March 11, 2001

That Ontario Thing...


This is a response to a posting on the forum, itself a response to my comments on Ontario culture in the last entry.

I think there's some confusion here. I never said, implied, or even thought that there is NO culture in Ontario. Sure there is.. but it's culture that arose elsewhere, or could have - there's nothing distinctly Ontarian about it. I think the point was, there's little out there that's distinctly recognizable as being of Ontario, in the way that there is much from Quebec.

The reasons for this probably stem from historical patterns and language issues and are not necessarily a reflection of the residents of these Provinces. Still, if you consider the cultures of Atlantic Canada, the Prairies, and other geographical areas, Ontario still comes up closest to the United States, in my opinion.

That's absolutely not meant as a slam on the U.S. The U.S. has its culture, for better or worse; the issue is that U.S. culture is mirrored in Ontario to a great degree, Even if it 's the best culture in the world, it's a foreign culture. That is the point.

Much of Quebec culture doesn't interest me, being from the second solitude*. After all, the dreaded Celine Dion came out of Quebec! Still, I have to take offence when a Torontonian, quoted in the forum posting, feels he can say he doesn't give a deleted expletive about French culture, and (one presumes) expects that it will be quietly received and understood.

It's not a question of taste but a question of attitude.

Why should this be an acceptable manner in which to present that opinion?

How can you pontificate about "better and kinder" people with an attitude like that? Would it be acceptable for white people in the U.S. to proudly state they don't give a f--- about Black culture, or vice versa? The fact that French-bashing is politically correct in English Canada speaks volumes about how ingrained the stereotypes and prejudices are, and, sadly, how much anger has accumulated between the two societies. Nothing can ever be negotiated in such an atmosphere.

That response gives weight to my argument that people in Ontario, and particularly Toronto, think that they ARE Canada, the only part of Canada that matters. This shows up in a myriad of everyday events: for instance, the English version of the Canadian weather channel often skips over Quebec as it makes its way across the country, forecasting. I used to read Chatelaine Magazine (a Canadian women's publication) but gave up because few areas of Canada outside Toronto were ever covered.

Rivalry between Quebec and Ontario, and particularly Montreal and Toronto, runs deep. The French author Roch Carrier summed it up beautifully in his children's book, The Hockey Sweater. This book is so ingrained in Quebec (um) culture, that both my sons, walking into the room while I was finding the relevant web page, immediately recognized the story and said, "I read that!"

I realize that saying Ontario has little culture of its own is like waving a red flag at a bull; my intention certainly was to provoke discussion. It continues to amaze me, though, that I can be taken to task for that viewpoint by the very person who emphatically dismisses another culture with a deleted expletive!

Frankly, I prefer to live among the French Canadians, for the most part without unpleasant incident, than among the anal-retentive, US-wannabe Torontonians. Their city is physically beautiful (or was before the moose invasion) but doesn't have one hundredth of Montreal's spirit.

*A reference to the novel Two Solitudes, written by the late Hugh MacLennan, an acclaimed author and professor at McGill.

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