Yesterday, my uncle Roland Moisan, now more than 92 years old, a veteran who survived D-Day, received the Légion d’honneur, France’s highest award, for his role during World War II.
My uncle was a volunteer who left for Europe in 1941. It was a long trip: three weeks. The ships had to avoid German submarines. When they got to Liverpool, bombs were falling.
The day my uncle and fellow soldiers left England, they did not know what duty had been assigned to them. The débarquement, D-Day, had to be a secret. The soldiers loaded what they were told to load unto boats and it turned out their destination was Normandy.
I visited all the beaches and cliffs of the débarquement. How did they survive? My uncle says that those who should be decorated are his fallen comrades. He was then tall, strong, nimble and the soldiers had been well-trained.
There was no disorder, but they were in hell. Men were falling. It must have been horrible to see comrades killed. When this happens, one must wonder why one is spared death.
A Moment of Grace
As the soldiers who had survived travelled north, towards Germany, my uncle was transporting young prisoners of war. Two of them got ahold of him and lowered his head. He lost his rifle. If these prisoners had not lowered my uncle’s head, it would have been severed by a wire. They had saved his life. One of the prisoners then picked up the fallen rifle and returned it to my uncle, smiling.
These soldiers were the innocent victims of Adolf Hitler and his Nazis. That’s what they were, and so was my uncle. Roland Moisan says he will never forget that one moment. It was a moment of grace.
The vigils have begun all over the province. People have been asked not to converge on Lac-Mégantic itself as the little community cannot accommodate crowds. Quebecers are therefore praying and lighting candles where they live.
A Story in Progress
I have some information, but what happened has yet to be determined.
For the last several months, the same cab driver picked up Mr Harding, the conductor, in Nantes, where he parked the train, 10 kilometres (6 to 7 miles) outside Lac-Mégantic. This cab driver, André Turcotte, has said that he is not ready to “crucify” Tom Harding. Moreover, when he got to his hotel, L’Eau Berge (from “auberge”), a local inn, Mr Harding would often share a beer with François Durand, another customer, before going to his room. He is a quiet, but likeable fellow. I now gather, from watching various videos, that Mr Harding has been “suspended” without pay and that his mobility is restricted. This is, therefore, a story in progress.
The Locomotive and the Brakes
It could be that Mr Harding did not tighten the brakes sufficiently. However, I have read (La Tribune, 12 July, p. 2) that when a fire started in the locomotive, 10 kilometers away from Lac-Mégantic, in Nantes, firefighters turned off the motor of the locomotive, which may have caused the brakes to loosen up and the convoy of tankers to go down hill on its own.
In other words, did Mr Harding not tighten the brakes or could it be that firefighters inadvertently caused the brakes to malfunction by turning off the motor of the locomotive? This was a heavy convoy and there was a hill. The brakes may have failed because of the weight of the convoy and sheer gravity. Besides, were these brakes adequate and in good order?
At any rate, the tankers went downhill and derailed when they arrived in Lac-Mégantic, which is where the explosions occurred. According to his taxi driver, when Mr Harding left the train, there was smoke, always. However, during the night of July 5-6, there was more smoke than was normally the case.
When Mr Harding emerged from the hotel, where he spent one or two nights every week, Catherine Pomerleau-Pelletier, a waitress at afore-mentioned l’Eau Berge, noticed that the engineer looked aghast. He had left his convoy parked, unattended, 10 kilometers away from Lac-Mégantic, but it was exploding in the middle of Lac-Mégantic.
The tankers were not safe, nor was the locomotive. There was smoke all the time. Moreover, the conductor or engineer was the only person operating the locomotive. In short, this tragedy is starting to look like a case of negligence. What are the rules and regulations?
Quebec has teams of persons trained to deal with disasters. The North-American Ice-Storm of 1998 was a major disaster and an eye-opener. Some localities were without electricity for three weeks and millions of persons were affected. Quebec chose the expensive option. It made sure no ice-storm would cut off the electricity.
So, I hope Quebec chooses the expensive option once again: re-route the tracks, make them safer, impose stiff regulations on railway companies, i.e. safe tankers, safe locomotives, more employees—Mr Harding worked alone! Moreover, if a train carries crude oil and there is no way of re-routing the railway, that train should not run through a populated area, near houses and businesses.
Trains are a precious commodity. They can travel rapidly if the tracks are properly built. Entering or leaving Montreal can be a serious undertaking. A few years ago, friends and I waited four hours before we could cross the Champlain bridge. Montreal is an island. We need a fast and secure train linking Montreal and Sherbrooke. There are too many heavy trucks travelling on our highways, not to mention too many cars.
Four more bodies have been extricated from the débris and there will be more.
“Edvard Munch (12 December 1863 – 23 January 1944) was a Norwegian Symbolist painter, printmaker, and an important forerunner of expressionistic art. His best-known composition, The Scream is one of the pieces in a series titled The Frieze of Life, in which Munch explored the themes of life, love, fear, death, and melancholy.” (Edvard Munch, YouTube)
It has been a difficult week. As you know, I no longer have a complete WordPress. I’m being helped but, until now, unsuccessfully. Fortunately, my fingers know where to go.
Quebec’s Lac-Mégantic Tragedy
On July 6th, a train transporting crude oil derailed and exploded devastating a little town of 6,000 inhabitants: Lac-Mégantic. Nearly every family in town lost a loved-one. One body, that of Éliane Parenteau Bélanger, a grandmother, has been identified. DNA samples are required because the bodies of the victims are charred and cannot otherwise be identified. Some bodies may never be found: from ashes to ashes.
Newspapers have been covering the event extensively. Every morning, the front page of my humble Tribune, Sherbrooke’s newspaper, has shown apocalyptic scenes. In fact, the bulk of the newspaper, six pages this morning, is a chronicle of the tragedy. Today it featured the worst: grief. The front page showed people hugging one another. I was about to write “ordinary people,” but that would be inappropriate. No one is “ordinary.”
Canada‘s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, was on the scene shortly after the tragedy. It helped. As for Quebec Premier Pauline Marois, she was in Lac-Mégantic yesterday. This also helped. However, the very first persons to arrive in Lac-Mégantic were people carrying supplies: food, clothing, bedding. At the moment, thirty-five psychologists and social workers are in Lac-Mégantic helping the survivors, some of whom had to be hospitalized. They collapsed.
Imagine the conductor, Mr Tom Harding. He was spending the night in Lac-Mégantic and was awakened by an explosion. Ironically, the noise he heard came from his train. It had exploded. Mr Harding had stopped the train for the night and left it on a hill. It seems the brake failed. Mr Harding has already been relieved of his duties by the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway Company. This could be too hasty and insensitive a decision on the part of the Company. Mr Harding is among the victims of that tragedy.
Mr Edward Burkhardt, the Chairman of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway Company, has now travelled to Lac-Mégantic. People have hurled insults at him. That was a rather ugly scene.
So far, the charred remains of twenty-four victims have been found, but individuals are still missing and a few persons who were presumed dead, are alive. It would appear fifty persons died.
Sir Henry Wood’s ‘Suite No. 6’ is a set of six Bach transcriptions, arranged from various sources, that includes this heartfelt ‘Lament.’ It is the ‘Adagio’ from Bach’s ‘Capriccio on the Departure of His Most Beloved Brother’ in B-flat major, BWV 992. (YouTube video)
On Tuesday, 5 February 2013, I bought a copy of Le Devoir, Quebec‘ s finest French-language newspaper. As you can see above, the cartoonist, Garnotte, sat Pierre Duchesne, Ministre de l’Enseignement supérieur, de la Recherche, de la Science et de la Technologie (depuis 2012),[i] under a big red block, ready to fall on his head.
Former Premier Jean Charest (born 1958) was in France meeting with President François Hollande (born 1954). According to the 5 February 2013 issue of Le Devoir, no one knew what they were discussing, but we were told yesterday, 6 February 2013) that they were discussing business. Monsieur Charest, a veteran politician and the former Premier of Quebec, was not reelected in his own riding: Sherbrooke, Quebec.
French President François Hollande and Jean Charest, former Premier of Quebec, at l’Élizée (Photo credit: Martin Bureau, Agence France-Presse)
McGill outgoing President on the forthcoming Summit on Education, etc
And, this morning, I am reading that the outgoing President of McGill University, in Montreal, Madame Heather Munroe-Blum, thought that “contrairement à certains libéraux, ellene croit [believe] pas que la hausse [rise] proposée par le gouvernement Charest étaitexagérée.”
Madame Heather Munroe-Blum pointed out that, “contrary to certain liberals, she does not believe that the raise proposed by Monsieur Charest’s government [last spring] was too high (exagérée).” In fact, “[i]t wasn’t high enough. « À mon avis, ce n’était pas assez fort», a-t-elle indiqué.” (See Le Devoir.)
Madame Heather Munroe-Blum also stated that the Summit on Higher Education was a “une farce,” a joke. (See Le Devoir.)
She also mentioned that “[i]n Sherbrooke, we had a Senegalese academic who compared our education system to that of Senegal, twenty years ago. What do you think of that?). « À Sherbrooke, on a eu un universitaire sénégalais qui a comparé notre système d’enseignement avec le système sénégalais d’il y a vingt ans. Que penser de ça ? »(il y a = ago) (See Le Devoir.)
There are fewer full-time university teachers in Quebec than outside Quebec. In Quebec universities, numerous teachers are hired on a part-time basis and must travel between two or three universities to make a meagre living. Moreover, concessions are made for students who are first generation university students.
I am also sending you an article on Bill-14. It would transform bilingual communities into unilingual communities, if the English-speaking population drops to below 40% of the total population. (See CTV News.) Quebec wishes to protect the French language, (as does Canada), but there may be friendlier and more effective ways of doing so than the current attempts to marginalize its English-speaking population. What about French-speaking Canadians living outside Quebec?
Working Group on Healthcare or the Council of the Federation: Quebec walks out
In yesterday’s Devoir, I also read that Quebec had left a Working Group on Health Care. (See The Globe and Mail.)
I am posting this article because English-speaking Canadians often wonder what Quebecers want? I do not think I can provide an answer to this question.
Reflecting on the possible repercussions of sovereignty for Quebec seems a good idea. There has to be a bona fide (in good faith) assessment of gains and losses should Quebec leave confederation. Indépendantistes must consider the consequences of secession, or a form thereof. Truth be told, it would be in the interest of the rest of Canada to define its position should Quebec chose not to remain within the current confederation. Will the rest of Canada be tolerant or will we face disorder?
However, Quebec has not seceded and Québécois may well decide to remain a province of Canada. First Minister Alex Salmond of Scotland has secured an agreement with the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom regarding a referendum. But the people of Quebec have not said yes and under the terms of the Clarity Act (popular in Quebec [See The Globe and Mail.]), passed in the year 2000, independence cannot be a unilateral decision.
“The legislation says secession can occur only through constitutional reform, not a simple vote. It also puts restrictions on the question that can be asked in a referendum and how large a majority is required for a Yes vote.” (See Paul Waldie, The Globe and Mail.)
Much of the above confuses me.
Madame Marois is an indépendantiste, but to what extent?
A degree of sovereignty has been achieved in Quebec. Why and how?
Does Quebec have a mandate to create a government within a government?
To what extent can Quebec legislate unilingualism (Bill-14), or has something happened I do not know about?
It’s a spring day in Sherbrooke. Such days do not last. So I thought I would celebrate by sending all of you a photograph of one of my little drawings: pure fantasy. For the first time, I let the camera do part of the work, except that it wasn’t work.
Please accept this token of my appreciation for your lovely blogs and for the kind messages I receive from you. I enjoy this exchange.