Terry DiMonte: Mister Montréal

Editor's note: this post is a translation of an interview with Terry DiMonte, conducted by Marc Cassivi, author of the book Mauvaise langue and columnist at La Presse. Click here to read the original French text.

Terry DiMonte has been hosting the morning show at CHOM-FM since 1984, with a four-year hiatus in Calgary and a few years in competing Montréal stations. The man is from Verdun, born to a father of Italian descent and an English-Canadian mother. He grew up in Pierrefonds, during the 60s. Conversation about the two solitudes...

Marc Cassivi: I often listened to you on CHOM in the morning when I was 12 and my father drove me to school. Today, I listen to you while driving my 12 and 9-year old sons. I hope it doesn't make you feel too old!

Terry DiMonte: On the contrary! It makes me very happy to hear that. I meet other parents who tell me the same thing.

Marc Cassivi: It's been over 30 years!

Terry DiMonte: I was 26, when I started. I was lucky. CHOM had difficulties, so they gave me the morning show. I was in Winnipeg at the time. The timing was perfect. There was no pressure, we had a lot of freedom.

Marc Cassivi: Since that time, you've become part of Montréal's social fabric...

Terry DiMonte: I'm an Anglo, but I feel as Québécois as any other guy who calls himself de souche. I'm very attached to Québec and Montréal. They're in my veins. I spent four years in Calgary - it was not my first choice - and I missed Québec a whole lot. I remember a visit, while living in Calgary, with my friend Sylvie Brunetta in Laval. She was listening to a song by Jean-Pierre Ferland [Un peu plus haut, un peu plus loin], sung by Céline Dion and Ginette Reno on the Plains of Abraham. When Ginette Reno sang, it was so powerful that I was moved almost to tears. Sylvie turned to me and said, "Hey, what's going on with you?" It touched me as much as it touched her, though I am a bloody square head! [Laughs] What distinguishes Québec... I don't know how to describe it, I don't always feel part of it, but I understand it. I was listening to Québec idols singing in Québec city a Québécois song written by a Québec monument, and it made me vibrate. I left Alberta and I realized...

Marc Cassivi: ... how much you missed Québec?

Terry DiMonte: How Québécois I am! Although it is sometimes complicated. I remember one summer in NDG, in the 80s: a guy called Tony had a restaurant named Cosmo's. I looked one day and this man in his sixties was up on a ladder, repainting his sign to hide the English words because he had problems with the "language police". It hurt me. I come from here too. I was born here. And I was told that my language did not fit here. But when Ginette Reno sings, I get all choked up. It's a strange feeling.

Marc Cassivi: But you do understand that, to survive, the French language must be protected?

Terry DiMonte: I am absolutely in favor of Bill 101. Some refuse to believe that English speakers understand the aspirations of Francophones, but most of us do. I've seen things evolve. I was a child in Verdun and everything was written in English. It wasn't fair nor equitable. It's difficult for many to understand, but from an Anglo's perspective, [the adoption of the Charter of the French Language] in 1977, was quite a shock. Today, with hindsight, I understand it very well. I often say: if you can't buy yourself a Métro ticket, order at the restaurant or ask for directions in French in Québec, you should take lessons or leave. Because French is the language of the majority.

Marc Cassivi: Bill 101 has allowed children of immigrants like Sugar Sammy to become bilingual or trilingual.

Terry DiMonte: And it has trained a generation of Sugar Sammy, perfectly at ease in French and English. I was born and I grew up here. And yet, I haven't had the chance to learn French [well enough] for us to do this interview in French! I speak French like a Anglo. My father spoke Italian at home and he married an Anglophone. His brothers married Francophones, the only French I learned was that of my aunts. I understand that French is what makes Québec so unique. But sometimes radicals - "angryphones" Anglos as much as ultranationalist Francophones - drive me to despair. Things have changed a lot, but there are still people on both sides who do not want to listen.

Marc Cassivi: The vast majority of us live peacefully...

Terry DiMonte: From time to time, in a shop, someone says, "Bonjour/Hi!". For me, this is not the end of the world. Even if I understand the feeling of insecurity. That said, I've never felt that my presence here was detrimental to French in any way whatsoever. My grandparents were born in Italy, my uncles and aunts didn't speak a word of English, my cousins ​​speak French... When I saw this restaurant owner repaint his sign to remove the English words, I felt bad because I feel Québécois. I do not feel like a threat to Québec.

Marc Cassivi: How has Québec evolved in the 32 years that you've been doing radio?

Terry DiMonte: I think things have improved. The majority of Anglophones who stayed - because several left in the 70s - remained because they feel at home here. We do not feel foreign in Québec. Many of my high school friends left because they were afraid. But the new generation of English speakers no longer see things the same way.

Marc Cassivi: They don't feel marginalized...

Terry DiMonte: Sometimes, I see a angry guy on television and I think he would be happy if all Anglos had left. It's not very pleasant, but it's really a small minority discourse that we hear less and less. I often tell my friends who live in the West: Québec is the most interesting place to live in this country and there are no people more generous than the Québécois.

Marc Cassivi: And yet, despite thirty years at the helm of a popular morning show in Montréal, you're still not very well known among Francophones. There's still a cultural divide...

Terry DiMonte: Of course. This is understandable. My Ontario or Alberta friends also ask me, "Who are these stars at the ADISQ gala?" I am a very big fan of Serge Fiori, who was one of my idols when I was a teenager and whom I interviewed recently for the first time. He invited me to his home. It's one of my fondest interview memories of my whole life. He told me how ironically, after the famous Saint-Jean concert on the mountain in 1976, after believing they would soon have their own country and stayed up all night, guys from Harmonium went at Beauty's for breakfast, the bastion of Montréal's Anglo-Jewish culture. That, for me, is Montréal!