Quebec Anglos – Aislin

Written by  //  July 3, 2017  //  Canada  //  Comments Off on Quebec Anglos – Aislin

50 Years of Aislin: Les anglophones, Part 1

Once upon a time in Quebec, it was English-speaking Montreal that produced the (mostly unilingual) captains of industry; the Catholic Church ran everything else. The Quiet Revolution of the 1960s and its noisier persona of later years finally succeeded in overturning the status quo.

In 1974, Liberal Premier Robert Bourassa, considered a friend of the English-speaking community, introduced Bill 22 to make French the sole official language of Quebec. The province’s anglophones were thrown into a state of uncertainty: what was their future in Quebec and how comfortable would they be as part of it?

Adjusting to a new reality is uncomfortable. Quebec’s anglophones have done quite a bit of grumbling over the years and perhaps as many as 800,000 have left the province since the Parti Québécois was first elected. In the wake of that 1976 election, several large businesses moved their headquarters out of Montreal, to Toronto and elsewhere. Some francophones had believed Montreal’s anglophones all lived in mansions in upper Westmount, only venturing down into the city for the occasional martini at The Ritz or shopping at Holt Renfrew. The reality was that most English-speakers were leading lives very much like those of their francophone counterparts. The cartoon above of two working-class anglos threatening to relocate their head office was very popular in its day.

Despite the waves of emigration, most anglos took their Valium and stayed in Quebec. Self-identifying as federalist, they nonetheless held a grudging respect for René Lévesque, despite their dismay at Bill 101, the legislation that strengthened the position of French as Quebec’s official language and restricted the use of English on public signage and in the workplaces of large companies.

Quebec’s anglophones have evolved. I can’t think of many other groups in Canada that have experienced such profound change over the past 50 years: According to pollster Jean-Marc Léger in his fascinating book, Cracking The Quebec Code, 88 per cent of Quebec’s 600,000 anglos are now functionally bilingual, compared to 36 per cent of Francophone Quebecers.

Most anglophones now accept their role as a minority within a minority and appreciate that Bill 101 is intended to guarantee the survival of the French language. Of course there have been many frustrations on the way to a better understanding. Anglophones are sometimes appalled at the government’s insensitivity in applying the legislation. Many an incident — involving application or policing of the law — has provoked anger, hilarity or both. For more on this, please see next week’s article on les anglophones, part deux.

Terry Mosher’s new book, From Trudeau to Trudeau: Fifty Years of Aislin Cartoons, is now in bookstores. The McCord Museum is hosting a 50-year Aislin retrospective through Aug. 13.

Comments are closed.