Quebec and Alberta: different pasts, common future

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If Quebec had not imposed a moratorium on shale gas fracing in 2011, I never would have learned French.  Proving it is almost always possible to find a silver lining in hardship.

If I had not learned French, I never would have had deep and emotional discussions with many Quebecers about what their language and culture means to them and how they see the history of our country. I also never would have so thoroughly understood that who we are; are the stories we tell ourselves.  I have realized now, that those stories, and who we are as Canadians, depend on when Canada started for us.

Alberta and Quebec are on opposite ends of Canadian history.   For Albertans, history starts with the arrival of the railroad in 1886.  On all sides of my family, I am a fifth generation Albertan.  Our history is so short that I heard from my Great Grandparents lips to my ears, stories about homesteading and the building of our Province.

For me, Alberta is a state of mind.  You could be here for six generations like my family and still not understand;  or you could be here for six months and completely get it.  Albertans have a shared identity, based on a shared future, because we have so little history shared by so few.

Not surprisingly, Quebecers tell themselves different stories than Albertans do. For these original Canadians, history starts in 1608 with the foundation of Quebec City.  The motif Canadian, at the debut of our nation, was a pejorative term the nobility of France used for those who had gone ‘native’ in a remote and provincial place.  Unlike Albertans, Quebecers have a shared identity based on a past shared by many.

Canada spent almost 200 years as a French nation. French explorers, missionaries, traders and the coureurs de bois discovered and founded the heartland of our country.  From Cadillac to Franchere to Father Lacombe they travelled the interior waters that were the lifeblood of transportation.  It was the French who controlled all the waters draining into the Mississippi and the St. Lawrence.  It was even French fur traders who had the concept to shorten the trade routes by using the waters that drain into the Hudson’s Bay.   It was the spirit of the coureur de bois that founded the world’s oldest company.  It is truly Quebecers who were the original entrepreneurs of Canada.

I believe that Canada’s oldest culture and its newest have something to learn from each other.

Albertans can learn that our independent and spirited past is what led to our shared state of mind.  They have created an enviable future that so many from across the country come to join today.  We can learn from Quebec that culture is something that can protect and enhance our very bright future.

Canada’s first entrepreneurs can be reminded, by Canada’s newest, that there was a time Quebecers also had a shared identity based on a shared future too.  They can rediscover the spirit of the coureur de bois that is deep within their makeup.  They can remember a strong culture needs more than a shared past, it also needs a strong future.

Alberta and Quebec truly are at opposite ends of Canadian history.  It can be hard to understand each other when we so often look in opposite directions from different starting points.  Yet, deep with both cultures, is a desire to be masters of our own future and our own house.  This fundamental common ambition, along with what we have to offer each other, is why Quebec and Alberta can be strong leaders in Canada by working together.

If Alberta and Quebec, across their colossal geography and enormous span of history, can find common cause and pride in being Canadian, it will be proof that so can all Canadians, no matter where we started and no matter what stories we tell ourselves.