Poverty Real Among Eastern Townships Anglophones (Part III)

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

“Just drive around in the countryside,” says one Townships-based sociologist who prefers to remain nameless, “and you see a lot of poverty. Derelict houses where people are living. And they don’t complain. They have that Anglophone approach. Stiff upper lip, pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”

The sociologist thinks that “these families have been here for generations. Settler families are intermingled… there’s a culture where people live in shacks and keep a few chickens. If you asked them if they’re getting by they’d fold up their arms and say everything is okay. But they can’t make the mortgage payments. They do all their shopping at depanneurs and buy hot dogs.”

And needs are high in the beautiful countryside, where the poor can remain hidden, without access to services that “Montrealers can find a walk or a Metro ride away,” the sociologist points out. Without a car, you’re stuck.

He also observes that many have moved out of the city to the country since the Covid crisis began, creating a property crunch.

Social workers and other intervenors on the street talk of difficulties for Townshippers outside of the larger towns to access the services they need in their own language, says a 2017 report by Youth Employment Services (YES) entitled Employment in the Québec Regions: Needs Assessment Study. The report was funded by Heritage Canada.

Schools Must Do Better

The situation is comparable in the rest of rural Quebec. According to the YES report: “In the more rural Québec regions, this disadvantaged Anglophone group emerges as a somewhat marginalized, ‘left-behind’ community.”

Timothy Wisdom is Director General of the Association d’entraide en santé mentale L’Éveil Brome-Missisquoi, a bilingual psychological service organization based in Cowansville. He says that some Anglophone Townshippers “don’t speak a word of French. They can’t even work at McDonald’s… If they don’t mind working at an abattoir killing ducks they can get a job.”

He adds: “Sometimes it’s a cultural thing where you’re seen as betraying your own people if you speak French.”

Wisdom points the finger at “Anglophone schools,” who he says are “failing their students by not teaching enough French. The Old Townships community is resistant to French.” There’s a “big wall” between the communities, he observes.

Wisdom, who emigrated from Britain when he was young, was obliged to go into French schools as a boy, a fact he credits for his fluent bilingualism. “The French have decided to operate in French, and we have to make more of an effort to learn their language,” he believes.

Pandemic Woes

Timothy Wisdom

The pandemic has worsened things. The Mouvement des chômeurs et des chômeuses de l’Estrie says unemployment in the Townships has doubled since the start of the pandemic. Anglophone Townshippers have been hit hard, Rachel Hunting observes.

“Covid has made all of the inequalities more apparent,” she says. “Members of our community that were working in the service industries had to stop working, as they were most exposed to the virus. They were more affected than others who could work from home.”  More Anglos are getting aid during the pandemic, she says, though it is difficult to say how much of this increase is because more people know about what aid is available.

First seen on the Reflet de Société website January 3rd, 2022

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