WHO AM I? I GUESS THAT DEPENDS ON YOUR DEFINITION OF ‘CANADIAN’ AND OF ‘PETER STUART’
I was just mulling over some stuff in my head this bright Sunday evening alone in the kitchen with my cup of coffee staring out the window. I thought to myself: ‘Who am I?’ I was having an imaginary conversation in my head with a good friend of mine from back in the old neighborhood in Quebec City with whom I am still very close. I was bemoaning the fact that I did not fit in anywhere in the grand scheme of things, which is what happens when I go for more than a few weeks without having enough to do work or study wise and start bemoaning my fate and that of the world in general.
In days of yore this would have been a perfect excuse to engage in some very heavy-handed ‘poor me, poor me, pour me a drink’, and I would have disappeared into the inner recesses of many Molson Ex bottles, the likes of which used to be sold in Québec, what we used to call ‘La Grosse Bière, or the ‘big bottles’, of 625 ml Canadian beer, which used to be sold in small time corner stores everywhere in La Belle Province and which were the favoured choice of all low-bottom booze hound connoisseurs of malted liquor such as myself, before the advent of ‘King Cans’ , ‘Tall Boys’ and 1.18 litre bottles of 10% alcohol Black Label came along and significantly upped the ante for the denizens of cheap booze.
But alas, or should I say, thankfully, such was not to be the case since my recovery from the scourge of John Barleycorn for going on now over 16 years this past February 6, 2015, day of my deliverance back into the hands of Jesus. But I digress. So now I editorialize and extemporize about it. So as I was saying, ‘who am I?’ As I gave it some thought by the window in the kitchen I thought to myself and sort of summed it all up this way. I kind of felt like I was on the opposite end of the spectrum from the French-Canadian filmmaker Pierre Falardeau’s now iconic Bob ‘Elvis’ Gratton, the French-Canadian/Québécois dude with the mixed identity who finds himself on the Air Canada flight down to ‘Santa Banana’ with his wife Linda explaining to some bewildered fellow passengers the complexities of Canadian identity, except from a native English speaker’s viewpoint.
I started summing up the whole chain of mixed/multiple/complex forms of identity which comprise my being and it just started to get more and more bewildering. So here goes: I’m a native English speaking Québecer who is half of French Canadian origin and is fluently bilingual and bicultural from an English/French point of view. So I have longstanding enough roots to be considered an ‘Old Québecer’, but I’m not fully Anglo-Scottish nor Protestant, so I can’t really aspire to join the August ranks of the upper middle class WASP culture club. Pity. Plus I’m only half French-Canadian, so I’ll never be ‘pure laine, or ‘de souche’ enough (pure blooded Québécois) to be considered fully a part of ‘the tribe’ or ‘la nation’, therefore I have gone into exile.
Also, although I have a proud Scottish name, I’m Roman Catholic, an egregious and fatal flaw which was pointed out to me by one of my friends I made at a fraternal organization I joined in Québec City before coming down here, where there were a lot of Protestants as founding members of the fellowship. ‘You’re a really nice guy there Peter, too bad you’re Catholic!’, was the offhand remark made to me by this old school patriarch of Québec City WASP society, not at all maliciously of course, but simply as a matter of fact, that I did not fit his preconceived mould of what a ‘fine fellow’ and ‘Christian Gentleman’ was all about.
I’m also a staunch Monarchist and an Anglophile, which does not ingratiate me whatsoever with the French-Canadian secularist/nationalist majority, who are very much against the Monarchy, not to mention some of my fellow Irish Catholic compatriots with whom I was raised in the Irish Catholic, English-speaking Québec City cultural tradition, which was and still is, much more straddling the borderline between being sympathetic to their French-Canadian co-religionists in matters of Republicanism and socio-economic class distinctions and identity, than with their fellow English-speaking minority members, whom some still resent for their historical exploitation of the famine Irish laborers during the not so distant colonial past.
I was also raised in a staunchly Anglo-Canadian Liberal bilingual/bicultural and multicultural household from the 1968-84 Pierre Trudeau era of Canada’s history, where Canada Day was observed with cake and fireworks while the rest of the town partied it up one week earlier for St. Jean Baptist day, a ‘fête’ which we bilingual Anglos eschewed back then because it was ever so intimately associated with the Québécois secular secessionist unilingual French cause which was hostile to Canada, to bilingualism, to the Monarchy, to virtually everything our family stood for.
I only began going to St. Jean Baptiste parties when I was 22 and older, after the first secession referendum had been defeated and the Constitution had been patriated and I had subsequently flunked out of two separate institutions of higher learning due to my burgeoning mental health problem, and began hanging out with working class French-Canadians from down below the hill in Sillery where I grew up, many of whom I had gone to French Catholic public school with in elementary school and cut my chops learning Molière’s language, not to mention getting into more than a few scraps and fist fights with some of these fellows in the school yard over recess, and had also played minor hockey with some of them and had inhaled some of my first samplings of psychotropic substances in the changing room with the lads in my ongoing quest to somehow ‘fit in’ somewhere and ‘be part of the gang.’
Going to St. Jean Baptiste Parties was like sleeping with the enemy back in those days. You just didn’t go. It was for ‘those people’ and ‘their cause’, even though I really dug Plume Latraverse, Robert Charlebois, Diane Dufresne, Diane Tell, Harmonium, Beau Dommage, Zachary Richard, Jim Corcoran, Felix Leclerc, Julien Clerc, Corbeau, Offenbach, Michel Pagliaro, Yvon Deschamps, Paul Piché and Gilles Vigneault, I could not bring myself to go out and buy their records because I felt their music was too intimately associated with the secessionist cause and was therefore structurally tainted from the get go. I could not separate the art from the ideology. As the years progressed however, and I aged and matured and stayed longer in Québec due to the fact that my health essentially prevented me from functioning at a level which would allow me to successfully pursue post-secondary studies either in Québec or outside the province, I found myself drifting from year to year and from job to job from the ages of 22 to 29, as well as in and out of institutions of higher learning, eventually completing my CEGEP Community College diploma in a haze of alcohol and drug-related behaviour, interspersed with ever-burgeoning symptoms of Psychosis and paranoia as well as delusions of persecution, thought broadcasting, thought insertion and other signs of an imminent Psychotic episode.
So who am I again? Good question. I guess I’m a good old Canadian if you ask me! I belong equally in French as well as English Canada, I’m comfortable with Catholics as well as Protestants and was brought up in my last two years of High School being in contact with Jews as well. I’ve had the pleasure of learning some Spanish at College and University as well as some Sign Language. I know the difference between Civil Law and Common Law, having briefly been to Law School on two occasions before packing it in in disgust. I’ve lived, travelled, worked, studied or just plain visited every single one of the 10 Provinces as well as the Yukon Territory and hope to make it to the NWT and Nunavut one day.
I’ve had the pleasure of making the acquaintance and even becoming friends with African people, Haitians, Muslims, Pakistanis, and have travelled to such places as Los Angeles CA, New York NY, Connecticut, Maine, Vermont, the UK, France, Spain, Mexico and Cuba. If I’m not Scottish enough for the Scots then phooey, I guess that means I’m not Scottish am I? I’m Canadian! Same goes for all the other groupings, including my Québécois identity, which, after all, originates from the original ‘Canadiens’ identity of the Habitants of La Nouvelle France. My Gauthier ancestors came in 1665 from St. Onge in France and tilled the soil in east end Montréal at Bout de l’Ïle, and were amongst the first Europeans to set foot in this land. So I guess that makes me as Canadiens as anybody, eh?
Just thought I’d think this one out on paper to get it out of my head instead of letting it float away into the inner recesses of a bottle (or more) of ‘La Grosse Bière.’ Take care folks. And Happy Victoria Day by the way! (Or is that Patriotes Day? Or Dollard des Ormeaux Day? Oh Yeah, right, this is Canada, and we’re all Canadians, we all have mixed identities and opinions about everything! One part of the country celebrates the Monarchy tomorrow while the other part celebrates those who fought to disestablish it! Cool! Only in Canada! Pity, as the Red Rose Tea commercial ladies used to say!)