Coexist: Quebec and the Last Referendum

by Janice Waugh /
Janice Waugh's picture
Nov 18, 2009 / 1 comments

My neighbor walked by the other day wearing a t-shirt that said
COEXIST. Each letter of the word is actually a symbol that represents a
different religion or world view. A t-shirt, with one word, can be

Our ability to coexist peacefully is fundamental to the well-being
of everyone on this planet. Travel can help us achieve this. Through
travel we experience cultures and the individuals who live in them. We
learn to appreciate each other, accept differences and live side by

Fourteen years ago tomorrow, I traveled to Quebec in hopes that I
would come to terms with what could very well be a need to coexist.

The Second Quebec Referendum.
I am an Anglophone from Quebec who has lived outside La Belle
Provence for ¾ of my life. But I still consider myself a Quebecer. I
have family there – roots there. So, on October 30th, 1995 when Quebec
was holding its second referendum on separation, I felt fearful.
Everyone knew it was going to be a close vote and I really didn’t want
it to go “Yes”.

However, while it may be inconvenient at times, I believe in the
democratic process. I knew that I would have to live with the outcome
no matter what it was. I also knew that history was being made.  So, at
6am on the morning of October 30th, I packed my two middle
sons, still asleep, into the car on a road trip east to live the day
and, hopefully, be comfortable with the outcome – whatever it was.
(This story is an exception. It is not about solo travel)

Moving west to east across Montreal island.
It’s a bit of a generalization but, in 1995, more Anglophones
lived in the west side of Montreal and more Francophones in the east.
My family is Anglo. My husband’s family is French and English.

By the time my sons woke up, we were stopping at my elderly Aunt and
Uncle’s for breakfast near Rigaud, which is just west of Montreal
island. My uncle did most of the talking. They were clearly not happy
with the prospect of separation but seemed to feel somewhat buffered in
their Anglo enclave.

From there we went to Lachine where I grew up and still have a
couple of uncles living. This is a suburb that seemed about 3/4 English
and 1/4 French when I was young but I learned from both families that
it had become more French. (The solitudes were not quite so isolated)
My sons were shocked by the discriminatory musings of one elderly uncle
about the situation. It was a window onto what the Quebecois had
endured for centuries.

Then we headed to the south shore to a cousin of my husband.  She
was definitely voting ‘No’ but her husband who was French would not
declare himself.  This caused a bit of tension in the family that then
assumed he was voting ‘Yes’. They understood my mission and brought a
neighbor  who was a Separatist over to discuss the issue. It was a wild
discussion around the dining room table – all in French. The volume was
high and I got most of what was being said but, every once in a while,
someone would drop out to make sure that I understood.

From there we went to a 3rd floor walk-up in the east end
of Montreal where two elderly aunts lived. In some ways, their concerns
were the greatest. Though they were both fluently bilingual and lived
comfortably in a French section of Montreal (and still do) they were
concerned about what living in a country of Quebec would mean to their
old age pension.

Sitting in their living room we watched the results come in. It was
a nail biter to the end. The final results: 50.58% voted to stay in
Canada. 49.42% voted for separation. Truly, half the province was
unhappy with the result.

But, of my trip, I was very happy. I realized half way through the
day that I could live comfortably with either result. By being close to
the action, speaking with people on all sides of the issue, I
understood their position and appreciated our differences.

I was ready to coexist.

Comments (1)

  • Dr. Jessie Voigts

    13 years 4 months ago

    my dad has that bumper sticker, and i love it. what a great trip you made - and i am sure it made a huge impact on your kids. thanks for sharing!


    Jessie Voigts, PhD


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