2012 is a big year for Montréal sports and the Saputo Family. Following a 20 year existence the family-owned football club “Impact de Montréal” finally entered Major League Soccer. It is a year of firsts for our club, for it saw our first game, first goal, first win, and first game in the redeveloped Stade Saputo. I have had the pleasure of being apart of many of these firsts, actually scoring the winning goal and my first professional goal in our first MLS win versus our rivals Toronto FC on April 7th, 2012.
Being in Montréal I have begun to realize that the city has a culture that is unlike any other in North America. This culture plays a hand in the soccer and politics of this great city. Any newcomer to a Impact game will immediately realize that our supporters group, “les Ultras” sing and chant in French. This is just an introduction to the unique culture of our club and this great city.
The best place to start for an understanding of Quebec politics is to go through Quebec’s long history. Since arriving in Montréal, I’ve been reading A People’s History of Quebec in order to better understand the history of the city where I now play.(The quotes and page references below are from this book). I’ve learned that the roots of the territory’s current political issues are grounded in an event that happened centuries ago. On July 24, 1534, Jacques Cartier and his men erected a large cross with the three fleurs-de-lis on the Gaspe Peninsula and declared the territory for the King of France. Jacques Cartier then moved further up the St. Lawrence river and settled on Montréal Island for the winter effectively founding the city. Today Jacques Cartier is honored with a plaza donning his name in the Old Port of Montreal, which is a large tourist destination. Additionally the fleurs-de-lis is enshrined on the flag of Quebec and on our Montréal Impact jerseys. It is a national symbol of Quebec and one that is meant to invoke “the francophone character of the province.” Upon reflection I must admit that the book I used was too narrow in its history of Montreal and the province of Quebec for it rarely touched on the aboriginal people of the territory. Hence it must be noted that these groups played a role in the making of this province and its history.
This strong French culture intensified as Montréal was settled by Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve in May 1642. Montreal soon became the main focus of France as it worked to colonize ‘New France.’ This decision laid the groundwork for a specific people with French culture in Quebec that was uniquely different from the rest of British controled territory in what is present day Canada. It was during this time that settlers in the St. Lawrence Valley began to identify themselves as different than their French counterparts in France and rather as “Canadiens.” During the 1660’s the newly minted “Canadiens,” “preferred to be called ‘habitants’ instead of ‘paysans’ or peasants as they were in France.” (24) This term is still used today and identifies Montréal’s hockey team as the ‘Montréal Canadiens’ and their popular nickname being “Les Habitants.”
What unsettled “Les habitants” was their capitulation to the British during the “Seven Years War” or what as Canadiens refer to it the “War of Conquest.” The differences between the French Canadiens (what Quebecers began calling themselves as English speakers adopted ‘Canadians’) and British cultures are immense specifically being the language and religion: Protestants and Catholics. These issues were only worsened as the British rulers attempted to assimilate French Canadiens into British culture. In 1766, for instance, “the Attorney General of the Province, Francis Maseres, held that the only way to eliminate the growing conflict between the French and English speakers was to simply assimilate those who spoke French.” (72) This statement led to resentment from French speakers as they clung to their language and specifically their religion.
Today Montréal is officially a French speaking city, all of the traffic signs and government documents are in French, and I can add from personal experience my lack of French has left me in awkward positions more than once. I often found it tough trying to figure out where I wanted to go (though my lack of a sense of direction may be the true cause of that.) Though many French Canadiens appreciate my poor attempts at “Bonjour, como ca va” it leaves me at a real disadvantage in truly understanding and assimilating into the culture. Learning the French language is an important way for me to endear myself to the fans, but I will be honest it is not an easy task.
French Canadiens have fought tooth and nail defending their unique culture and language in Montréal, which is distinct compared to the rest of Canada. The Act of Union officially made English the primary language of Quebec in the 1840s but Montréal and the rest of Quebec resisted and over time built up a harden and sometimes malicious defense. Following the Confederation of Canada in 1867 Montreal has worked to regain their sovereignty. They installed the Ministry of Culture during the Quiet Revolution, used physical force and intimidation at the hands of the FLQ (Front de Liberation du Quebec) before finally making French the official language in 1977. These efforts were followed by two unsuccessful attempts to affirm sovereignty referendums for Quebec. The latest one in 1995 lost by the slimmest of margins of 50.6% no to 49.4% yes. Residents of Montréal and the greater Quebec province take their allegiances and culture very seriously.
This immense passion for Quebec nationalism is also evident when fans support their favorite sports teams. The enthusiasm and love for the Montréal Canadiens is no joking matter in Montreal. The team’s performance directly affects the moods of thousands of Montréalers. Though fans of Impact de Montréal are a smaller group, they are equally ardent in their support of the club and the players. This type of passion is shown in times of glory and failure — let me tell you, our fans will let you know their feelings. That is fantastic, as it makes me yearn to please them and earn their admiration in return.
This post has been an introductory post to shed light on the back story of Montréal and its culture, a culture that is clearly apparent in its sports teams and their fans. It has been interesting for me to learn about the prominent names that helped shape this city’s rich history such as Rene Levesque, Papineau, Frontenac, Jean-Talon. Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Maisonneuve and Jacques Cartier. Their names now don many places in the city. If you want to learn more about Montreal’s history or are considering visiting the “Paris of North America” you can visit this website for additional historical knowledge or read “A People’s History of Quebec.” This post is the first in a series of articles I am going to be writing in the next few months that look at the politics and soccer in Montréal. If you have suggestions for article topics or comments on what I’ve written here I more than welcome them in the comments section or on twitter at @andrewwenger.