Welcome to 2017, the 150th year of Canadian Confederation and the 375th anniversary of Montreal.
According to historian Gustave Lanctôt, the founding of Ville Marie by Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve and Jeanne Mance was unique in history, “the birth of a town dedicated to the Virgin Mary and whose only goal was the glory of God and the conversion of the natives.” For centuries Montreal was defined by religion (Mark Twain: “This is the first time I was ever in a city where you couldn’t throw a brick without breaking a church window”), which also divided its citizens into disconnected solitudes, reinforced by language barriers.
Modern Quebec has become peaceful, prosperous and tolerant, and most of its citizens have adopted French as the shared public language. We have made considerable efforts to create an inclusive society but the gap between rhetoric and reality was jarringly demonstrated in the first promotional video for Montreal’s 375th celebrations. To their credit, Gilbert Rozon and his Montreal 375 team immediately recognized that the video was one-dimensional and replaced it with a more diverse representation.
It is an unfortunate fact that most of us in Quebec still live in parallel universes, sharing the public space as virtual strangers. This year of celebrations will bring new opportunities to break down old walls and build new bridges. My hope for 2017 is that we seize those opportunities. ELAN has several events planned for 2017 to move beyond inclusive rhetoric toward a lived reality.