Playing the identity card

Some 100 years ago, French-speaking inhabitants of this country had very few models to look up to. Poor and undereducated, they followed the path drawn by the Church... raising as many children as possible with very little mean. Life was tough.

In 1909, John Ambrose O'Brien entertainded the idea of creating a hockey team to capture francophone interest as a rival for the Montréal Wanderers. This new team was to essentially recruit French-speaking hockey players only. The name chosen to underline this particular trait was Le Club de Hockey Canadien.

Perhaps, you're unsure why the name "Canadien" would specifically appeal to French-speakers. If this is the case, you're unfamiliar with the origins of the word. You see... in those days, English-speakers in this country still had strong ties with England. They basically were British North Americans. In contrast, French settlers and their descendants had long broken their ties with France, developing their own very specific identity, as les Canadiens.

John Ambrose O'Brien saw a commercially feasible venture in exploiting this feeling of distinctiveness. Time proved him right. The hockey team became one of the most successful professional sports team in the world, giving French Canadians from all over the country the models they never had. And what models!... six championship cups in the 50s, four in the 60s, six in the 70s... 24 in total.

Today, pretty much everyone in the country see themselves as Canadians and the majority probably wonders why Montréal's hockey team bears such a name. What used to be known as the Canadien identity has now morphed into something different, the Québécois identity. Le Club de Hockey Canadien hasn't followed this trend (nor should it), but a newer team with less heritage could very well do so.

Founded in 1993, L'impact is Montréal's soccer team. This year is its first season in the MLS. Upon its entry in the big league, the owner saw it fit to redo its entire image. Like Les Canadiens de Montréal did some 100 years ago with French Canadians, L'Impact chose the path of identity to appeal to the Québécois' strong feeling of distinctiveness. Click below to see for yourself.

Of course, today's Québécois don't need heroes as French Canadians of the past did. But if this video doesn't touch you, in all good faith, what will? Look at the picture below and tell me... what are these gentlemen saying to the Québécois of all origins?... be part of the team...


Anonymous said...

The very interesting thing about these images, for me, is that I find them divisive. I'm not trying to cause conflict because I find my own reactions to them very interesting and I'm trying to understand also what you see.

So, it seems as though you see men of different backgrounds all as one team, symbolizing Quebec.

What I see is men of different backgrounds subsumed under ethnic Quebecois symbols and it feels alienating to me (I know that must sound weird and I'm trying to explain myself to further the debate.)

When you get down to it, the "symbols" of Quebec are ethnic symbols (or at least that's how every non-Quebecois I know sees them.) This might be the heart of the "identity problem" in Quebec. And, I think this mirrors the current public debate (i.e., if you aren't a fan of Quebecois artists and Quebecois television shows, you aren't really a Quebecer.)

However, unlike the "Stars and Stripes" or the "Maple Leaf" which don't necessarily reflect ethnic identities (to me, I would be interested to hear if they do for you), the fleur-de-lys, especially in Quebec, means "French" and, by extension, to me: "you're not included." Pair that with the "light from Heaven" and the Cartier cross? Whew!

I'm still trying to wrap my head around what the message in Quebec actually is. It seems like it's "become Quebecois or leave" meaning really, really become Quebecois as in "ethnically Quebecois" as much as possible. You may be black, you may be from Latin America but speak French all the time (even at home to your children), watch Star Academie and rock out to Marie-Mai and then you'll belong.

It's a very, very weird message and one that I think many Quebecois would be surprised to learn probably causes more disaffection than not. The fact that the Quebecois often seem to favor a cudgel than an outstretched hand in furthering assimilati--er, integration, doesn't help matters.

Like I say, not trying to be obnoxious, just trying to further the debate and am interested to hear the other side of things.

Michel Bolduc said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts Edgy.

What I see?... a Québec open to the other... welcoming all the help it can get.

Ethnic Québécois symbols?... I hadn't honestly noticed the cross; all I see is Mount-Royal (at the heart of the city) and a dramatic sky. I doubt the majority sees anything else.

Of course, some Québécois are demanding that newcomers "become Québécois", but some Canadians have a similar attitude towards the Québécois not really being Canadians. Above all, the majority is simply demanding that newcomers acknowledge their host society. Isn't that what Canadians in other provinces expect from their own immigrants?

Ethnic symbols?... define ethnic... the maple leaf, the National Anthem... heck!... the Canadian identity was initially introduced by the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste as defining symbols for French Canadians. Canadians of all stripes now embrace all this as their own.

The basic idea for this blog entry is that the Fleur-de-Lys might very follow a similar path...

Raman said...


The fleur de lys is no more ethnic than the maple leaf is. It is only in your eyes: It becomes ethnic only when minorities refuse to adhere to it and alienate themselves from it.

The fleur de lys is a national symbol. And all nations include ethnic minorities. The only difference with Quebec is that large portions of its ethnic minorities would rather rally under the maple leaf, which makes them reject the fleur de lys as just an ethnic thing.

But you'll find the same elsewhere. In France, the bleu, blanc, rouge flag is the national symbol of all the French; regardless whether they are from Italian, Hungarian, Jewish or other origins. Yet, nowadays some communities in France have developed very anti-French sentiments. Radical Muslims especially come to mind. And it is among them that you will find a discourse which rejects the French identity as being nothing more than an ethnic group, and nothing they’d ever want to be a part of. This is blatant when you visit some French Muslim blogs and forums, where people will, all at once, claim that they have French nationality, yet post comments talking about “les souchiens”, les “céfrans”, les “Gaulois” or simply “les sales Français” : all derogatory, even heinous, terms referring exclusively to the ethnic, or “de souche” French. (And this is not exclusive to France: Similar situations exist in every European country.)

Whereas Quebec Anglos and other English-speaking minorities reject Quebec symbols because they’d rather adhere to Canadian ones, those Muslim European minorities will rather adhere to Algerian or Moroccan flags: Same situation, different symbols. Useless to say, this creates a lot of tensions, which is only heightened by the form of schizophrenia which results from physically living somewhere yet, culturally and mentally, living far away, in a different society which you idealize.
But it’s always easier to blame it on the flag than on one’s own attitude...