A Good Home, Adopted HOme, Canada, Canadiana, France, Life in canada

My Home and Adopted Land

If you’re not Canadian – and even if you are – you might wonder why some people are fretting about the potential break-up of our  country – yet again.

You may be surprised to learn that some of the Canadians most concerned about this are immigrants.  People like me.

I came here in the 1970’s.   Went to university, launched an award-winning career, married a great guy, bought our first house and raised our children together — here, in Canada.    I’ve worked in every province — and the Northwest Territories – of Canada.  I have relatives and friends here.

Canada is home.

Most of the places and people I write about in my book, A Good Home, are right here in Canada.


Even now, when the winter has finally driven me crazy and I’ve been making up silly poems beginning with lines such as: “No ifs, ands or buts, This winter has driven me nuts…”  Even now,  I love this country.  It’s not where I was born, but it’s where I will be buried.

My love affair with Canada was ignited, not in Ontario, where I landed, but in the history of French Canada – particularly Quebec.  I experienced it only in the books I studied at university. I’d never even been to Quebec.


“New France”,  the French called their new outpost.  Settled in the 1600’s by French soldiers,  priests, woodcutters — and the destitute orphans, peasants and street women who came to the new colony to marry them (except for the priests!) and populate the colony.

via wikipedia.org
French women arriving in New France. Image via wikipedia.org
via canadahistoryproject.ca
via canadahistoryproject.ca

In 1759-60,  British forces defeated the French, formally taking over New France in 1763.  But even in the 1980’s – when I worked as a journalist and producer for Canada’s public broadcaster – Quebec’s early history, and that historic loss, seemed present.

“Je me souviens”, Quebec license plates read, starting in 1978. “I remember.”

via wikipedia.org
via wikipedia.org


Fast-forward several years, and I’m now an executive producer/ head of journalism training for the CBC.  On the international front, I’m also Secretary General of INPUT, a public television organization based in Italy and Canada.

Back home in Canada,  the province of  Quebec was threatening to separate from Canada.  But it was in Italy –  while having supper in a Florence restaurant with an international  group of TV luminaries — that I was confronted with the real likelihood of it.

My favorite person at the table was Helene, a passionate and outspoken producer from Quebec.

An Irish colleague asked Helene: “Would Quebec really separate from Canada?”

Helene didn’t miss a beat. “We have to go,” she said.

Helene was my closest friend in INPUT.   But realizing her dream of a  new country meant tearing my country apart. I, who had felt the pain of the conquered Quebecois, was now solidly on the other side of this fight.

“My Canada includes Quebec,” I said, reduced by shock to talking in slogans. “I don’t want you to go.”

“I know, Cynthia,” she said, pronouncing my name Cyn-te-ah. “I’m really sorry.  But we have to go.”  The words flew from her mouth like bullets to my heart.

My Canada included Quebec.   It also included the Aboriginal peoples, the original inhabitants of Quebec.   They, too, had suffered historical losses.  My Canada included English Canada and French Canada and the Aboriginal peoples of Canada.


On October 30, 1995,  I was in downtown Montreal, where many of the shopkeepers are immigrants.  Rue Ste Catherine;  St. Dennis: I wandered these streets and others whose names I was too upset to notice. It was Referendum Day.  Quebeckers were voting. By day’s end, Canadians would know if we were still a country.

The streets were almost deserted that day, the shopkeepers downcast. It was as if the mourning for Canada had already begun.

Surprisingly, the separatists were defeated.  Narrowly.  Some blamed Quebec’s immigrants for the loss.  They’d voted overwhelmingly against separation.

I imagined  Helene’s grief,  her dream denied.  But for the first time since I’d met her,  I didn’t know how to console her.  Because Canada, my adopted home, would stay together.  At least for now.


There is separatist talk in Quebec.  Again.  And it scares me.  Again.

7 thoughts on “My Home and Adopted Land”

  1. Reblogged this on DiversiPro Inc. and commented:
    Canada is celebrated around the world for its tolerance and acceptance of people who are different. In fact, Canadians wear its multiculturalism as a badge of honour. although there are times when the multi-varied fabric gets frayed at the edges. From its early history Canada has been all about “inclusion.” It hasn’t always been easy: There continues to be an uneasy relationship with Canada’s First Nations people, the growing challenges of accommodating the many differences of new immigrants and of course Quebec. Canada demonstrates that “diversity “is easy, “inclusion”, making the mix of all those differences work together is much harder. This blog by writer Cynthia Reyes captures nicely the anxiety many Canadians experience each time the “Quebec question” rears its head.

  2. The “Quebec Question” the “diversity” conversation and the intention by many people for total “inclusion” is what makes us proud Canadians. Not because we’ve got it right. Not because we have the answers. Because, we can write about it, we can talk about it and we can put our concerns on a Blog and have it mean something to the readers. Well done Cynthia!

  3. Speaking from the not remotely United Kingdom I feel your pain. I’m English, so to me Great Britain, as I prefer to call it, because that makes it sound so much more fun, is a little bit of Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England. But the Welsh and Scottish see themselves as conquered peoples struggling under the jackboot of English rule…. Which was probably true in about 1710 but really not the case now.

    It was quite a shock to discover how different other people’s perception was of living on the same tiny island as me. We’ve had hundreds of years of Scottish kings, hundreds of years of Welsh ones and the trouble seems to stem from a disagreement about who to choose next. The choice was all about sectarianism anyway which, I guess, is why they went out on a limb with Dutch and then German monarchs which really pissed off the Scots, especially, who wanted a Scottish king but didn’t get one because he was Catholic rather than Protestant.

    So yes I get exactly how it feels when you discover that the people you thought were your national brothers and sisters actually rather hate you, if not as a person then, certainly as a political concept.



    1. MT – thanks for reminding us Canadians that we aren’t the only ones cringing over the separatist inclinations in our midst.

      And for the witty way you explained the history. No wonder you’re such a successful author. Now – if history had been taught like that in school, wouldn’t I have paid more attention? YES.

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