There were twelve of us in three cars driving from Montreal to Baie St-Paul and I was the only English-speaking person among eleven French-Canadians. We had decided to go whale watching and Baie St-Paul, situated in Charlevoix on the Fleuve St-Laurent and more than five hours north of Montreal, was renown for whales coming into that water to spawn.
I had grown up in Mile-End, a section of Montreal known in the 1950’s as the Park Avenue area, where a large number of immigrant Jews from Eastern Europe had created a community. I went to an elementary school and a high school that had a student population that was 97% Jewish. My friends, the ones I played with in the back alley, were all French Canadians, often mocking me for my poor French.
Up in Charlevoix, we stayed in a farmhouse, coalescing as a group, taking walks together, learning more about each other and just plain hanging out and relaxing away from the city.
One evening meal, everyone had to create a dish to go with the main meal which was to be Paté Chinois. Forty years later from playing in the alley, my French linguistic skills were still relatively poor and I interpreted this to be some type of Chinese dish, not knowing that it was Shepherd’s pie, altered into a traditional Québecois style with three kinds of venison of rabbit, deer or whatever had been caught. I cooked up a veggie-style dish with a sweet and sour sauce that didn’t exactly go with the Paté Chinois.
The next day, a cool, clear day with blue skies, I was walking along the shore of the Fleuve St-Laurent with my friend and co-worker, Michelle. We progressed slowly up and down the shore, stopping to pick up stones, tossing them into the river, breathing in the fresh air. Then she stopped, spread out both her arms towards the sky and said, C’est magnifique, Québec mon pays.
And I realized, despite having spent over fifty years in Quebec, despite my grandparents having immigrated to Quebec, despite my parents having been born here, despite my sisters and I having been born in Quebec, despite my children having been born here in Quebec, despite my children’s children who will be born here, despite an underlying sentiment that Quebec is my home, I can never say ‘Québec mon pays’.