English-speakers in Quebec City enjoy helpful, lively community

Date 08/07/2016

Written byTaylor Ireland

            I came to Quebec City in 2005 to learn French and, as fate and fortune would have it, I ended up owning a leading English-language training company.  

            It took me a while to get my bearings in a city where 97 per cent of the population speaks French, but I soon enough discovered that even though it is a tiny minority, the English-speaking community in Quebec City is amazingly active, blessed with resources far beyond what the statistics would suggest.

            Part of the explanation for this is that Quebec City has had a significant English-speaking population for nearly 260 years. Over those years community leaders established various institutions in health, education, religion and culture. Though the English-language population has diminished drastically since, many of these organizations still survive in various forms, or have inspired other such services.

            One organization that is not only helpful, but perhaps essential, for many English-speakers, especially newcomers to Quebec City is the Voice of English-speaking Quebec (VEQ). Full disclosure: I just completed a term as president of VEQ, and have been a board member for more than six years. VEQ offers an impressive array of programs and activities for all ages, each designed to help people familiarize themselves with the city and all it offers. One highlight of the year is the annual Fall Fest, where just about all groups associated with the English-speaking community gather for a day of information sharing and plain old fun. Another big event is the Christmas hamper campaign that provides food to community families in need.

            VEQ is a partner for several projects, including the hamper campaign, with Jeffery Hale-Saint Brigid’s community services, which provides primary health care services ranging from youth counselling to seniors’ programs. This year the « Jeff » is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Jeffery Hale Hospital that has been the source of so many services dedicated to the betterment of the health and well-being of the community.

            Just as health services for the English-speaking community have deep historical roots, so too the educational institutions. One of the most startling things one learns about Quebec City is that it has no less than three English-language secondary schools, all of which are doing fine in terms of student population and offer a high quality of education. Quebec High School and St. Patrick’s High School are within a few blocks of each other in central Quebec City, while Dollard des Ormeaux is close to the huge Canadian Forces garrison at Valcartier north of the city. All three high schools, as well as six elementary schools, are under the Central Quebec School Board.

            Another major English-language educational asset in Quebec City is St. Lawrence College, also known as Cegep St. Lawrence. The campus in Quebec City offers pre-university courses and technical college-level education and training. It is the bridge from high school to higher education or a skilled trade in the workforce. A brand new multifunctional addition to the college, including a theatre space, is to open next year. St. Lawrence has launched many a successful grad into the world, ranging from Dr. Joanne Liu, head of Doctors without Borders, to newly-elected member of the Canadian parliament Joel Lightbound.  

            Then there is culture, and lots of it. The Morrin Centre, located in a beautiful, historic building in the old city, with its gem of a Victorian-era library, is the cultural hub for the English-language community, and its francophone friends. Operated by the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec (founded in 1824), the Morrin Centre hosts a world-class writers festival every year, among the multitude of other arts and cultural activities.

            Another English-language cultural treasure is a top-notch amateur theatre troupe, the Quebec Art Company. It has staged more than 45 popular productions over the past 35 years from Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, to South Pacific, to Anything Goes, to Murder on the Nile.

            Then there is the media. The English-speaking community is blessed with an abundance of sources for local information. The Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph has been publishing for more than 250 years – the oldest continuing newspaper in North America. I am happy to serve as an advisor for this remarkable and vital weekly publication. The Life in Quebec website and quarterly magazine is the creation of a newcomer to Quebec City, who has found a niche for its blend of news stories and opinion. CBC Radio maintains a strong presence in the city, producing out of studios new the old city morning and afternoon programs during the week, and continuous news coverage.

            There are clubs, groups and gatherings of all sorts available in English, from dance, to poetry, to scouts and cadets, to even Gaelic football. There are also English religious institutions of just about every faith in the city. One would be hard-pressed to not find some pastime of interest in Quebec City, offered in English. What’s best about all this is that not only do you get to do something enriching, rewarding and fun, you meet many new people who are, for the most part, in the same boat – this marvellous ship called Quebec.