When people find out that I grew up in Montreal and spent lot of my childhood time in Quebec’s Eastern Townships they invariably ask, “Well, are you a separatist, then?”
Hardly. The Parti Quebecois and their separatist ideology severely damaged Quebec and almost ruined Montreal for a generation. That city had been the financial centre of Canada, the first Canadian metropolis with a subway system, Expo 67 and a major league baseball team. It seems as if hundreds of thousands of us have left since November,1976, and la Belle Province will never be the same again. It’s the Canadian diaspora. No, we were never brutalized as the Jewish people have been in their two thousand years of wandering in search of a home. This is Canada after all. Mistreatment and prejudice probably don’t amount to much more than having the cashier first say ‘Bonjour’ instead of ‘Hello’ at any McDonald’s on Montreal’s West Island.
But we form a tribe nonetheless. We recognize each other in our dialect, like Basques coming together outside of their small corner of Spain. The old guy who sharpens my skates at B.K. Sports on Bantree Road picked me out as soon as I opened my mouth. I call him Bob, I don’t know if that’s really his name, but he’s never corrected me.
“Can you sew up these hockey gauntlets for me,” I asked him, my glance around the old shop taking in all the photos of the old Montreal Canadiens’ teams from the 1960s.
“You must be an anglo from Montreal,” he smirked in a friendly manner.
I was aghast. “How can you tell,” I stammered.
“Because we’re the only ones who called hockey gloves ‘gauntlets’. The rest of the world calls them, well, hockey gloves.”
He has a customer for life. We always have something to talk about. A hockey guy to his core, he used to play in the nets in pick-up summer hockey games at the Pointe Claire arena with the likes of Yvan Cournoyer and Jacques Lemaire. Bob also played in the first Old-Timers Tournament ever, in the same arena, back in 1967 or 68, I think it was. Old -Timer then meant you were over twenty-five. The world was a lot younger then. I remember wondering what old boys like that were doing still playing amateur hockey at that advanced age.
I’m fifty-seven years old now and play seven times a week.
Now my trips east of Gatineau are limited to visiting my one remaining Townships’ relative who lives on my grandfather’s old farm. That and playing in the Pointe Claire Old-Timers Tournament in April every year. Yeah, I’m still on the ice a lot but when I watch video tapes of our games I wish there was some way to flick them on to fast-forward.
No, our warring factions don’t kill each other here in Canada the way they do in some other parts of the world. But we needn’t feel overly-smug. I remember my father coming back from an educational conference somewhere overseas and recounting a conversation that he had with an eloquent and distinguished female representative from a Commonwealth country in Africa.
“From Canada, I see,” she greeted him, noting his lapel badge. When he nodded in acknowledgement she continued with “Having tribal difficulties, are we ?”