Confessions of a French Canadian

Je me souviens

August 7, 2022

Edited November 23, 2022

A tribute to

Pour la version française de ce chapitre, prière de suivre ce lien:
Un canadien-français découvre la chanson québecoise.

Although this chapter does not really touch on any of my health issues, it reinforces how vital music is to me and my survival as I live with ongoing chronic health challenges. I am a French Canadian who speaks and writes in both official languages. However, I'm a mixed breed. I imagine my DNA looking like two combined flags, the main flag consisting of three vertical stripes; blue, white, and red, the "Tricolore," with an insert of the Union Jack sitting in the upper right-hand corner! To surmise, my mother's mother was what they refer to as a "British War Bride." She was from Sussex, England, and fell in love with my French Canadian grandfather, a military captain during WW2. They were wed in England and immigrated to Canada when the war ended. And on my father's side, my grandparents were French Canadian, so I'm 3/4's French and 1/4 English!

I'm a Frog, you're a Frog, Kiss me!

With a French last name like, "Franc," my English-speaking peers in school called me a "Frog," which was obviously hurtful. Conversely, my French Canadian friends, who heard me speak English called me "la tête carré," suggesting that Brits have "square-shaped" heads, which also hurt. I remember thinking, "I don't belong to either side." And as kids (and even adults), we all want and need to feel that we belong and are accepted.

This past year, with divorce turning my life upside down, I was lost and searching for a place where I could find comfort. That’s when I discovered and became hooked on French radio, specifically 107.3 ICI MUSIQUE on Radio-Canada. What a treasure I found! Beyond my incredible appreciation for the quality and vast repertoire of music they serve up, I am equally in awe of the hosts' command of the French language, which is without compare. I've always considered myself fluent in both languages, but there is fluent, and then there is fluent! In Québec, for those of you who live here, you know that the French that is spoken can vary enormously, depending on region, education, and many other factors. I believe I fall in the middle to upper class because of how well and easily I can express myself in French. These radio hosts, however, are in the top 1% in terms of their command of the language. Their sentences are always beautifully structured, filled with wonderful vocabulary, and delivered without any effort. No pauses or hums and haws. Just perfectly spoken French, which is for me, "music to my ears."

Discovering all of this new content at 50 years old has been life-enriching. I'm in my fifth decade now, and it’s only in this past year that I discovered the incredible repertoire of beautiful music that I have, for the most part, turned a blind eye to (or, I should say, ear to) my whole life. I'm referring, of course, to music written in my mother tongue, French. I can honestly say that tuning into English radio is something I rarely do anymore, which is shocking to me.

The French D.J.s are so incredibly knowledgable that not a day goes by that I don't learn something interesting. I used to listen to music SOLELY through my earbuds on my iPhone. But now that I live alone and that I have this never-ending stream of great music available to me, I hardly ever plug in anymore. My apartment is virtually always filled with music - French music. I watch very little television, except for some late-night talk shows, or, when I need to escape from the world and lose myself in any of the shows available the streaming platforms (although, I do find it hard to find something that I actually enjoy.)

Allison Russell sings in both English and French. Her story, which is so dark and sad, comes through in every note and every word. She's one of those souls that was tortured into magnificence.

The Spirit of Radio

What has surprised me the most is the vastness of the repertoire that has come out of Québec that I never knew existed. I'm almost embarrassed to admit it. I used to be so averse to just about anything this province produced. English music was, for me, just better in every way. However, having now exposed my ears to thousands of French songs, many of which I had never heard before, I've changed my tune. I've become a fan of artists who are part of the Quebec patrimony; artists like Ginette Renaud, Raymond Lévesque, Robert Charlebois, Félix Leclerc, Claude Dubois, and Richard Desjardins, as well as artists from across the pond like Serge Gainsbourg, Georges Brassens, and Canadian-American hybrids like Gisèle Mackenzie who recorded in both languages. I've also discovered new artists like Hubert Lenoir, Coeur de Pirate, Les Trois Accords, Allison Russell, Censia, Ariane Moffat, and more. Allison Russell sings in both English and French. Her story, which is so dark and sad, comes through in every note and every word. She's one of those souls that was tortured into magnificence. Please do yourself a favour, read up on her, and then check out her album "Outside Child."

Pochettes d'albums de Allison Russell

Who knew that the CBC could be cool?

A lot of the new music Québec has produced, in my opinion, has really caught up with the English side, specifically on the POP side of things. One of the best parts of ICI Musique is the mixed repertoire. Their programming consists of cleverly named shows, each themed to a different genre. I should mention that I do listen to a special 4-hour spot of mostly English music on CBC RADIO's incredible daily late-night show, "Afterdark," hosted by Odario Williams. Wow. What a discovery this has been for me as well. I've spent many late nights just drifting away in a sea of back-to-back dreamy, magical, and at times heart-wrenching songs. To keep from going to bed late, I stream his shows the next day instead!

Ad Free Music on « ICI MUSIQUE »

Perhaps what I appreciate almost as much as the music and the hosts is the advertisement-free programming. What a relief not to have to sit through annoying advertisements. It's just pure free content, all the time.

But, back to the French programming! Saturdays feature shows like "De pop et d'eau fraîche" with Karyne Lefebvre where one can discover new pop hits mixed with some forgotten tunes from the past. Although the very last episode aired last week, Saturday afternoons used to feature a show called "Vraiment Trop", hosted by Stéphane Archambault, which was themed and chock full of really interesting trivia about the day's topic.

Recently, on "Vraiment Trop", the theme was "Thunder & Lightning", and I learned that David Bowie's famous album Aladdin Sane, with the lightning bolt painted across his face, was inspired by Elvis Presley's "TCB" logo! I'm a HUGE Elvis fan, so whenever I come across some trivia like this, I love to share it. Elvis has influenced so many artists that it's impossible to keep track. I'll eventually dedicate a chapter or two or three to Elvis! They even played AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" to close the show, something quite outside of their usual repertoire, which I thought was ultra-cool!

Shows like "Un nomad dans l'oreille" and "Ça groove pour moi" hosted by Katherine Pépin, and "Une chanson, c'est plus qu'une chanson" hosted by Monique Giroux are just so rich in culture; you wind up asking yourself, "How did I miss all of this?". And, in both cases, the spoken French is exquisite.

Sunday mornings, "Dans tous les sens" hosted by Yves P. Pelletier showcases a man with incredible vocabulary and storytelling talent as I've seldom heard. I'd compare it to going out to the most upscale restaurant you've ever been to, but without any of the pretentiousness. The four genres that I can't seem to get into are Rap, Jazz, Classical, and Opera. I won't even comment on Rap music, my apologies if anyone reading this is a fan. As for Jazz, I actually really enjoy it; however, I'm just not fond of the repertoire. Classical music, in most instances, actually gets me agitated, so I'm pretty selective about the pieces. And Opera, well, I simply can't get into!

My favorite hosts and shows on ICI Musique

But of all the shows, perhaps my favorite is "C'EST SI BON!", with Claude Saucier, which airs on Saturday afternoons. Now admittedly, his show actually plays mostly English songs - it's "Trois heures de classiques, d'orchestres swing et de grandes voix des années 1930 à 1970." It features artists such as, Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Gordon Lightfoot, Ray Charles, Dinah Shore, Sarah Vaughan, Chet Baker, Tony Bennet & Lady Gaga, Lena Horne, The Ink Spots, The Beatles, Nina Simone, Pink Martini, Mario Lanza, Patti Page, Diana Krall, Michael Bublé, and even ABBA, CCR and Eric Clapton, as well as bands and singers you may have never heard of. Mr. Saucier treats us to wonderful back stories that make the show much richer and more colorful. He does his best to translate the meanings of the songs for his French-speaking audience, which is at times quite entertaining! His Christmas playlists were truly magnificent and were pivotal in getting me through the holidays for the first time on my own. Being alone during the holidays is not easy, as I learned for the first time this year. His show saved me from spiraling into depression.

On Sunday afternoons, until the summer break, they featured Québec artists who were invited to guest host and tell their stories. This is where I discovered an artist by the name of Marie-Denise Pelletier. I recognized several of her hits but was also introduced to so many other songs that she interpreted beautifully, along with songs from artists she had either worked with or had inspired her. This is perhaps one of her most recognizable hits: "Tous les cris les SOS". She complimented all that with wonderful storytelling about her childhood and career and, again, in the most beautiful French you've ever heard. All I kept thinking was, "Who knew?"

I also discovered another Québec native gem, Mara Tremblay. Talk about another super talent. What a story she has. Think Forrest Gump, but with a female musician playing the lead role and having adventures just as unbelievable as Mr. Gump's. Her life was indeed an incredible musical journey. She has recorded in French and English with countless other wonderful talents. One of my favorites from her, "Les arbres sont bleus".

OUI ou NON? Why not both?

I recently heard a spot on ICI Première, which is more of a talk radio channel. The host interviewed experts who predicted that 90% of the earth's spoken languages would disappear by the end of the century. That is staggering and frightening. And this aired the day after my closest French Canadian friend, also named Patrick, and I had discussed whether or not the French language would eventually disappear from Québec. My friend was a separatist, but we never let that get between us. Our friendship was far more important. With the "OUI" losing the last referendum, he believes saving the French language is a lost cause. Yet, I am always less apocalyptic in my thinking; I think that things don't have to turn out as we fear and that the French language is still alive and well in this province. There is no doubt that the internet and globalization have made it challenging for locations like Québec, along with satellite spots in New Brunswick, Ontario, and Manitoba, where there are small but active French-speaking communities, to survive. My friend recently retired from 25 years on the police force. He tells me that he saw firsthand over the years, in Montreal specifically, an increase in English-only greetings, especially whenever he entered a place of business. That certainly reflects globalization and the influence of the internet and tourism on our beautiful city. Is it altogether bad? Who knows. But maybe we are all becoming a little more open-minded and, hopefully, a little more bilingual.

This bilingual song, "Jolie Louise," by Daniel Lanois, inspired me to write this chapter

Daniel Lanois was born and raised in Gatineau, across from Ottawa on the other side of the Ottawa River in Quebec. In 1961, when he was about 12, his parents split up and he and his three siblings moved with their mother to Hamilton, near Toronto. They knew very little English because Gatineau is French-speaking, so they had to learn the language quickly.

"Jolie Louise" is a song based on Lanois' father. In the song, he has a good life working at a mill until he loses his job. He starts drinking, falls into despair, and takes it out on his wife, who leaves him, taking the kids with her.

Source -

Jolie Louise – Daniel Lanois

Ma jolie, how do you do?
Mon nom est Jean-Guy Thibault-Leroux
I come from east of Gatineau
My name is Jean-Guy, ma jolie

J'ai une maison a Lafontaine
where we can live, if you marry me
Une belle maison a Lafontaine
where we will live, you and me
Oh Louise, ma jolie Louise

Tous les matins au soleil
I will work 'til work is done
Tous les matins au soleil
I did work 'til work was done
And one day, the foreman said
Jean-Guy, we must let you go
Et pis mon nom, y est pas bon
at the mill anymore...
Oh Louise, I'm losing my head,
I'm losing my head

My kids are small, 4 and 3
et la bouteille, she's mon ami
I drink the rum 'tilI I can't see
It hides the shame Louise does not see
Carousel turns in my head,
and I can't hide, oh no, no, no, no
And the rage turned in my head
and Louise, I struck her down,
down on the ground
I'm losing my mind, I'm losing my mind

En Septembre '63
kids are gone, and so is Louise.
Ontario, they did go
near la ville de Toronto
Now my tears, they roll down,
tous les jours
And I remember the days,
and the promises that we made
Oh Louise, ma jolie Louise, ma jolie Louise.


  • Be the first to leave a comment!
Add a Comment
Your email address will not be displayed or shared.