Une réalité bien différente de nos jours

Un texte exceptionnellement long aujourd’hui, mais il faut retenir que cette section de mon blogue traite justement d’un « Retour sur hier » et s’il y a eu un événement extrêmement marquant à cette époque, c’est bien l’élection du PQ le 15 novembre 1976. Le journaliste Tom Van Dusen « couvre » Prescott-Russell pour le compte du journal The Citizen. Le père de Tom était bien connu dans le milieu politique de la capitale ayant rédigé des discours pour quelques premiers ministres. Les frères et sœurs de Tom œuvrent quasiment tous dans le monde du journalisme et de la communication. Son oncle Jack, lui-même un ancien journaliste de longue expérience, a été mon patron aux relations avec les médias de Postes Canada. En fait, c’est Jack qui m’avait offert une promotion en 1990 en court-circuitant le processus habituel interne des ressources humaines de l’entreprise. Tom et moi avions couvert de nombreux événements politiques dans Prescott-Russell pendant nos premières années dans ce métier. Dans Le Carillon du 9 mars 1977, je consacre mon espace éditorial à un texte que Tom avait écrit pour The Citizen; en fait, je le reproduisais intégralement. Aujourd’hui, Tom conviendrait que le portrait qu’il trace est sensiblement différent en 2012… surtout dans l’ouest des comtés unis et particulièrement dans le canton de Russell… celui qui nous a réuni vers la fin des années 80 jusqu’à mon départ pour Ottawa à la fin de 2011. Au lendemain de cette élection du PQ, les médias nationaux, surtout anglophones, avaient soudainement découvert la réalité francophone hors Québec. J’avais été interviewé par de nombreux journalistes. Le texte qu’il avait produit pour The Citizen en page 3 de son édition du 7 mars 1977 est reproduit intégralement… et dans sa langue d’origine… comme je l’avais fait à l’époque. La traduction ne rend jamais totalement justice à un texte. Tom rendait bien la réalité de cette l’époque dans mon petit coin de pays.

“Villages cluster around massive churches and illuminated crucifixes adorn the yards of private homes.

Much of the banking is done at caisses populaires rather than at more traditional institutions.

The language most often heard at street corners is French.

This isn’t rural Quebec: It’s a sketch of Ontario’s eastern tip – the United Counties of Prescott and Russell – where 80 per cent of the 47,500 residents are French-speaking.

Slice of Quebec

Prescott-Russell is a slice of Quebec carried across the Ottawa River through a steady migration of job hunters and farmers in search of greener pastures.

Socially, culturally, and linguistically, this chunk of Ontario is an island unto itself.

Other municipalities such as Ottawa, Cornwall, Sudbury and Windsor have large francophone populations, but nowhere in the province is the majority so overwhelmingly French.

Local government business is conducted almost entirely in French in Prescott-Russell. Only a smattering of English is heard at county council meetings or gatherings of various town, township and village councils.

Of course, provincially-overseen business – such as court proceedings – is conducted in English.

It’s a grating experience to sit in on a court case heard in English despite the fact everyone from the judge to the accused is francophone.

Separate school board deliberations are in French while English is often used during board of education meetings to accommodate the minority of trustees representing public school supporters.

In Prescott-Russell, there’s a reversal of the common Ontario situation which finds francophones unable to get service in their mother tongue. Here, the English-speaking minority sometimes complains of language difficulties such as trying to deal with store clerks who speak only French.

Prescott-Russell looks different, and a large part of the difference stems from the powerful influence of the Roman Catholic Church, which began to wane only about a decade ago.

Ornate churches, pretentious by today’s standards, are the focal point of villages like Casselman, Bourget and Fournier. Homes cling to them as if seeking solace.

In a somewhat gaudy expression of faith, full-size crucifixes and miniature shrines honoring the Virgin Mary sprout along back concession roads.

With the completion of Highway 417, soaring property values and trend to country living, this bastion of franco-Ontarianism is threatened by an influx of English-speaking newcomers.

Many are concerned; others don’t give a damn.

Those who care haven’t attempted to discourage anglophone inroads but they hope the traditional identity can be preserved.

Goldyn Sunderland, an Ottawa planner who owns a home in Prescott-Russell, feels county council should officially recognize the French fact and develop a policy designed to perpetuate the French culture.

The consultant in the process of completing a $97,000 restructuring study of the counties, says the French flavor could be enhanced if greater attention was paid to architectural style in new development.

Architecture, community layout and use of space have always been distinct between the founding cultures, Sunderland notes. He emphasizes how French communities have traditionally revolved around huge churches.

In this space last week, an articulate group of Hawkesbury residents questioned the restructuring commissionner’s position.

‘To suggest that any specific culture should be imposed and artifically maintained, in the face of normal events, is a least unrealistic,’ the group wrote.

Individual styling in architecture is a luxury few families can afford these days, the residents maintained. They said there was ‘a suggestion of condescension’ in Sunderland’s emphasis of the role played by the Church in francophone life.

Unique structure

Perhaps some of Sunderland’s proposals are impractical, impossible – and even condescending. But he has recognized the possibility that a social structure unique in Ontario may be damaged of lost entirely and feels preventive steps should be taken.

English-speaking newcomers to Prescott-Russell should be educated to the fact they’ve entered a predominantly-francophone milieu and be expected to adapt accordingly.

If the influx of anglophones continues at the same rate without a concrete effort to preserve the existing character, the majority could wind up the minority and eventually be assimilated.

There are those who would mourn the passing of this unusual piece of Ontario’s cultural mosaic.”

J’ai bien peur que dans l’ouest des comtés unis, la prédiction de Tom est en train de sa matérialiser. Quelle tristesse!