Thursday, June 13, 2013

From a Montrealer's point of view

                                   MONTREAL — I deeply regret how despite being the fourth generation of my family to live in Montreal, I spent my first 21 years growing up in Verdun and LaSalle and did not learn to speak French.
French second-language instruction was very poor in English-language schools in the 1960s. Having a teacher tap on a picture board with a pointer, and prompt the class to repeat words in unison, just didn’t bring the language together for me.
I still remember the collection of voices in my Grade 3 class almost singing: alarm clock, tap, alarm clock, tap, alarm clock (un reveille-matin). And every so often the teacher would bring that long wooden pointer down onto a student’s desk, if the student sitting there had the gall to daydream and look out the window.
I was told in the 1970s that I would never build a career in Quebec with my English-sounding name. But that wasn’t the full reason behind my decision to leave. I decided to leave after the Quebec government said no to my application to become the legal guardian of my younger sister. Even with help and guidance from Naomi, a wonderful social worker with the Verdun Anti-Poverty Association, Quebec still refused my application. I was only 20, and Barb was 14, and the rejection was disappointing.
But they accepted my application in British Columbia, and so I eventually became my sister’s legal guardian there. As a result, I have spent the last 36 years of my life in Victoria, B.C.
Even with all of the natural beauty on Vancouver Island, the good weather, my satisfying career, great friends, colleagues and family, Victoria has never felt quite as comfortable for me in the same way that Montreal did. Home is home.
I miss the excitable arguing and the lively spirit of the place. I miss the diversity of characters, and I miss the directness of people. I even miss the snow — well, sometimes I do.
People in Victoria really don’t like to argue, and they are not big on black humour either. It took me a while to figure that out.
I may not have made exceptional contributions to my adopted hometown, but I have been a responsible citizen, a good employee and a loving person to my family and friends.
These days, I resent hearing about anglo “deserters” who left Quebec in the 1970s. Reducing me to a “bad anglo” for having chosen to find a workable path for my life is unreasonable, an unwarranted judgment.
It is unknowable, but when I think of many people who left Montreal in those days, I can only conclude that the city and the province missed out on their potential contributions.
Many of those young people who left, at the least the ones I know of, left when they were in their late teens.
They had guts — or “gumption,” as my mother would say — to seek a better life in a place where they were not so distinctly the unwanted “other.”
One day in my retirement, I hope to get back to Montreal for a year or so, and have lunch with a French person a couple of times a week, and finally learn to speak French.
I think I could learn the language that way, eye-to-eye, over a bowl of soup and some good conversation.

I think my subconscious mind must have picked up a fair amount in those formative years in the 1960s.
I also want to go to the St. Jean Baptiste Day parade, and begin to get to know that “other” that I missed out on meeting in my youth.
It was my loss in not learning to speak French back then. But if you don’t mind me being so bold, I’d like to say that Quebec lost out, too.
Some good “bad anglos” went on to make useful contributions elsewhere.
Thelma Fayle is a freelance writer who lives in Victoria, B.C., but was born and raised in Verdun. She is the author of Ted Grant: Sixty Years of Legendary Photojournalism, to be launched in Canada by Heritage House Publishing in October.

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