Writing the Hinterland (Back) into the Heartland: The Franco-Canadian Farouest in Two Novels by Nicolas Dickner and D. Y. Béchard

By Sing, Pamela V. | British Journal of Canadian Studies, July 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

Writing the Hinterland (Back) into the Heartland: The Franco-Canadian Farouest in Two Novels by Nicolas Dickner and D. Y. Béchard


Sing, Pamela V., British Journal of Canadian Studies


Since Quebec's Quiet Revolution, questions regarding Canada's francophonie are generally limited to Quebec, while forgetting the francophone communities located in what is known as 'English Canada'. This means that an entire component of Canada's cultural landscape tends to be ignored. This article aims to rectify that situation through the use of the heartland-hinterland concept to refer to the relationship between Quebec, considered as the heart or core of the country's francophonie, and its margins or backwoods, located in the 'rest of Canada'. A brief account of the evolution of the relationship between Quebec and Canada's other French communities will be followed by a reading of the ways two contemporary Canadian novels, Vandal Love, written in English and published in 2006, and Nikolski, written in French and published in 2007, re-imagine not only francophone Canada but also the Franco- Americas.

If, for non-Canadianists, 'officially bilingual' Canada is a country where everyone speaks French and English, for the partly initiated, it is divided into one French-speaking province, Quebec, and nine English-speaking provinces, ubiquitously referenced as the 'Rest of Canada' or 'ROC'. For those aware that English Canada is inhabited by pockets of diasporic francophones and their descendants, mention of that geo-sociocultural fact tends to evoke the attitudes famously expressed in the late 1960s by René Lévesque and Yves Beauchemin,1 for whom those francophones were respectively, 'dead ducks' and 'des cadavres encore chauds' - still warm corpses. Indeed, the Quiet Revolution, whose objective and foundational principle was the decolonising transformation of 'la belle province' into 'the State of Quebec' led to the disavowal and denigration of the entity formerly known as 'French Canada'. For francophone groups outside of Quebec, the othering of their communities as 'dead space' led to a general ignorance of their existence, and provoked feelings of abandonment. Prior to the 1960s, they had felt them-selves to be members of an inclusive pan-Canadian francophonie, an incontestably 'imagined community', most certainly, but which existence nevertheless allowed them to accommodate to the English-speaking majority without feeling that they were endangering the 'French part' of themselves. Left on their own, they eventually rallied, and those living in western Canada came to call themselves Franco-Manitobains, Fransaskois, Franco-Albertains, and Franco-Colombiens, whose need or desire for membership in a community extending beyond respective provincial borders was expressed in references to their belonging to a 'marginalised Canadian francophonie', a francophonie 'of the West', or one located 'outside of Quebec'. For francophones living in Quebec, the shift meant cutting themselves off from their past and also, therefore, from a part of their own heritage.

In this article, I intend to show that a change in attitudes has begun to occur, expressed not only in the discourse of certain cultural institutions in Quebec, but also in literature produced in Quebec as well as in Western Canada. The resurrection of the French Canada of yore is certainly not in the offing, but contemporary voices appear eager to imagine a revival of the country's francophone spaces from an inclusive and relational perspective that also acknowledges the distance that has developed between Quebec's francophonie and those of the western provinces. A heartland-hinterland framework positing Quebec as the centre, mainstay and sine qua non of not only a pan-Canadian francophonie but also a francophonie of the Americas, and Western Canadian francophonie as part of that larger francophonie's margins, suggests itself as a productive way to engage with this 'new' cultural geography. The application of that model to readings of two contemporary novels will help determine the utility of the core-periphery concept in understanding some of the complexities involved when remapping our hemisphere's francophonie with a view to un-forgetting identities and relations excluded from dominant geographies. …

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