I try to lay low on weekends, but once again Ben Weiss’s posting made me think of that era– so here is a piece I wrote years ago and seldom share.
I was Part of the French Revolution and I Forgot Linda Knight Seccaspina
Last year I wrote a blog on French Canada, and it seemed to rip open a box of memories that had been filed away in my mind for many years. I had actually lived through an important part of Canadian history and forgot all about it.
When Pierre Elliot Trudeau became Prime Minister in April of 1968 it changed Canadian history. The night he won I was at the Cowansville, Quebec Hotel with my friends and my father, who was a campaign manager for Jean Jacques Bertrand.
My French Canadian friends ran in and grabbed my arm for a night of celebrating. The feelings in the air were the same as when Barack Obama won in a 99% African-American neighborhood forty years later. My friends were thrilled that hopefully help was on the way for French Canadians.
My best friend kept teasing me, asking me if I was angry that a French Canadian man had won the election. Being Sally Sunshine all my life, I never take sides. Life should be about people working together, and not against each other. But, I was thrilled he had won, as I really liked him and hoped there would be no more taking sides. Even my stepmother and father were taking sides as she loved Trudeau also, and the conversation had gotten so unpleasant in my home that she had taped a giant poster of Pierre Trudeau to the living room wall. Sadly at one point, the people of French and English Quebec did take sides, and a revolution was born. Out of this unrest came the notorious FLQ (Quebec Liberation Front).
There were bombings, and declarations from them that called for a socialist uprising against those considered Anglo-Saxon imperialist oppressors. Yes, it felt just like the ‘play wars’ we always had in the lumber yard with my French friends as children, only on a bigger scale, and very real. They called for the overthrow of the Quebec government and the independence of Quebec from Canada.
At age 16, I started dating a French Canadian boy whom I will call Yves. His father had completely radical opinions about the English and did not mince words when his son brought home an English girl. It turned out that he had known my grandfather, and considered him one of the Anglo-Saxon imperialists, as he had money and what he considered “British airs”.
My father was equally concerned. Not that Yves might have some radical tendencies, but the fact that his hair looked a little long. This was typical of my father. Never worry about the important stuff, just make sure he cuts his hair. It certainly would be a travesty if people talked about it. It was all around town anyways that Arthur Knight had trouble with his oldest daughter.
He also did not like the fact that his daughter was not dating a nice Anglican boy, and he told me to “kiss him goodbye”. In Quebec, the age of consent to marry was 21 and he would not allow me to marry Yves until I reached that age. Maybe he had the right idea as the marriage only lasted a year and a half, but I knew the only reason was because he had long hair and worked at Vilas in Cowansville. Not good enough for his daughter.
On October 15, 1970, more than 3,000 students attended a protest rally in favor of the FLQ. The FLQ then kidnapped James Cross, the British High Trade Commissioner, and when their demands were not met they kidnapped the Minister of Labour and Vice Premier of Quebec, Pierre Laporte.
When a CBC reporter asked Prime Minister Trudeau how far he was going to go to stop the FLQ he said,
“Just watch me!”
On October 16th, at 8 am I stepped out of my apartment building on Pine Ave. in Montreal what I saw was unbelievable. Prime Minister Trudeau had invoked the War Measures Act at 4 am, and military forces lined my street like there was a war going on. That’s when all hell broke loose.
The next day, October 17th, 1970, Pierre Laporte was found dead in the trunk of a car, strangled to death.
Living in Montreal during the time of the War Measures act was like living in a war zone. Soldiers halted anyone they felt was suspicious, and I was even stopped at the Greyhound Bus Terminal and asked for my passport. All they said was that I looked like someone who was on a list.
Of course I have been on lists all my life. For years, I was considered a threat to the Canadian population because of “those” Viet Nam War protests and I sold subversive literature in my store. Subversive literature would be the alternative music and radical fashion magazines that I sold in my store Flash Cadilac in the 70’s and 80’s. Thankfully, things have changed.
In the end of all this chaos: 453 people were rounded up, and some were given asylum in Cuba. The five flown to Cuba were jailed when they returned to Canada years later. Yves and I split up, and I have not seen him in 47 years. Most of my generation moved out of Quebec and went to Ontario after they graduated. They sadly left because of too many rules and regulations about language and cultural issues. I often wonder what could have been, I really do. I will always miss ‘Ma Belle Province’ –language issues or not.