, , , , , , , , ,

Maison d’enfance (Childhood House) de Gabrielle Roy, à Saint-Boniface, Winnipeg, Manitoba


I cannot accomplish much at this moment, but I am sending you a photograph of Gabrielle Roy’s childhood home in Saint-Boniface, Manitoba. I mentioned short stories written by Gabrielle Roy, the author of Bonheur d’occasion, a novel published in 1945 and translated as The Tin Flute. The novel tells the story of a family living in Saint-Henri, Montreal, the poorest area of Montreal in 1945. The novel’s central irony is that World War II will “save” the family. Rose-Anna will receive a few hundred dollars a month.

Bonheur d’occasion (second-hand happiness) and Hugh MacLennan‘s Two Solitudes (1945) have been considered mirror narratives expressing the tragic repercussions of the separation of Canada’s two founding nations, after the First Nations.

Résistance: Clandestine Schools outside Quebec

There was resistance to the uniform school system created by Sir John A. Macdonald in provinces other than Quebec. As humble as it was, the Laurier-Greenway Compromise of 1989 made it possible to use French as the language of instruction in several Manitoba schools. But the Laurier-Greenway Compromise was short-lived. In 1915, the Thornton Act abolished the bilingual school system in Manitoba. However, in many schools, French continued to be the language of instruction, but in a clandestine manner. The teacher spoke French, but switched to English when the Inspector visited the school. Certain immigrants also took in hand the education of their children. But it could not last.


As for French-speaking Canadians, the Official Languages Act of 1969 was passed one hundred and two years after Confederation (1867). It was too late. Canada is officially bilingual and bicultural, but the people of Canada do not necessarily speak both French and English. In practice, Canada is a mostly English-language country, which it may remain. The Federal Government has put into place French Immersion Schools and Canada has an Office of the Commissioner of the Official Languages. (See Canada’s “Founding Mothers” of French Immersion | The Canadian Encyclopedia and Canadian Parents for French.) These schools cannot transform English-speaking Canadians into French-speaking Canadians, but gifted and motivated students do learn French. These schools also constitute a validation of the French language. Moreover, such groups as Canadian Parents for French look kindly on publically-funded separate schools in various communities, if these communities qualify.

However, it would be my opinion that one cannot expect coast to coast bilingualism. Not after 102 years. Canada is a mostly English-language country where each linguistic group should respect one another and also respect immigrants to this country. When they arrive in Canada, they are fellow Canadians.

Whether laws should enforce the use of French in Quebec is questionable. By virtue of Quebec’s Bill 22 (July 1972), French is the official language of Quebec. Bill 101 (La Charte de la langue française),1977, reinforced Bill 22. There are “sunnier” ways of preserving a language. I am borrowing the term “sunnier” from Sir Wilfrid Laurier.

But I will pause here. The concept of nationhood is complex. I have met people in whose eyes Britain won the battle, i.e. the Battle of the Plains of Abraham (13 September 1759), which means that the French have no rights, nor do Amerindians. They too were conquered. This ideology has fallen into disrepute, but it has done so… very slowly.


If one reads the above, one may be tempted to revisit separatism. Confederation separated Quebec. It would not be on an equal footing with other provinces. But it also separated French-speaking Canadians from English-speaking Canadians.

The people of Canada must never stop respecting one another: English speaking, French speaking, immigrants to this country, and refugees. When immigrants arrive in Canada, it becomes their country. Not that they will forget their native land. Gabrielle Roy’s Sam Lee Wong is lost in the Canadian prairies. Canadian Japanese were Canadians. But they were interned after the attack on Pearl Harbour.


Sources and Resources

Two Solitudes and Bonheur d’occasion: Mirror Images of Quebec | Bibliography on English-speaking Quebec (concordia.ca)
See Office of the Commissioner of the Official Languages to view a timeline of the history of bilingualism in Canada. There were noble gestures in provinces where the language of instruction could not be French.

Love to everyone 💕

Les Charbonniers de l’enfer: La Traversée miraculeuse

© Micheline Walker
28 April 2021