Yes, I parlez-vous
Denis Grignon is a veteran print/broadcast journalist and the producer of The Advocate Podcast: Stories from Kawartha Lakes. He is also a professional stand-up comic who lives near Dunsford.
I was not born in Quebec. I have never lived in Quebec. I have zero aspiration of ever living in Quebec. Sure, that province is home to some wonderful people who’ve done magic with music, comedy, cheese, gravy and French fries and Stanley Cups.
But my home is — always has been, always will be – Ontario. I suspect my next move will be to a plot somewhere near my home outside of Dunsford.
I have to make this point often to fellow Ontarians – (many of whom are, yes, residents of the C of KL) – shortly after they struggle to pronounce the ‘gn’ sound in Grignon and wonder about that accent Eh-Goo in my middle name.
THEM: So…this name of yours is French, eh?
ME: Yes. Er, oui.
THEM: Do you speak it?
ME: Not as well as I used to, but yes. Pretty fluently. And, yes, I CAN pronounce the French word for squirrel.
THEM: So, when did you leave Quebec?
ME: Right after the third period – when my Habs won the game. But I was only there for the day.
THEM: No! I mean when did you MOVE OUT of Quebec?
(Pause. Then a bewildered stare)
THEM: You DO know you’re not in Quebec NOW, right?
ME: Mais, oui.
My mother tongue is, indeed, French – I was born and raised in Ontario. We spoke French at home – a distinctly non-Quebec French — like more than a half million other people in my province. Of Ontario. I did not learn to speak French as a French-immersion student. I actually attended Francophone-only schools. In Ontario. There are many of them in Ontario, though you may not have noticed a difference from any other school. Heck, even the doors open the same, though we’ve been known to curse en Francais if we push when we’re supposed to pull.
Yes, more than a half-million Franco-Ontarians.
Some figures suggest there are more than 600,000, but it’s always possible some were counted twice. One Montreal Canadien jersey looks much like any other.
I know this figure comes as a surprise to many Ontarians – especially since we typically blend in quite well and, therefore, don’t necessarily stand out (unless you hear us struggling with that push/pull door thing.)
Our premier, then, is certainly not alone in his ignorance about the number of Franco-Ontarians. Though it could be argued that if he’d done some simple math – in the language of his choice – he would have been enlightened. During the campaign, a French speaking reporter from Ontario, working for a French language broadcaster in Ontario asked him if he intended to learn to speak Canada’s other official language.
“It’d be important to be able to communicate with part of our country that speaks French,” he told the reporter. “I love Quebec, I love Quebecers.”
That response left the reporter, and thousands of others – including me — gasping, “Quoi???”
Clearly, Mr Ford wasn’t aware our numbers are so large and that he certainly wouldn’t have to cross a border to parlez-vous.
I could belabour his, um, faux-pas and speculate as to his motives for all his decisions affecting Ontario’s Francos since he took office. But the internet would no doubt break with all the back-and-forth reader vitriol that would inevitably follow this column.
Rather, let’s just start with everyone – the premier, the store owner, the players in the beer league dressing room — acknowledging that there are, indeed, many many French speaking people NOT just in Quebec, but in Ontario. (As well as other provinces). If you choose to hold the door open for one of us, that’d be a nice bonus. And it’s always nice to hear ‘merci.’