Day 9: Harrington Harbour, Que.
Isolation, long a curse, turns into blessing
for anglophones surrounded by French
Tuesday, August 15, 2000
With a hazardous shoreline, pastel-coloured houses and Canadian flags flapping on every boat, the eastern gateway to the St. Lawrence River looks much more like the Maritimes than Quebec. Which is the way many residents say it should be.
Along Quebec's 500-kilometre lower north shore, 12 of the 15 surviving communities are defiantly English, in language and nature. Shopkeepers flagrantly break the province's sign laws. Schoolchildren speak French only as a second language.
"We feel we have more in common with Newfoundland than Quebec," said Amy Evans, owner of a crafts shop in Harrington Harbour, a village of 300 people nestled on a rocky cove in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Like most of the area's settlers, Ms. Evans's grandfather came from Newfoundland to take advantage of the abundant cod and sanctuary of a 4,000-island archipelago, the Toutes-Isles, that makes the area as hard to reach as any place in Quebec. The lower north shore is served only by floatplane and a weekly ferry, which takes 14 hours to reach the nearest road.
Long a curse, such isolation is also proving to be a small blessing to the anglophone communities. Ms. Evans said the Quebec government has left her village alone, largely because it is closer to St. John's than Quebec City. At Harrington's only pub, fishermen drag their vowels, drink Labatt Blue and watch a U.S. country-music video channel. Outside, children play games in English, the medium of their village school.
They also talk confidently of a new future here, one that is keeping young people in the village rather than driving them to Montreal or Toronto. A boom in crab fishing, seen across much of the Maritimes, has inflated incomes in Harrington, where 45 people work in a fish-processing plant that almost died with the cod moratorium in the early 1990s. So good has this year's harvest been that the hillside village, which has boardwalks instead of roads, must now cope with the congestion of noisy all-terrain vehicles.
Although the community wants to preserve its English identity, Ms. Evans said it has become a greater struggle the longer a nationalist government remains in power provincially. Government documents arrive by mail only in French.
She has noticed recently how difficult it is for the largely anglophone lower north shore to win tourism-development funds from the provincial and federal government. To attract more Quebec visitors, she has added some French words to her shop signs. A neighbour, Rowsell Welding and Repairs, has not.
"I think we feel so cut off from everything that we don't see a threat," Ms. Evans said. "And yet we know the threat is right on our doorstep."
John Stackhouse's Notes from the Road will appear daily in The Globe and Mail, and on globeandmail.com, until the Labour Day weekend. His conclusions will be published in September.