I was living in Quebec City during the first referendum to decide whether or not the province of Quebec would separate from Canada. It wasn’t a great time for English Canadians to be living there, even those of us who did speak French. But the majority of Canadians breathed a sigh of relief when the “Non” side won in 1980. The second referendum was held in 1995, and again the answer was Non, but they won by a hair that time. Leading up to that second referendum was a process of constitutional reform. I pulled out an old file titled, National Unity and found newspaper and magazine articles from 1992, all discussing the reforms, part of which was to find a way to acknowledge Quebec as a distinct society. I have booklets and fact sheets outlining the agreement for constitutional renewal as well as the final text of the document called The Charlottetown Accord. The accord was defeated, but Quebec was still one of us.
I remember that period well. Canadians became increasingly concerned that we were going to lose part of our country. In 1992 we were also celebrating our nation’s 125th Birthday, there were festive events across the country amid the struggle for unity. In 1995, thousands of Canadians from across the country gathered in Montreal before the referendum vote to make the case for staying together. Businesses and organizations took out full page ads in newspapers pleading with Quebec not to leave. I think of that time every Canada Day.
Today I will get together with friends for a potluck, as I do every July 1st. We come from various backgrounds: Russian, Croatian, Norwegian, Scottish, Danish, French, British, two emigrated from the U.S; a microcosm of Canada right in the backyard. It seems to me strengthening community wherever we are is a vital part of maintaining national unity. Happy Canada Day!