While some English communities are fast disappearing, others in rural Quebec are finding ways to survive and flourish.
“Over the years, I’ve seen changes; I’ve seen how the anglophones and francophones integrate, communicate together,” said North Hatley mayor Michael Page.
The small vacation village of 750 people is on the shores of Lake Massawippi in the Eastern Townships.
It used to be predominantly anglophone; now, the mayor says the community is about half English and half French.
The community has official bilingual status, council meetings are held in both languages and English culture is embraced.
“From my experience around here, Thanksgiving is much more celebrated in the anglophone families than the francophones’, so it’s important that we keep those traditions around,” Page said.
“Family dinners on Sunday evening, I think that’s kind of an anglophone tradition also.”
The English population has declined drastically over the years in the Eastern Townships.
In 1861, 58 per cent of Quebec’s English speakers lived in the Townships; today, there are less than 4 per cent.
Many English communities in rural Quebec are seeing their numbers drop as young people move away to bigger cities.
“The future of the community, rather than being closed in on itself …the vision more and more is that youth need to be bilingual so that they have those economic opportunities, so they can find jobs back where they came from,” explained anthropologist Mary Richardson.
In North Hatley, bilingualism is warmly embraced – mostly because the village relies on tourism from a large number of American cottagers so English is an economic essential.
“For us it’s very important to communicate with our clients, so we need to speak English,” said Isabelle Lussier, Auberge la Chocolatiere co-owner.
Even so, some anglophones say there has been political pressure since the introduction of Bill 101 to put French first.
“We had to have our sign approved because we weren’t sure if it was too English,” said Tiffany Standish, who owns a clam shack called Casa Wippi with her husband.
“We even had the language sign police come and take pictures — and we passed, so it was like, ‘phew!'”
Standish, a native English speaker, grew up in a community 20 minutes away. She’s perfectly bilingual, which confuses even some Quebec customers.
For English speakers in the Townships, Quebec isn’t a French province — it’s a bilingual one.