Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Montreal, eh?

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Montreal is an amazing city. Anyone who has been there knows that. But it seems to me that lately it has ascended to an even higher state of attractiveness, and it has nothing to do with the night life, the cafes, or even the resurgence of Les Canadiens. Montreal has become a truly cosmopolitan city, a gloriously Canadian city, a wonderfully FRENCH Canadian city.

Visiting recently, to speak to Quebec booksellers about the French-language editions of my Boy Sherlock Holmes series, I found myself welcomed like a brother with open arms by French-speaking colleagues, in English. That might not seem so extraordinary. After all, these were folks who had business interests at stake, who wanted me to like them, and had reason to like me. Perhaps they were putting it on? Perhaps they were speaking English, but secretly disliking me for not responding in French? But out on the streets of Montreal, in those cafes, in the stores, and everywhere I went I never once met with a sneer when I stumbled in French or had to resort, with embarrassment, to the only language I am really at home in.

Montreal seems to have lost all its insecurities. It is indeed a French city now, happy to be that way, and also happy to welcome its English-Canadian siblings in any language they'd like to employ. It has grown up and into itself, and thus has become an unmatched Canadian community.

The last night I was there, three French-Canadian colleagues took me to dinner in one of those lovely Montreal restaurants we all wish we had in our neck of the woods. All three spoke French as their first language but we conversed in English, and their wasn't a hint of resentment. My hosts were extraordinarily gracious. We laughed and covered a great range of subjects. When the question of Quebec nationalism came up they all immediately agreed that it was dead, that it was, as they said, "something that has passed, and will stay that way." One might argue that I wouldn't have encountered this attitude in Quebec City or in the province's countryside, and that may be true, but one of my hosts had been a strong nationalist, in fact, in some ways perhaps still was one, backed the sign law as an essential pillar of Quebec society, and considered Rene Levesque to be a truly great man. But he agreed, wholeheartedly, that nationalism was dead, and seemed quite pleased about it. Quebec, he insisted, got what they needed from years of Parti Quebecois rule, and the brave actions of Mons.Levesque. Montreal, and Quebec, he felt, are now free to be themselves, a French society, allowed to be that way, strong and secure within a English (and perhaps increasing bilingual) country. Perhaps we are all ready to grow up in Canada, and be the wonderful, multi-cultural place we know we have in us, in our perpetually youthful nation; perhaps Montreal is showing the way.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Shane Peacock

Shane Peacock is a biographer, journalist, screenwriter, playwright and novelist. He has received many honours for his writing, including the prestigious Arthur Ellis Award for Eye of the Crow, the first of his Boy Sherlock Holmes series.

Go to Shane Peacock’s Author Page