The courage to persevere

The use of the French language is a remarkable epic depicting the courage, daring and determination of successive generations of Quebecers from the 1763 Treaty of Paris to the present day. Their ceaseless struggles throughout our history have entrenched the French language as the foundation of Quebec national identity and culture.

• Also read: 24 declarations of love for the French language

I would like to share with you a humble episode of this stubborn resistance that affected my father in my childhood. This is just one example among many of the courage of countless citizens.

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We were in the late fifties, dozens of families of Portuguese origin had settled in Sainte-Thérèse de Blainville where we lived to work in many furniture factories. My father, then elected school superintendent, had persuaded his colleagues to reject the Portuguese community’s request to pay for school bus transport for their children to the English school in Rosemère, a predominantly English-speaking neighboring town, in order to Anglicize them.

A demonstration was held to get my father to change his mind. They were more than fifty men in front of our house in our quiet village.

It seemed to fill our entire street, my horizon was that of a nine-year-old child. On the balcony, where my mother stood united, very upright next to my father, the question of the linguistic integration of the children of Portuguese newcomers was played out. In the absence of Bill 101, which was to be passed 20 years later (1977), franking rested on the commitment of courageous citizens.

To this day I have always had great admiration for my father’s determination. There is no question, he said, that Francophone community money is being used to Anglicize children of immigrants. It was a matter of self esteem. He persevered!

That being said, my parents were very hospitable and open to diversity, including spouses from different backgrounds of their own children. In addition, they subsequently formed close friendships with Portuguese Theresian families, especially our Portuguese neighbors, with whom they remained in contact until the end of their lives.

Imagine my emotions when, 40 years later, at a reception in honor of the bicentenary of the Library of the National Assembly, then President of the Assembly, I had the opportunity to meet one of our neighbors of Portuguese origin, who became a historian, archivist and university professor .

I thought that the French-speaking environment of his studies during his early youth certainly had something to do with his social integration and professional orientation.

I felt great regret at not being able to say this to my late father so that he could rejoice at having had the courage to persevere. I wish us the same courage, the same determination, the same audacity towards ourselves in the face of the new challenges facing Quebec society, in particular higher education in French!

Louise Harel
President of the Committee for the Promotion of the French Language in Montreal

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