The Drama of Identity in Canada's Francophone West

By Moss, Jane | American Review of Canadian Studies, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

The Drama of Identity in Canada's Francophone West


Moss, Jane, American Review of Canadian Studies


The imaginary community that was French Canada began to disintegrate in the 1950s as Quebec emerged from the Grande Noirceur, as historians have come to call the long and oppressive rule of conservative Premier Maurice Duplessis, and entered into modernity. During the 1960s, the social, economic, educational, and political transformation of Quebec that is known as the Quiet Revolution, revived nationalist impulses and gave rise to new demands for Quebec sovereignty. It is during this period that Quebec francophones begin to call themselves "Quebecois" rather than "French Canadian," when they began to speak of la nation quebecoise rather than la nation canadienne-francaise. These changes are momentous since they mark Quebec's determination to shape its own future as a geopolitical entity, separate from the Acadians and the francophone minority communities living in other Canadian provinces. The breakup of French Canada became painfully obvious during the tumultuous 1967 meeting of the Etats generaux du Canada francais. Turning its back on the old notion of French Canada, Quebec told Acadians and its own diaspora "Hors du Quebec, point de salut!" Later, Parti Quebecois leader Rene Levesque put it bluntly when he called French speakers outside of a separate and sovereign Quebec "dead ducks." Novelist Yves Beauchemin was slightly less brutal when he called them "des cadavres encore chauds" (cited by Paul Dube 80).

Francois Pare refers to these events as a "rupture catastrophique" and describes the impact on francophones outside of Quebec:

     L'emergence d'un Quebec quebecois et non plus "canadien-francais"
     vers 1968 a jete les collectivites francophones vivant a
     l'exterieur des frontieres quebecoises dans le desarroi, ce qui a
     provoque la panique et produit chez elles le profond sentiment
     d'avoir ete injustement trahies, deinvesties, debaptisees,
     excommuniees. (Pare 1994, 47)

As Quebec divorced itself from French Canada, francophones in the other provinces were not only faced with the prospect of losing their status as a privileged minority group in a multicultural Canada, they were also forced to define new identities for themselves. While their first reaction was to bemoan their plight as "orphelins d'une nation" (Theriault 11) and to accept that assimilation was inevitable given their isolation and small demographic presence, they soon began the difficult work of fashioning new identities as Franco-Ontariens or Ontarois, Franco-Manitobains, Fransaskois, Franco-Albertains, and Franco-Colombiens. Given their history, Acadians already had a strong sense of their separate national identity so it was less traumatic for them to re-think identity in

regional terms such as Acadiens du Nouveau-Brunswick, de la Nouvelle-Ecosse, de l'Ile de Prince Edouard, de Terre-Neuve. The question for them all was, as Raymond-M. Hebert puts it, "Peut-on posseder une identite sans territoire?" (63). The Quebec government clearly did not believe that it was possible and began to use the expression "[la] population canadienne" to refer to what it called "[les] groupes deterritorialises" (Hebert citing Brisset 1988, 290).

In their groundbreaking study, Du continent perdu a l'archipel retrouve (1983), Laval University geographers Dean Louder and Eric Waddell argued that what remains of l'Amerique francaise, the lost continent, should be called Franco-Amerique: at the center is the mountain of Quebec with its 80 percent majority speakers of French; the surrounding foothills are New Brunswick, Eastern Ontario, and Northern New England with their large francophone minorities; beyond that lies a string of francophone islands. The fragmentation of French Canada has also been theorized by cultural geographers and sociologists (Theriault, Louder, Trepanier, Waddell, Morisset, Stebbins, Gilbert, Dumont) who began to substitute the notion of les espaces francophones for the older visions of l'Amerique francaise and le Canada francais.

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