The image many have of Anglophones living in the Eastern Townships of Quebec is that of fat cats living in mansions, controlling the Quebec economy. And that is frustrating, according to those actively trying to improve the lot of what has become a population far less well off than the stereotypes would have you believe.
By Colin McGregor
The Eastern Townships was originally settled by English speakers from America and from the UK. United Empire Loyalists, Americans who backed the British Crown and had to escape to Canada when America became independent in 1783, flooded through the border. Loyalists arriving in Quebec were given 200 acres of land.
By 1861, 90,000 English speakers lived in the Townships compared to 60,000 in Montreal.
Today, there are 41,680 Anglophones residing in the Townships,according to the 2016 census. That’s 5.8 % of the total population of the region. Anglos are concentrated in two areas: along the Cowansville-Knowlton corridor; and in a corridor from Lennoxville, a suburb of Sherbrooke, to the town of Magog. About 50% of the village of Knowlton today are descended from the original “settlers,” as they are called.
Because of a lack of economic opportunity for young people in the countryside, the more qualified often leave to go to places where their skills are better valued. As a result, Townships Anglos are divided into two basic populations: “Overeducated retired folks, and undereducated 18-35s, young folks,” says Hunting.
“Our community is missing that middle generation, a middle class.”
Hunting blames the huge “Anglophone exodus of the 1970s and 1980s” for this demographic hole. Indeed, between the 1970s and 2001, almost 600,000 Anglophones left the province of Quebec, census data indicates, about half of those Quebecers whose mother tongue was English. Causes include language laws such as Bill 101 and the threat of Québec separatism.
Today, highly qualified young university-leavers, fluently bilingual as are most younger Townshippers, still leave. Hunting says they take advantage of the “comparative advantage of their bilingualism” and “put their second language to use” in places such as the federal civil service, which is “not too far away either. It affects the community.”
The result: Anglo Townshippers have been poorer and more likely to be unemployed than their Francophone counterparts for at least 20 years.
More English-speaking individuals in the Townships (40%) earned less than $20,000 annually than French speakers (32.9%) who call the region home, according to the latest census data available (2016).