Being part of the small English-speaking community of the Québec city/Chaudière-Appalaches region, (2% of the population, with about 15 000 people total), I’m often asked the question: ‘Where do you come from?’ As if by virtue of my name being of Scottish origin, and my Québécois French being sometimes slightly accented with a distinct soupçon of ‘bloke’ influence, I might just be from another planet!

So with a great deal of patience, born out of decades of dancing this routine, I answer ‘Sillery’ (A suburb of Québec city). Whereupon they answer back: ‘Yeah, but, BEFORE that, were you born in Ontario?’ So I answer, ‘no I was born at the Lachine general Hospital in 1964, and lived for the first four years of my life on the West Island, in Pointe-Claire.’ Not satisfied, Jean-Guy or Marie-Josée, or whoever, delves deeper into the genealogical inquest. ‘But your parents were they born in Ontario?’ This ‘pas de deux’ continues along its merry way until such time as I feel compelled to call out the heavy artillery and stop the Genealogical Inquisition dead in its tracks. I tell them that my mother was a Gauthier, and that my ancestor Jacques Gauthier arrived in New France around 1667 with some of the first colonists of our country, and tilled the soil on his farm at Lachine, where he spent his life with his wife and children. I also tell them that he came from St. Onge, the same region of France as Samuel de Champlain.

This usually does the trick, and the dreaded Genealogical Inquisition of Québec is laid to rest until such time as I have to pull out the heavy artillery and start blazing away again. What is a little frustrating is that in 2009, we are still treating people this way in our province. At what point can we hope to say that we feel ‘chez nous’ here in Québec? Just the mere fact that my family still speaks Molière’s great language is something of a miraclulous story unto itself, and warrants being told.

In the wake of the Patriote Rebellions in Lower Canada in 1837-38, many French-Canadians left Lower-Canada. Many settled in New England and went to work in the burgeoning mill towns there. Amongst them was my great grandfather Adolph Gauthier and his wife and family, who set up a butcher shop in Ogdensburg New York. Around the first few years of the 20th century, the family came back to Canada. The thesis that I like to invoke for this is the following: At this particular moment in U.S. history, there was a great upsurge of Anglo-American nationalism, whose advocates were putting a lot of pressure on the U.S. government to assimilate the various ethnic minorities of that country at the time. This was so, because many considered that there were beginning to be too many problems related to lack of social cohesion in the social fabric of American society, and therefore the ‘pressure to become American’ began to increase dramatically.

Therefore, laws were passed by the U.S. Congress, restricting immigration from eastern and southern Europe. I’m assuming that Adolph Gauthier saw the writing on the wall and decided to say ‘no’ to America’s ‘melting pot’, based on its motto of ‘Et Pluribus Unum’, meaning, ‘out of  many, one’. He probably decided to come back to Canada, where he knew that French was protected by the Canadian government, based on the notion in our French language national anthem ‘protègera nos foyers et nos droits’.

His son, Paul Émile, who was born in Ogdensburg, relearned a lot of his French, which he had lost. He then met a pretty Irish girl name Rose Clough, and they had four children, one of whom was my mother, Helen Gauthier. She was born in St. Anne de Beupré and grew up in the ‘town site’ in Beaupré itself, which was an English-speaking enclave which belonged to the paper mill, where all the houses belonged to the company, and everyone who lived there was a manager at the mill. In my grandfather’s case, he was the office manager.

She eventually met my father, William James Stuart in Montréal in the 1950s. My father was another perfect example of the crossing of cultures and language. His father, who was of Scottish extraction, died when my father was only five years old, leaving my grandmother, Lucille Stuart (nee Rhéaume) to raise my father and uncle Pierre. She was a ‘pure laine’ French Canadian’, but could speak fluent English. My father learnt French first and English second, and grew up in Rosemont, in east end Montréal, in a rather French-speaking environment.

But Montréal in the 1940s and 50s was dominated by English-speaking people, and my father mastered English well enough and had a Scottish name, so he could pass for a native English speaker. When my parents got married, they bought a house in Pointe-Claire. None of our neighbours were native French speakers.

Only what I consider divine intervention saved me and my siblings from what could’ve turned out to be a life of eternal unilingualism, when my father got a promotion and got transferred to Québec city for his job at IBM in 1968. The social and linguistic climate was much different there than in Montréal. After getting nearly eaten alive by a store clerk at a downtown department store in the St. Roch part of town when she addressed the clerk in English, thinking she was at Ogilvy’s, Morgan’s or Eaton’s, she took her courage in her two hands and enrolled all of her children in French Catholic public school.

For my part, I was the sibling who inhaled the most of this medication, going from Kindergarten to grade four inclusively before returning to the English system.

So, in the final analysis, I could’ve easily never learned to speak French properly, if at all, or I would’ve lost it when I moved to Toronto or Calgary like so many others of my generation.

So, what’s in a name? Peter Anthony Stuart, my name, is of Scottish origin, but, as Pierre Elliot Trudeau once said during the 1980 referendum campaign: ‘Mon nom est québécois, mon nom est canadien aussi!!!’ So, long live multiple identities, and long live multiple allegiances, too. This will save a lot of hassle the next time anybody asks me the Inquisition Question: ‘So, where do you come from?’ Oh, boy, here we go again!!!!

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