. In short, people next door are pretty much Just Like Us.
Closer look: there are no places of work, shops or services within walking distance, unless you want to take your life in your hands and cross the railway tracks and the highway to dart southwards into Beaconsfield village. There are no cafs or restaurants, unless you count the takeout Chinese place in the one-story mini-mall down by the service road.
There is precious little access to green space. There are few places for young people to go. There are no places, no monuments or boulevards, period - just endless avenues of other people's houses, with the occasional postwar school/factory complex. You'd be hard-pressed even to find an actual stretch of sidewalk.
If you don't drive, bus service is pretty sad. People must drive, isolated in their plastic bubbles from the environment, and from each other. House prices are high, but when there's no more oil they won't be worth much.
Compare with St-Henri: corner of Notre-Dame and St-Remi, let's say. Several blocks of three-story red-brick and aging greystone flats. A few condo units are going in. But walk for several blocks and you'll be hard-pressed to find a new apartment building that doesn't have an "SHDM" plaque on it like some sort of scarlet letter.
This is the area of Montreal with the highest concentration of social housing other than Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. The SHDM flats are in OK, if depressing, shape, but the ones that aren't city-owned are slowly falling to bits: some nearby buildings have roofs and walls that sag, with widening cracks between the bricks.
Literally all the ground-floor retail in the neighborhood is papered over, boarded up, gone away, save a brave little corner coffee bar and, of course, that hardy perennial, le depanneur. Elevated highways loom overhead. Railway lines run a little too close for comfort, after which Notre-Dame becomes strictly industrial. There are a few places of work nearby: garages mostly, along St-Patrick - but precious few shops and services.
Things get better as you move closer to Atwater, but that's due to... you guessed it - gentrification.
So what's the solution?
I think it's perfectly possible for government and the private sector to work together, to create viable mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhoods instead of "warehousing the poor" in rows of SHDM flats, or projects like Les Habitations Jeanne-Mance, which depresses an entire area by unnatural selection, which conversely, encourages the flight of middle-class capital to the suburbs, creating an artificial, unsustainable "wealth bubble."
People of small or moderate means should never be displaced, and planners must work hard to ensure that "Monklandization" doesn't price people out of their own neighborhoods.
But gentrification done right is a good thing.
Maybe it's the stigma of the "g" word. Well, let's call it "smart growth" instead.
Ideally, there's shouldn't be any "hot neighborhoods" with "trendy shops" - every neighborhood should be a really great place to live and work, to own and to rent, to shop and enjoy a public social life, with space enough for everyone, of every ability.
The real issue is perhaps not urban-infill condos in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve -- but rather, overcoming the objections of demerger-obsessed sub-burghers in order to create suburban infill: turning the West Island from conurbations of one-acre house farms into higher-density, but viable towns and cities.
Posted by aj_kandy at 8:42 PM
August 15, 2003
Montreal is an Un-Car City
It seems one of the basic variables of Montreal, a declarative statement in our urban programming, is not-car. At our best, we are a city of villages, as I found in that recently reprinted "Pignon sur rue" series of booklets about various Montreal neighborhoods (available through Renaud-Bray). Not Levittown ant-farm housing developments, connector roads and strip malls. We're genetically walkable, bikeable, public transitable (if only they'd fund the damn thing).
Anyone else? Send me your permalinks!
Posted by aj_kandy at 6:26 PM