Quebec City 400th bash unites all Canadians

Québec 2008 - l'art de détourner le sens la Fête

Quebec City, its 400-year-old stone buildings exuding old-world charm, is often described as the most beautiful city in North America. Once the hub of a French colonial region that stretched from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the Great Lakes and from Hudson Bay to the Gulf of Mexico, Quebec City continues to thrive centuries after the once-vast domain vanished.
For Canada's French-speakers, Quebec City will always be the cradle of French language and culture in North America. As capital city of a French province, Quebec City is proof that where there is a will to survive, there is a way. More than eight in 10 of the province's 7.4 million Quebecers are francophone - governed, taxed, taught, employed, entertained and served in French.
Yesterday, as church bells rang across the country to mark the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Samuel de Champlain, there seemed to be a surfeit of things to celebrate: A country's history, the survival of a people and their language and culture, an extraordinary city and a vibrant future lying ahead. Rain messed up the schedule but nothing could mess up the good feelings.

But what would a Canadian celebration be without political controversy, partisan sniping and protests by separatists, aboriginals and anti-globalization activists?
The organizers of Quebec City's 400th birthday have tried to make the year-long celebration as apolitical as possible, but politics is never far from the surface in Quebec.
Some historians and sovereignty supporters took umbrage at both the presence and the message of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, accusing him of trying to appropriate the celebrations as a Canadian event. Harper did claim Champlain's historic landing as the founding event of the country, not a view shared by all Quebecers.
But most people, we hope, found it possible to celebrate Quebec City, the survival of French Canadians as a society and a people, and the founding of Canada all at once. We are all inextricably rooted in the same historic events, willingly or not.
Rather than flee our shared 400-year history, organizers would have done better to take the opportunity to teach Canadians, including Quebecers, about our common past.
Celebrating the tenacious love of francophones for their language need not obscure their role in founding the wider country. But the celebrations continue all year.
There's lots of time to rectify any omissions. In the meantime, bonne fête, Québec!

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