A Québécois in Toronto

I was a young teenager the first time I visited Toronto. I participated in a cultural exchange organized by my high school. As far as I can remember, I always have been interested in improving my language skills and thus swiftly jumped at the opportunity.

Unlike most participants from Toronto, the young Ontarian I was matched with could speak very good French. I remember spending the day with him on the campus of Upper Canada College; I can still hear the squeaky wooden floors. The material being presented in his French class was child's play for us Francophones. My young Anglo friend would later have the same reaction when attending my English class.

We spent the whole weekend downtown. I was most impressed by the streetcars and the trolleybuses, things I had never experienced before. I remember one trolleybus coming to a halt and the driver putting the pole back on the electrified line. The overhead wires on some of the busier streets weren't the most pleasant sight.

The most vivid memory I have of that weekend is playing on a subway grate near City Hall. The air blowing out of it was so strong; everything we threw over it, including our spit, would fly off in the sky. We came back home dirty as hell.

I've gone back many times since for business. On one occasion, I tried calling the young man I met in my early teens. His father was still living in the same house and quickly recognized me; my Anglo friend had moved to another part of the globe.

I also went back for a short weekend to see a musical with my wife. In a typical Québécois fashion, we figured we'd grab a quick lunch before and have a late dinner after the show. The restaurant we found near the Pantages Theater later that night was about to close when we got in. The restaurateurs recognized the tourists that we were. What I first thought would be a blatant example of the number one Ontarian stereotype, turned out to be some authentique hospitalité torontoise.

For the Montrealer that I am, and even if both cities aren't that far apart in age, Toronto feels "young". I'm sure Europeans also get that feeling when they come to Montréal.

Perhaps, the thing I like the most about Toronto is the absence of linguistic ambiguity. When in Montréal, I'm occasionally approached by salespersons in Canada's other official language. They usually switch to French easily, but sometimes don't. I then always go into great length to help them with their French by promoting a constructive dialog and remaining courteous. When they admit that they can't do it, I willingly switch to English. On very odd occasions, the salesperson simply has no interest for French and misinterprets my attitude for intolerance.

In Toronto, you're never out of line when expecting someone to speak the language of the majority.


Clarissa said...

"For the Montrealer that I am, and even if both cities aren't that far apart in age, Toronto feels "young". I'm sure Europeans also get that feeling when they come to Montréal."

-This is precisely why - as much as I love Toronto - I feel a lot more at home in Montreal. :-)

James said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michel Bolduc said...


I would say the number one Ontarian stereotype is that there's no nightlife (or not as late as in Québec in general). I remember going out in Ottawa with some of my college friends. There were roadblocks for drunken driving as early as 8 p.m. When everything was closing up in Ottawa, we all crossed the river to Hull.

As for Montrealers getting worked up... I think it's more about situations where people speak English only than situations where people speak any other language.