By Jason Menard
If the government of Quebec is looking for a way to save a few bucks, perhaps they could scrimp a little on repairs of Highway 20 west of Montreal because it’s a little-known fact that this stretch of highway only goes one way.
Well, to be honest, it’s a little known fact only to Montrealers. To those of us estranged from our beloved city to locales westward, it’s an all-too-real phenomenon.
OK, it can be a little scary crossing those bridges and heading to the mainland. And, sure, the barren expanse around St. Zotique is almost post-nuclear in its Spartaness. But a little perserverence goes a long way. Maybe it’s a fear similar to what seafarers felt in Christopher Columbus’ day, but I can assure you that you won’t fall off the edge of the Earth – well, maybe off the edge culturally, but certainly not literally. In fact, many successful forays have been made into the Heart of Darkness – also known as Ontario – and several Quebecers have lived to tell the tale.
Sure, family members have been forced to visit us because we have that all important magnet creating an irresistible force drawing them to us – grandchildren. However, when it comes to friends and extended family — that’s a different story.
When we make our frequent pilgrimages back to our home town of Montreal, all of our friends come out of the woodwork, welcoming us with open arms, and peppering us with the same question, “When are you coming back?” Yet, despite this outward expression of concern and affection, a return visit to our domain is never forthcoming.
Lest you think that this is an isolated situation and that we’re the proverbial black sheep of the family, let me assure you that this is a phenomenon shared by many of us now residing in the land of the trillium but with fleur-de-lys growing in our hearts. From my parents, to co-workers, to acquaintances with French roots, it’s too much of a coincidence to believe that we’re all social pariahs condemned to banishment from our birthplace. Since examples of this phenomenon are shared across family lines, then there must be a deeper aversion at foot.
Why is there such an apprehension of crossing this particular border? In fact, the Ottawa-Gatineau border is well traveled, with people from both sides making ventures into a different province and returns to their homes without any long-term emotional scarring. Perhaps it’s Montrealers’ fear of the unknown, prompted by the fact that so many of their friends have disappeared down the 401 never to return. Of course, this migration is usually prompted by the threat or existence of a referendum, but that’s another story.
As our license plates state, Ontario is truly yours to discover. There is more to us than the scourge of Toronto – many of us non-Hog-Town residents hate that city as much as you. We are here, immersed in our Anglo enclaves waiting for your arrival. In fact, a trip to visit relatives in Ontario is no more exotic than a visit to certain parts of the West Island, so don’t fear broadening your horizons.
We have many of the same programs, we have many of the same interests, we use the same currency, and hold the same passport. We even all get SRC, so the comforts of home are all around you! Sure, Montreal has more to offer than most other cities on this planet, and travelling to Ontario locales doesn’t have the same cachet as staying in town – but what Montreal doesn’t have at this moment is us, and friendship and family knows no geographic boundaries.
I can assure you that there is no hidden danger that comes when the 20 turns into the 401. We are not forced to return to our Ontario homes because of the fact that our first-born are being held as collateral by some Orwellian government organization designed to tether us to our shallow Ontario bonds when the lure of our deeper Quebec roots come calling. We come and go as we please – and so should you.
As a Quebecer stuck in Ontario, I beseech you to come visit us! We’ve gone to all extents to make your trip as comfortable as possible. In fact, you’ll notice that we’ve taken the steps to make all the highway markers bilingual – well, at least until you pass Cornwall, and then by that time you’ve made too much of an investment of time to turn back.
Come visit us. Regale us with stories from the old country. And don’t be afraid of the unknown because, despite all appearances and experiences to the contrary, the highway does go both ways.
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