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He speaks in English: this is the mostly English version of the play originally performed in French. But, increasingly as his performance gathers momentum, his intensity rises, and French takes over, with explanatory English subtitles appearing on a screen. They lived one on top of the other, the four children with their parents and a grandmother suffering from dementia, in a several-story apartment block, now constantly reproduced on stage from different angles. When Wolfe fell, Murray succeeded him in command, becoming the military commander of surrendered Quebec City.
War, Nationalism, Fear, Cruelty, Religion:
This is one of the underlying hard ironies of the play. In other words, the childhood home of Lepage became in this play the symbol of the Province of Quebec. His father, he tells us, was forced to quit school at the age of eight to get a job. He enlisted in the Canadian navy during the Second World War but, on his return, because he was functionally illiterate, the only job he managed to get was as a cab driver in a rented car.
The father is projected throughout the play as an emblem of sadness and defeat. The federal government invoked the War Measures Act. Several hundred individuals were summarily arrested. For example, in his seemingly spontaneous narration, Lepage said this, sarcastically:. About a minute before going on stage, I wondered what anyone would wonder in a situation like this. Why did I agree to put myself on the line like this?
Why did I paint myself into a corner once again? As I walked on stage, I immediately had my answer. Je me souviens. What is it exactly that we are supposed to remember? No more than the people sitting in the room are worthy of hearing it.
The Canadian Myth of “Speak White!” – A Sociological Analysis
And in a situation like this one, only someone like him would have the authority of speaking these words. He was specifically instructed to recite it from memory. But as he prepared, he found himself blocked, mysteriously unable to recall the words. He even hired a language coach but, it seemed, to little avail. The story evoked by the poem is appalling. Speak white! Il est si beau de vous entendre Parler de Paradise Lost Ou du profil gracieux et anonyme qui tremble dans les sonnets de Shakespeare.
But then the tone changes. Je me souviens is the official slogan of the Province of Quebec. This is the reality of Quebec, according to the poem, and it is at the same time a reality that is replicated across the world. Speak white and loud! The poem is a cry of outrage and anger.
And at whom is the anger directed? The father personifies the cruel fate that was imposed on us French Canadians, the collective fate that was projected by the poem. This same expression was later used to urge French-speaking Canadians to speak English and remind them of their inferiority or subordinate position.
Does this poetic assumption conform with historical reality? It is worth noting what Laurendeau wrote about it privately:. Among the commissioners we have sometimes talked about this insult to French Canadians speaking their own language in places where anglophones are the majority. It is obvious to us that it comes from the United States, and that it combines two insults. I note here the account of a French Canadian from Mallardville who attended our sessions last Tuesday. When he arrived in Vancouver in I think he came from Saskatchewan , he met up with a very hostile milieu.
Davidson Dunton, a former journalist and former chairman of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, was appointed as co-chairman of the royal commission, but Laurendeau was by far the more imposing and influential commissioner. It would be interesting to go more deeply into the psychology that produces this insult: are they upset by hearing a foreign language?
Or more specifically by hearing French? Do they feel left out? Do they have the impression that French Canadians are making negative remarks about them? I have a feeling that the need for conformity plays a large role in all of this. Some comments are in order here. Laurendeau himself never suggests that he ever heard those two words himself or that they were uttered in Quebec. He speaks of the taunt being used in Western Canada and Acadia.
Presumably that means that he had never heard those two words in Saskatchewan. Also, he was recalling what had happened almost three decades earlier, and in answer to a leading question from Laurendeau. Laurendeau only asked the factory worker whether he had been served the taunt. There is no indication that he attempted to ascertain how often it had occurred, under what circumstances, what sort of people uttered it, and how socially significant or otherwise it would prove to be.
All was left vague. They cited in their report some nasty and prejudiced words that were uttered by some of the people who turned up. Written during the Royal Commission in Bilingualism and Biculturalism, — Selected and with an introduction by Patricia Smart. Yet there was no attempt by the commissioners to assess the frequency, locations and impact of these taunts. The reality of Canada was not the existence of two solitudes, but rather the conjugation of a wolf and a lamb locked together. The poem does not only speak of contempt, of exploitation.
It also accuses the oppressor of causing French Canadians to lose their integrity, their identity, their honour, their collective soul:. To give plausibility to the poetic denunciation of the Anglos as contemptuous oppressors, Lepage gives only one specific example that demonstrates how Anglos were responsible for the collective poverty and misery that he evokes. It was shouted in the House of Commons by the representatives of all English-speaking Canadians across the country. The words, speak white!
Moreover, the statement suggested that this racist taunt was not the expression of some Johnny-come-lately teasing, but rather it has enjoyed a history going back more than a century. So it is embedded deep in Canadian history. What is astounding is how irresponsibly Lepage makes so provocative and heinous an accusation against his English-speaking fellow citizens.
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He gives the year of the supposed event as But Henri Bourassa was only elected to the Commons 10 years later, in , when Wilfrid Laurier won his first Liberal majority. The date of the dramatic confrontation in the Commons was actually June 7, Here is how The Globe of Toronto reported that scene the next morning, at the top of the front page:. It is doubtful if there has ever before occurred such a unique and intensely exciting incident in the popular chamber of the Dominion.
For a brief minute or two the place rang with angry, passionate voices. Members leaned over their desks and hissed out epithets. Henri Bourassa, the young French Canadian member for Labelle. It was provoked by the statement that the South African War was an unjust one, and that it had not brought a particle of glory to the British arms. The words actually uttered that afternoon in the House of Commons were transcribed verbatim in shorthand by stenographers, then translated and delivered to the press gallery within hours. Here is an excerpt from that official record for June 7, Sir, this war will not add an ounce to the glory of the English flag— Some hon.
This is a free country. Some hon.
Is this a free parliament? Is free speech allowed here? Such a speech from a member of this House! Shame on him! This is a free parliament. Not for traitors. LII, Part 2, p.
The uproar in the Commons even drew the attention of the Boston Evening Transcript. Its edition of June 8, carried a story on page 3 that included this:. A scene of disorder unparalleled in the history of the House then ensued. Because Henri Bourassa actually delivered his controversial speech in English, not French! In , unlike today, the Hansard transcripts of the speeches in the Commons did not specify in what language the words were spoken. Most newspapers reproduced the words in French or in English, in accordance with the language in which the newspaper was published.
The newspapers cited above did not specify in what language the quoted transcripts were actually spoken. But, on June 8, , the influential Montreal daily La Patrie , closely affiliated with the Liberal Party, noted the language in which Mr. Bourassa spoke: it was English! Here is an excerpt of what La Patrie published on page 4, the day after the Commons debate: 8. But the reporter had made clear that the speech was given in English. The scandalous story propagated by Robert Lepage is a malevolent forgery.
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That provocative charge is made in the book without a reference to back it up or even a date assigned to the supposed event. But that sentence then became the justification for innumerable repetitions of the same false claim. Here is one example, from Wikipedia:. This article claims to explain the origin of the expression, but without any reference to a source.