Introduction; the New French Fact in Montreal: Francization, Diversity, Globalization

Article excerpt

For some three years the Groupe de recherche ethnicite et societe (GRES), an interdisciplinary group of researchers (1) based at the Centre d'etudes ethniques des universites Montrealaises, has been studying the ramifications of what might be called the "new French fact" in Montreal. (2) As the term was used as far back as 1961 by then-Premier Jean Lesage, the "French fact" was a kind of rhetorical shorthand for the demographic and political reality of Quebec, where French speakers were a numerical majority but still a political minority. This situation was transformed by changes implemented upon the electoral victory of the Parti Quebecois in 1976, most importantly Bill 101, which made French the sole official language of public life in Quebec and, among other things, obliged almost all immigrants to send their children to French-language schools. While quite successful in raising the status and extending the use of French in Quebec, an unintended consequence of the new law and the policies it generated was to greatly advance multilingualism in the province, especially in Montreal (Lamarre, et al.).


A generation later, the social landscape of Montreal has been transformed, not only by Bill 101 but also by the forces of globalization, especially as these affect migration processes. Not only do new Montrealers come from increasingly diverse origins (Piche), but migration processes themselves are changing. Migration is less a "one way ticket" than a multidimensional process that creates multiple affinities and points of reference for migrants. Bipolar trajectories, with or without a certain "back and forth" movement between the country of origin and that of residence, have given way to circulation between multiple locales, such that "success" and even "integration" for migrants may be defined in terms other than those of the host society, as LeBlanc shows in her study of networks and voluntary associations among West Africans in Montreal (See also Le Gall's book review of Tarrius). Fortin also finds multiple migration paths in her study of networks of migrants of France who settle in Montreal; she shows tha t social proximity is not necessarily a matter of cultural or linguistic similarities and that migrants' networks are not clear indicators of their sense of belonging (or not) to the society of residence.

The contemporary situation in Montreal makes clearer than ever the fact that the end point of the migratory experience is not simply assimilation to a hypothetical "majority" (a notion that is critically discussed by Pietrantonio), but rather can lead to enduring diversity and societal transformation. While most research on migration addresses the changes undergone by migrants in the host society, the realities of the Montreal context in recent decades have obliged the GRES, along with other researchers, to focus their attention on how immigration and ethnic and cultural diversity have led to changes in society as a whole. Among the effects of Bill 101, which was passed in a context of considerable social innovation that included, for example, the establishment of a network of local health and social resource centres called CLSC's (Centre local de services communautaires), was the almost overnight diversification of the clientele for French-language institutions, such as schools and health facilities of all k inds. Change has occured on every level, including the demographic composition of the society (Piche), its institutions (Symons, Pietrantonio), along with day-to informal interaction (Lamarre, et al.). While immigration is increasingly recognized as an economic necessity for Quebec, as for the whole of Canada, beyond this, diversity resulting from immigration is increasingly presented as a social asset for the regions beyond major cities in Quebec, such that "regionalization" is a focus of State policy, especially with respect to refugees. …


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