TORONTO—Documentary filmmaker John Walker grew up an English-speaking Quebecer, alongside French children that didn’t seem to like anglophone kids like himself.
Still, he says he was never “anti-French” and when he eventually fled the province—as an estimated 500,000 English-speaking Quebecers did in the wake of the Quiet Revolution—he quickly felt homesick.
Walker charts his personal experiences and examines the exodus of anglophones in “Quebec My Country Mon Pays,” which had its world premiere at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival on Saturday.
Interviewees in the doc include filmmaker Denys Arcand and writer Jacques Godbout.
“This is a Canadian story that hasn’t really been told from a native-born, English-speaking Quebecer’s point of view,” he says. “It’s about this major shift that took place in Canada, within Quebec, and frankly had a big impact on Toronto.
“It’s a story that a lot of Canadians are not aware of, but it’s a very personal story.”
Walker appears on camera as he details Quebec’s cultural change during that time period as well as his family history in the province going back 250 years.
He says he was sympathetic to the independent movement in Quebec but he and many others reluctantly moved away out of fear that they wouldn’t have a future as English-speaking citizens in the province.
“When I first came to Toronto, it was like coming to a foreign country,” recalls Walker, who left Quebec in the 1970s and now lives in Halifax.
“I was like, ‘There’s nobody speaking French in the streets.’ I missed the French and I realized how much the French had influenced me, Quebecois cinema, Quebecois culture, the urgency and importance of language and culture.”
Walker’s parents eventually followed him to Toronto in 1980 but his sister refused to move, which caused a division within the family.
A few years ago, when his father died and the family brought his body back to Quebec to bury him in his hometown, Walker grew sad and angry that his parents had to uproot themselves.
“I realized that our family had been exiled, divided, and my father’s life had been turned upside down when he was 52, moving to Toronto, leaving his friends, leaving his fellow artists behind.”
Walker says he wanted to make the film to show that time period in Quebec was necessary and important, that both the English and French have been influenced by each other, and that “there’s no need for the two solitudes anymore.”
“On some level it’s a love letter to Quebec and to bridge this gap, this understanding,” he says. “I’m not anti-French, I never had any anti-French in our house spoken, quite the contrary.
“So it’s not about being against something, it’s about understanding each other. Ironically, I think the English Quebecers are the French Quebecers’ best friends, because we understand—at least in our family—understood and were sympathetic to what was going on.”