Living in Frenchrnin thernSt. Lawrence Valleyrnby Sylvie FortinrnOur little house of wood, a centuryrnold, nestles in the countryside inrnthe county of Lotbiniere, somewhat tornthe south of the city of Quebec. There Irnlive with my husband and our five children.rnLast fall, as my husband and Irnpiled cords of wood in the cellar of ourrnlittle house, I reckoned winters past inrnmy mind. I tried to picture the longrnnights that were coming that would bernshaken by the north winds—the ennui, arnlittle sad from days without sun week afterrnweek, the coldness of the moon in thernicy brilliance of the white countryside atrnnight. And this winter has been morernspectacular than I could ever have imagined.rnIn January, Montreal was hit withrnan ice storm, and broke like a piece ofrncrystal. For maybe a week, in the midstrnof ruin caused by the ice, the city bathedrnin cold Siberian darkness without electricity,rnwithout any modern amenities orrncomfort. But at last the spring arrives,rnand we have survived, like our littlernhouse of wood that creaks, moans, andrntrembles with each blast of wind, yet stillrnremains standing.rnIn order to live in Quebec, you mustrnget used to her ways and learn to live withrnwinter. You must endure without becomingrnanxious, in C|uiet calmness andrnstrength. And as a people, we have endured,rnand endured more, ever since thernfirst days of New France.rnThe first of my ancestors in NewrnFrance, Julien Forfin, was French andrnCatholic. A few years after Samuel dernChamplain founded the city of Quebecrnin 1608, Julien settled on I’lle d’Orleansrnnot very far from where I now live. Myrnfamily spread out along the St. LawrencernValley with a few thousand others fromrnoverseas until the conquest, when ourrncountry was ceded to the King of Englandrnby the Treaty of Paris in 1763. Everyrngeneration of children learns inrnschool, with hearts a little hurt, howrnQuebec surrendered after a skirmish ofrnabout an hour. The English army hadrnmaneuvered against Quebec, and decimatedrnthe city with a two-month longrnbombardment. It was the end ofrnSeptember, and they would have had tornlift siege in four or five weeks at most, unlessrnthey made a breakthrough. Otherwise,rntheir warships would have becomernprisoners in the ice of the St. LawrencernRiver. General Montcalm may have underestimatedrnthe determination of thosernEnglish troops; he certainly did not suspectrnthe traitor among us who showedrnthe invaders the path which they couldrnuse to climb Cap Diamant and reach thernPlains of Abraham. A sortie too quick,rnour troops not well enough prepared,rna battle fought as in Europe upon anrnopen field —the results were disastrousrnfor us.rnWe lost. Not many texts relate how,rnduring the winter following the blackrnSeptember of 1759, the Ursuline sistersrnof Quebec sowed the socks of those Englishrnsoldiers of the fallen GeneralrnWolfe—those English soldiers who sufferedrnas much as we did from the wantrnand misery caused by the Seven Years’rnWar. From them, the English, we havernenjoyed some gentleness, like therngovernment under Lord Dufferein, anrnold Scot loyal to the memory of thern”auld alliance” born of the marriage ofrnMary Stuart with Francis II, the youngrnKing of France. From them we havernlearned British parliamentary government,rnwhich is the origin of our modernrndemocratic system in Quebec. And Englishrnbusinessmen invested their capitalrnto build the foundation of our industrialrninfrastructure. But it is also true that thernCatholic Church has looked after herrnlittle ones, like a hen watching herrnchicks, and you can see this in the namesrnof our villages from the Atlantic tornOntario, from Lac St-Jean to the Americanrnfrontier —St-Casimir, St-Gabriel,rnSte-Clotilde de Horton, Ste-Anne dernBeaupre, and so on.rnThe English are like winter, not wanted,rnunloved, too close to us, but inevitable.rnWe must endure in Frenchrnagainst the enormous pressures of theirrnlanguage on all our frontiers.rnAs a child, I lived on St. Lawrence inrnMortmagny, a little town on the southrnshore. I splashed in the thick mud andrnhigh weeds of the river, as in the adventuresrnof Tom Sawyer along the Mississippi.rnWe watched the boats moor at therndock and transport necessary wares forrnthe inhabitants on I’lle aux Grues.rnRight in front of us, in the middle ofrnthe river, was la Grosse He. It was a mysteriousrnisland, and we were forbiddenrneven to approach. We heard terrible storiesrnabout it. There were supposed tornhave been chemical experiments there.rnA great metal ship, painted white, wasrnsent there under charter, with sailorsrnwho never spoke with us, and hardly everrneven looked at us. The island belongedrnto the federal government—to them.rnOur parents told us that thousands ofrnIrish immigrants who had become illrnwere quarantined there when they arrivedrnin the New World. Very few of thernIrish from la Grosse He ever lived long afterrnthey were sent to the hospitals on thernisland, and I could never appreciate as arnchild that the bones of thousands of Irishrnwere buried there.rnYet here in the county of Lotbiniere,rnwhere I live, the descendants of thesernIrish are everywhere. You can see thernbright Irish locks of hair in the friends ofrnour children. You can hear it in theirrnfamily names —Ward, Moore, and sornon —but they speak French like us, withrnthe same accent as our own. These Irishrnfounded some villages, after ours werernfounded, in places a little further fromrnthe banks of the river. On the road afterrnSte-Agathe is the village of Inverness —rnwell, maybe these Irish, like the Irishrnbranch of my husband’s family, originatedrnin Scotland. Like us, they arernCatholic, they pray under the portrait ofrnthe Pope, with the same devotion as wernhave. They live with us in peace, theyrnhave become French like us.rnBut in the beginning, these Irish werern”anglais.” In my youth, the wordrn”anglais” bathed in the confusion of similarities.rnI never imagined that amongrnAnglo-Saxon peoples there were differencesrnas numerous as the stars in the sky.rnOnly the Americans were different fromrnthe rest of the “anglais,” in our view ofrnthe world. Sometimes we say here withrnnostalgia (my husband says we are naive)rnthat we should have been conquered byrnthe United States rather than the English.rnAfter all, the Americans invited usrnto join them in the 11th Article of theirrnold Confederation, and they have nornprejudices against us, even though theyrnthink it is a little odd that we should wantrnto secede from Canada. I know thisrnmuch well, because my husband is anrnAmerican, and I have lived in his country,rnwhere four of our children werernborn.rnWe called our first child Gabriel, andrnour second (as one of her given names)rnEvangeline, because my husband likesrnthe poem by Longfellow which tells ofrnthe removal of the Acadians by GeorgernIII. Gabriel died in Quebec during arnshort stay of three years we had here. IrnAPRIL 1998/43rnrnrn