Je m'excuse

Editor's note: this post is an excerpt of a memoir written by Jonathan Kay, editor-in-chief of The Walrus. Click here to read his complete and touching testimony.

To be an Anglo in Quebec during the 1980s was to be born into a multiply nested counterculture. I was a Jew within the Anglo community, an Anglo within Quebec, a Quebecer within English-speaking Canada, and a Canadian within an American-dominated continent. It was a status that imparted to us an inborn suspicion of all things mainstream - including the arena-rock hair bands that we saw on MuchMusic. I felt a closer cultural kinship with Claude Rajotte than with Erica Ehm or Steve Anthony, whether I was watching him on MusiquePlus in French or listening to him on CHOM–FM in English. Despite all my language bigotry, I found myself buying French albums during my trips to Dutchy’s (including, yes, Mitsou).

Sometimes, I’d watch sports in French - the cultural attitudes of the commentators often seemed closer to my own than did the hayseed Canadiana of Howie Meeker and Don Cherry. On school trips to Quebec City and Ottawa, I came to appreciate - on some level, at least - that the uneasy cohabitation of French and English was essential to the creation of a Canadian identity. Standing on the Plains of Abraham, you realize that history feels more real in Quebec than it does in many other parts of the country: the waxing and waning of English and French powers vis-à-vis one another has no counterpart beyond the province’s borders. [...]

Even now, as someone who has lived in Toronto for almost two decades, I cannot shake the Quebec out of me. Both professionally and socially, I notice that my human bonds grow fastest and strongest with other members of the Quebec diaspora. Those multiply nested countercultures seem to give us a unique outlook on life - a combination of self-awareness, clannishness, polyglotism, and cosmopolitan posturing that often leaves us chatting alone, amongst ourselves in the kitchen, at parties in Toronto and Vancouver. The jokes we tell and the questions we ask may be in English. But the backstory comes with French subtitles.