But…I thought they only spoke FRENCH in Quebec…
When Justin Trudeau was in Sherbrooke a few months ago, someone asked him (in English) if he could send more resources to the Eastern Townships (that is the larger area that Sherbrooke is a part of) to provide English-language services for mental-health treatment. Trudeau made a bit of a faux pas when he responded to this questioner in French, explaining, « Ok, thank you for asking the question in English — one of the two official languages here in Canada — but we are in Quebec now, so I will answer you in French… » His response was met, in some cases, with outrage.
Many in Canada were bewildered that there should be any issue. After all, he was in Quebec. Doesn’t everyone in Quebec speak French? No. No, they do not.
You see, around the time of the Revolutionary War (1775-83), British citizens who did not want to fight for or become a part of the burgeoning United States moved north. These « Loyalists » are the ones who originally founded Sherbrooke (formerly « Hyatt Mills ») by building a mill at the rapids now in downtown Sherbrooke. For centuries, these English-speaking peoples actually tended to be the more wealthy component of the Townships, building and bank-rolling many of the infrastructure and manufacturing investments. However, things began to change. As French populations grew, the English population gradually began to move to Montreal or further West.
In Sherbrooke, the English population tended to congregate south of Sherbrooke, in the town of Lennoxville, and throughout the countryside in smaller towns. Eventually, Bishop’s College was built to service the educational needs of the English, while the University of Sherbrooke (where I work) and other schools served the French. Today, even Lennoxville is quickly becoming French: the baristas at Tim Hortons will say, « Bonjour » even though they are bilingual. But they will change to English quickly enough if they pick up your accent!
So where does all this leave the original Loyalist population? In some cases, their ancestors date back generations — all the way to the mid 18th century! — and while the younger generation seek to be bilingual, many over fort speak only English. The question posed to the Prime Minister was a genuine and pressing need: how can we get adequate services, for English-speaking Québécois? And the response of the Prime Minister seemed indicative of the general mood of Quebec, and of Canada: « Here in Quebec, we speak French! » What is the implication? « If you speak English, you need to leave! »
Quebec is seen as somewhat of a forgotten people-group within Canada. Embedded within the population of Quebec, however, is an even more forgotten people-group: the English-speaking descendants of the Loyalists!
In an earlier post, I mentioned how our time in Quebec has been a time of overturned expectations. Although I knew dimly about the reality of the English-speaking peoples of Quebec, I did not expect to be called to serve them in any way. Like our Prime Minister, when I think of Quebec, I think of french-speaking peoples: and it is to them that we are primarily oriented. However, what we are finding is that God also has a use for my ability to speak and minister in english for the forgotten english-speaking Québécois peoples.
If you would like to learn more about our ministry in Quebec, feel free to contact me. We’d love to add you to our newsletter list! God bless!