I knew it wasn’t my imagination. For too long I lived away from Montreal, but since 2001 I have spent summers here, sitting on terrasses and drinking in life on the street. Over the years I could swear I’ve been hearing more English spoken downtown, on the Plateau, even in Outremont. Recently I stumbled on a Gazette article from last November (http://www.montrealgazette.com/health/anglo+revival/2204478/story.html) claiming a 5% increase in the Anglophone population in Quebec since 2001. The article features a young couple from New Zealand who were charmed enough by Montreal to make it their permanent home. Now what I am about to say is sheer speculation, but I am willing to wager that a significant number of Anglos coming to Quebec are part of a kind of reverse diaspora of those who could not finally overcome their longing for Montreal. My girlfriend and I are two of those who returned after finding life elsewhere wanting.
The idea of a wave of Anglo Quebecers returning to the roost pleases me, not just because it is always nice to be part of a movement, but because I think the reverse diaspora illustrates a previously unseen affinity between French and English speaking Quebecers. The philosopher Eric Santner has observed that we do not truly share in a way of life when we agree with its values and codes of conduct, “but, rather, when we are, as it were, haunted by its spirits.” Since I can remember, the constant undertone (and frequent keynote) of the language debate in Quebec is the sense of hauntedness by the possibility of a loss. French Quebecers experience their language — the great cultural treasure — as something threatened, something that always seems about to disappear. Another group of people who have experienced an equivalent loss are Quebec Anglophones who have left Montreal. A quick poll of ex-Montrealers in Toronto or Calgary would quickly reveal that the loss we suffer when we leave Quebec is obviously not a linguistic loss (since we end up in English-speaking provinces or in the United States) but a cultural loss, a loss of Quebec culture, in all its glorious impurity. When French Quebec feels haunted by an impending loss of their language, they are not anticipating a loss of a vocabulary and a set of grammatical rules, but of a way of life, a very specific way of being in the world. It has to do with how one finds happiness, the role that beauty plays in urban space, the way relationships supersede profit, the understanding that an ungraspable quality of elegance makes life worthwhile.
For Francophones, the French language stands in for all of these values. For Anglophones, Montreal stands in for the very same values. Francophone Quebecers fear the loss of this quality. Anglophone Quebecers who have fled west have actually experienced the loss of this quality. When we return — and my intuition is that we are returning — it will not be as a political threat to French Quebec, but as people who have lost the same treasure that Francophones fear losing. Having lost it, and found it again here waiting for us, we want to preserve it, protect it in partnership with Francophones, the only other people in Canada with whom we share this great cultural hauntedness.