So Wednesday was a big day in and for the city of Montreal.
It was a celebration of city’s 375th birthday.
As if to herald a new day and beginning, church bells tolled sonorously. Politicians discarded their political colours for a day and came together in the celebratory spirit of the moment for Montreal.
For most Montrealers—some to a greater degree than others—it was a big deal; they became caught up in the moment. But I dare say that many people of various ethno-cultural hues and stripes are indifferent; the birthday and what’s chalked up to be a major celebration of 375 years of the “founding” of the city of Montreal meant little; 5/17/17 passed just like any other day.
Maybe because many who call Montreal home (some of whom were born here, others who arrived and settled here for numerous reasons (excluding colonial ones) weren’t invited to the party and are just not feeling it.
I know. I wasn’t sent a personal invitation to anything; no one I know got one either.
Actually, a verbal invitation was issued to the commonalty to join the extended birthday celebration. This was reiterated last month following a video presentation (I imagine it was intended not just for local and national, but also international audience consumption) ostensibly of the face(s) of the 21st century Montreal we all now inhabit and have come to know. Call it home.
It was a visual package that purports to be a representation of the city and its people. It’s now generally known that when many who saw the multiple faces of the city and its demographics, all that struck them was the homogeneity, and the blatant omission of the multiple colourful faces (of the people that truly represents the city they now call home). Many, to use the old cliché, were “up in arms”, wondering and asking how could there be such a blatant misrepresentation of what 21st Century Montreal looks like.
In a strange kind of way it was the launch of what’s expected to be a long celebration of one aspect of Europe’s extensive and extended colonial power (and the acquired benefits of that… let’s call it dubious period) in North America.
As one of millions of people (of colour, visible minorities…) I managed to learn much history, others history, from Europeans; It was a veritable indoctrination. A good man I know, who knows something about history, sarcastically refers to it as “his” story. But long, long… after my indoctrination I began to learn mine, and I’m still learning… It has been a long, long process of re-education.
So this is Montreal, now 375 years old and counting.
Sure, topography, museums, landmarks, monuments and so on are fine, representing what Montreal has become in 2017. But in a major metropolis like this, those who call the city home (regardless of where they’re from, whatever colour they may be, or whatever language they speak) and are trying to muster some excitement and interest cannot get beyond the blatant exclusion of some ‘non-pure laine’ Montrealers who played a pivotal role in the building and development of the city.
But the point has been made from the “get go.” This celebration is about the “USES”, the linguistic majority, which has been reinforcing the late twentieth century reality of what Montreal really is, tacitly and with visual reminders. The dominant culture is in the perpetual process of (re)appropriating and restoring its history.
Meanwhile, the 375th is also a celebration of a city in a would-be nation expropriated from First nations people. It’s two nations, both victims of colonialism, one still shedding the vestiges of English (economic) colonialism, the other in a generational, seemingly lifetime struggle to re-appropriate its First Nations treaty rights, legacy and culture in a world that was expropriated from them and carved up by the dominant culture.
In this year of celebration there’s no major celebration showcasing the presence of those who met the colonizers when they arrived in 1642.
For example, one of the newspapers available to transit users has been featuring the names of important personalities in the history of Quebec and Montreal in metro stations. There are 68 of them, about three bear English names, none paying tribute to the First Nations.
Not all First Nations people are celebrating. I imagine given the nature of [their] history and reflecting on stories handed down from generations of elders over the last 375 years up to yesterday, it was no cause for celebration once they did soul-searching and reflecting. Notwithstanding how the last 375 years have been, others were conciliatory, but not necessarily celebratory.
And we’re complaining, albeit mildly, about Black peoples’ non-representation in the 375th probably aside from some token, exotic, insignificant after-thought-kinda-way, of our centuries-old presence in Quebec.
The [history] books in use in educational institutions certainly will not provide any information that speak to our presence, But ask any of the Black historians (the name Dr. Dorothy Williams immediately comes to mind) in the city of Montreal about Blacks in Montreal, Quebec, Canada and they’ll be able to provide literary evidence spanning hundreds of years up to today.
In fact, “Some Missing Pages — The History of the Black Community in Quebec and Canada” might be a point of departure. It’s described as a document (it’s really a book) of primary and secondary source published in 1995 by the Quebec Board of Black Educators in collaboration with the Ministère de l’éducation and Provincial Association of Social Studies Teachers (Quebec) et al.
Actually, that publication might’ve been placed in a box or on a bookshelf gathering dust and forgotten.
As I suggested to a retired professor sometime last year, given that 2017 is the year of (Canada’s 150th and Montreal’s 375th birthday) celebrations, it might be a good time to fill in many of those missing pages in that publication. After all, it’s another literary tidbit, albeit Black, of Montreal, Quebec and Canada’s heritage.
But for this specific and opportune occasion, it’s something that Quebec’s generations of culture czars might be interested in poring over. Given their blatant, and I daresay deliberate, omission of Montreal’s other “cultural” communities in their 375th promotional material there’s a lot for them to learn. I understand, they never learned about anything other than Quebec’s (pure laine) history in school.
Yes, why not update that Some Missing Pages… for the proverbial future generations [of Black people and others] of Black peoples centuries-old presence in Canada. Provincial and federal heritage organizations (they’re big on supporting Canadian heritage; after all it’s not all European and white. Or “Old Stock” as someone once stated in and interview) will have something to refer to, as evidence that we too have been here – prior to 2017.
In the meantime, if you’re so inclined, enjoy the birthday celebrations; they’re on all summer. And I believe most events are taxpayer—meaning you and me, and others—subsidized. If not they should be.