HOME HEARTSTRING 31: REGIONALISM

We use the expression nous autres (us folks) in reference to people we meet at church. Les autres (the others) is reserved for strangers and foreigners.

A great example – one of hundreds – of how Regionalism works in Quebec is the beer distribution industry. Every city with a sizeable population has its own Labatt or Molson distributor. You know the type…he’s a local guy who drives around in a big fancy car and picks up the tab when he’s out with friends to show off his huge stash of cash. The beer salesman is one of the higher-profile people in town, often on the same level as the president of the chamber of commerce, the GM dealer, the professional hockey player, the priest and the notary public. He’s a cash cow for all the local organizations, making him very popular in many circles.

The position is so area specific that the Chicoutimi distributor doesn’t sell throughout the entire Saguenay region, the Saint-Hyacinthe distributor ends his run at the Saint-Jean border and the Drummondville distributor never sets foot in Victoriaville. Because you shouldn’t sell beer to people you don’t go to church with...

We’ve already established that church bells were the only means of collective audio communications in Quebec long before radios came along, which explains why there are different kinds of Quebecers based on the regions they’re from. They descend from a variety of habitants, speak with their own accent and have different consumer preferences. Think of the folks in Abitibi, Quebec’s wildest adventurers. Then there are Montrealers who’ve been bastardized by the melting pot that has become the big city over the years.

And what can we say about the people of Sherbrooke who are still emulating the Anglos out in the Eastern Townships? Quebec City Quebecers always tend to be happier, or not as happy, as Montrealers. And the population of settlers in the Laurentians consists of many reserved, aloof inhabitants whose ancestors gave pretty much everything they had to help populate the area at priest Antoine Labelle’s request. The in-betweeners living in Trois-Rivières, Drummondville and Hull all adhere to a municipal nationalism, while the more authentic ones in the Beauce, Charlevoix and Gaspé regions prefer to stay true to their Earth Root.

Another manifestation of our Regionalism is the fact that there are eight distinct accents here. There’s the hiss of Abitibi residents, specific to Creditist Party leaders, the Spanish jota in Joliette where people pronounce the letter J as though it were an H, the rolled or wet R sound that Montrealers make, the uvular R favoured by people in the Old Capital, the dental consonants of Gaspésie natives, the open vowels of the Lac Saint-Jean folks, the nasal sounds made by those in the Pays-d’en-Haut, and the distinctive lingo that exists in the Beauce, Côte-Nord and Bas-du-Fleuve regions as well as in other places.

This great variety gives Quebec a bit more flair – more panache, if you will – yet the different levels of spoken French used in our province are a constant source of discrimination among social classes. We label each other based on how we talk, using terms like highly educated, uneducated and tacky.

In Le livre des proverbes Québécois (The Book of Quebec Proverbs), a book every slogan creator should know from cover to cover, Pierre DesRuisseaux catalogues our proverbs by region. “If oral tradition is inherent to culture and the underlying economic factors that condition it,” writes the poet, “it goes without saying that we can’t hope to grasp the meaning of proverbs and popular (used in everyday language and on a daily basis) sayings without taking into account the cultural, geographical and social contexts where the expressions are used.”

Popular proverbs form their own culturally coded esoteric language in the sense that they convey series of messages about culture and values that can only really be understood by those who belong to the culture the proverb is popular in, and by extension who already know their meaning.

So there is not only one Quebec navel to gaze at, there are many. In fact, there are as many as there are McLuhan-like village micro-societies looking to be different from all the others thanks to Heartstrings 10 and 31. All one needs to do is bring up the merging of Quebec municipalities to spark outrage and start bar brawls like the one that took place in Laval, where a Chomedey resident who opposed the merger said, “We would become a tremendous bore as part of Montreal.” The regional cultural changes happening in Quebec right now are definitely worth monitoring.

With many travels under their belts, Quebecers know more about the outside world than they ever used to. Now that they’ve become globalists thanks to the latest communications technology, most of them have paradoxically become more Quebecer, more parishioner-like, than ever before.

In the May 1977 issue of Maclean’s magazine, Marshall McLuhan said, “The effect of information is not to pull people together. It makes people feel independent. Everybody feels that they are able to make it alone. Every place in the world is pulling away from every other place...Nationalism is very old hardware based on the printed word. Because when people began to see their own tongue in print visually, it gave them a tremendous boost egotistically. Nationalism belongs to the left hemisphere entirely. Whereas, Regionalism and separatism belong to the right hemisphere which is the electric world...There will be no separatism. That is in the hardware sense. They (the separatists) will not pull out. Psychologically, they are separated already. They have been for a long time.”

But McLuhan doesn’t know Joe Tremblay’s cousin:


“I knew that us Quebecers were a bit out there, but I couldn’t believe what I heard the other day. My cousin Jean-Paul is a bit of an extreme separatist…He wants the Saguenay region to separate from the rest of Quebec! I was speechless.

I don’t know if he was just pulling my leg or what, but he said, “We’re independent here, removed from the rest of the world. And our land isn’t polluted. We have natural borders. We’re the No. 1 producer of aluminum on the planet. There’s a big market out there for our natural resources. People can use our forests for wood and our waterways for electricity. Our tourism industry is booming, and there’s a lot of good hunting here.

Have you been to the crossing of the Lac Saint-Jean celebrations? We’ve got the most beautiful women in the province, too. Do you know how many millionaires we have out here? As many as in Quebec City, if not more. Caisses pops are huge here. And I’d say the best thing about us is that we’re not afraid to work hard. I’m convinced we’re the ones paying for all those unemployed folks down in Montreal, as well as for the Olympics.

We could separate tomorrow, no sweat. Get what I’m saying? We’d have no problems finding a premier for a country like ours. Trudeau, Bourassa and Lévesque would all come running. Those guys aren’t stupid. I’m serious, Joe. It’s a lot more doable than you think. And it could totally happen. The Estrie, Abitibi and other regions could separate as well. We’d become the United States of North American Quebec.” That’s when I told him to finish his beer before it got warm.”


Federalism? Separatism? Quebecers choose the third option: Regionalism.

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© 2014 – English translation and website by Lawrence Creaghan. Published online with the permission of Guérin Éditeur Ltée and the Fondation Jacques-Bouchard.