Saturday, February 05, 2011

Mon pays, ce n'est pas Vancouver!

I had to shake my head in amused bewilderment in reading Vancouver Olympics CEO John Furlong's whining in his memoirs about how the issue of French in the Olympics' opening and closing ceremonies was criticized by people like Graham Fraser and James Moore, excerpted in this morning's Globe and Mail. He seems to be very put upon, stung by criticisms of people he thought were his political allies. I posted my own thoughts on this issue last year.

But the thing that I found really amusing, in a shake-your-head kind of way, is Furlong's defence of the relative absence of French in the ceremony, which was that the original plan for the opening ceremonies, designed by David Atkins, was to have a major component oriented around Gilles Vigneault's song "Mon Pays", only to have Vigneault refuse them the rights.

The fact that Atkins and Furlong were surprised by this just goes to show how completely out of touch they are with the province of Quebec and Canadian history. I freely acknowledge that the lyrics for the song, on their face, are great for a Canadian Olympics, since they roughly translate as "My country, it is not a country, it is winter." But the song is a long-standing nationalist hymn for the sovereignty movement, and Vigneault himself is a high-profile separatist. After the 1980 referendum went down to defeat, it was "Mon Pays" that the disappointed crowd of "Oui" supporters sang. And so it shouldn't have been any surprise that he wouldn't allow it to be sung in a ceremony celebrating a united Canada including Quebec. Indeed, it's amazing that the organizers designed as much of a program around it as they did without asking his permission first. Whatever else one might think about how Furlong felt about how he was treated for his under-use of French, the fact that this is his line of defence indicates, at least to me, just how out of touch he was with the highly political issue of language.

ETA: Correction: As one of the commenters pointed out, it was "Gens du Pays", not "Mon Pays", that was sung on the night of the referendum - a quick check of Daniel Poliquin's biography of Levesque confirmed this. But it was still Vigneault, and "Mon Pays" also holds an anthemic status in the province.

The melody for "Mon Pays," for those who like Canadian trivia, was reworked into the 1970s disco hit "From New York to L.A." by Acadian chanteuse Patsy Gallant, who appeared many times as part of Ottawa's Canada Day events.

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At 8:50 pm, Anonymous Pure Laine said...

Hello Matthew,

Great post! I simply want to let you know that I made an entry on my blog pointing to this post.

Have a good day!

At 6:41 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Great post! I think it summarizes well the core issue - the profound lack of understanding of our country's two languages and cultures that this illustrates.

At 1:36 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said.
But wasn'it "Gens du Pays" rather than "Mon Pays" that people sang after the referendum?

At 2:31 pm, Blogger Matt said...

Anonymous - You're correct. I've confused the two "Pays" songs of Vigneault. Although my basic point still stands. Thanks for keeping me honest.


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