Je Me Souviens

“Née dans les lis, je croîs dans les roses.” ~ Eugène-Étienne Taché

“Born in the lies, I grow in the roses.” Apparently this motto was composed for some monument to the past that never came to fruition. The symbolism is that of a people with roots in France, but who flourished among the English – les Habitants, the first settlers of Quebec.

Eugène-Étienne Taché was like me in some ways. Born and raised in Quebec, he later studied among the anglophones of Ontario. My path was a similar one, only in the reverse direction. It has taken me perhaps more years to properly appreciate my father’s roots here in the place that has become my home, but I too feel that I was born to one flower and have grown with the other.

I remember when Taché’s other motto, Je me souviens, replaced the touristic motto La Belle Province (“the beautiful province”) on license plates. How I felt the loss of the friendly words! The new words seemed both void of meaning for a child fairly recently arrived to Quebec, and politically charged too. It was too soon after Bill 101, and political tensions were building towards the referendum of 1980. Too many people associated the “memories” with the conflict between the French and English, the two solitudes of Canada.

The history of les Habitants and their descendants is a unique one among the conquered and colonized of the world. Those visiting New France in its early days would remark that, contrary to the settlements in New England, everyone here did an honest day’s work. Each one was addressed as Monsieur or Madame, regardless of station or parentage. When Quebec was surrendered to England after the Seven Years’ War, treaties and laws protected the religion, language and laws of the former French subjects. Those protections exist to this day.

Perhaps this is what is so saddening when I read that our politicians feel it is a dangerous precedent, to send a message that parents have the right to choose the language in which their children will be educated. There is no choice, PQ leader Pauline Marois tells us, for the decision was made thirty years ago when that party passed Bill 101. That one choice apparently, must stand for all our tomorrows. But what of the decision of France to abandon Quebec, or the two referenda that told our government this province should not separate from Canada? Those decisions, it would seem, our politicians feel free to revisit with some regularity.

Née dans les lis, je croîs dans les roses. We are told by David Ross McCord at one time this was a toast to which the people of this land would raise a glass in good cheer. Je me souviens, just as much as the next Québecois. I only wish I could grow a garden of lilies and roses that would live in peace together.

© 2010 Kyla Matton. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have questions or comments! If you want to share this piece, please respect the copyright by quoting a brief excerpt and providing the permalink for this entry. Thanks!

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