Anglophones and Access to Services in the Eastern Townships

Though Townships Anglophones often say that services for their residents are hard to come by, a lifelong civil servant who worked in the region for decades says this wasn’t always the case.

By Colin McGregor

“Proportionally, in the Townships, Anglophones have more services available to them than do Francophones,” says Louise Gagné, a retired Immigration Québec staffer who worked in their Estrie office for many years.

Anglophones still in some ways profit from the remnants of the social services structure which existed in the 50s and the 60s, when Anglophones constituted about half the population of many Eastern Township centres. Since 1976, she observes, many of those Anglophones left the Townships, “which is natural because they lost their advantage” as Québec society changed. But some of their social work and service structures remained.

There were always pockets of poor Anglophones as far back as the 1950 and 1960, she recalls. “There was so much misery in some of these villages,” she says. “The kids didn’t go to school. We’d have to go into the villages to have them vaccinated. They had nothing. Some social workers aren’t aware of the historic roots of Anglophone disadvantage and isolation in the Eastern Townships.”

What changed the game, says Gagné, was the establishment of school busing in 1964 and 1965. With school attendance mandatory, students finally had a way to get to school, which integrated them into the greater society.

Illegal Immigrants

For many years, surprisingly enough, the largest illegal immigrant population in the Eastern Townships was American, says Gagné. “They were working under the table, hiding in the woods,” she recals. “Their kids didn’t have to go to school, so they learned no French. They didn’t socialize with kids their age. They were totally marginalized.” This was true up until the 1980s.

In the end, the children grew up home schooled, and ended up in many cases attending Cegep Champlain, an English language Cegep.

“In the 90s, many of them came out of hiding to register.” Their children would then be sent to French schools because of Bill 101, for which these students were ill adapted. “They’d been taught elementary school at the kitchen table,” she says. “Then in high school they couldn’t adapt.”

But they would in the end learn French thanks to the efforts of Bishops University professors. Gagné would help organize French conversation classes for immigrants looking to pass their exams, both in high school and at the university level, from Bishop’s University. “In three weeks, students could pass their oral exams,” she says.

“If you don’t learn French,” she concludes, “you can’t fully participate in society. And that’s very sad.”


Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.