SHERBROOKE Where Two Live as Happily as One
Sherbrookers blow a hearty bilingual raspberry to those who say that French and English can’t share a city in harmony. Their bonne entente is reflected in rich industrial growth and in such little things as a Catholic church giving the Protestant church down the street a new carpet
FOR LONGER than any citizen of Sherbrooke can remember the most important factor in the daily life of Quebec’s fifth city has always been the bonne entente. It is taught to Sherbrookers at their mothers’ knees; it is explained to them in church and school; and it is forever mirrored in their actions.
The bonne entente is simply a name for mutual understanding and good will between the city’s French Catholics and English Protestants. But it is the most influential and respected force in this mountain-ringed capital of the Eastern Townships. Sherbrookers speak of it as though it were a living thing and, indeed, it is everywhere in evidence.
It is the French-speaking cop on the main corner of King and Wellington Streets calling traffic directions in English, the English-speaking businessman addressing a French-speaking associate in French. It is Protestants cheering the St. Jean
Baptiste Day parade, Catholics cheering the St. George’s Day parade. It is La Tribune defending the rights of the Englishspeaking, The Sherbrooke Record defending the rights of the Frenchspeaking. And it is the children oí both languages playing together, talking together, and growing up together as friends.
Here two traditions and two cultures live side by side in friendship, harmony and co-operation.
The differences of language, religion and custom are not barriers that segregate, but bridges that unite. For in Sherbrooke each group has learned to understand and respect the characteristics of the other; each group has assimilated some of the qualities of the oiher; and each has developed a rare tolerance toward the failings oí the other.
“The secret,” explains Alphonse Saumier, secretary of the Board oí Trade, “is that each group safeguards the rights of the other.
With each trying to make the other happy, both are happy.”
Last year citizen Paul Leclerc set out to raise ten thousand dollars to build a modest illuminated cross on the heights above Sherbrooke. English Protestant Sherbrookers were among the first and biggest contributors.
“It started out as a French Catholic project,” recalls Presbyterian R. C. Scott, “but in Sherbrooke every campaign of any group of citizens soon becomes a community effort. The cross would make our French-speaking neighbors happy, so we were for it. Together we pushed the fund to fifteen thousand dollars. Then we got the city to pay for the foundation, land, electricity, upkeep, and a road to the top of the mountain. We figured that if we helped our French-speaking friends make it the biggest illuminated cross in the world, they’d be even happier. They were. And we were too.”
Today the huge steel-and-neon-tubing Cross of Christianity bathes the city from dusk to dawn with a red glow, to many a symbol of the motivating idea behind Sherbrooke’s bonne entente. Some Sherbrookers, however, tend to give a simpler explanation. “It’s just community spirit and respect for your neighbor’s opinions and beliefs,” says grocer Pierre Bélanger, a third-generation citizen. “It’s only common courtesy and fair play,” says Winnipeg-born trucker Bill Morrison, a Sherbrooker for seventeen years. An Anglican minister from New York, Rev. J. Wilson Winant, gives it a deeper interpretation: “It is Christianity in
action, the teachings of the Bible, which many read and many preach but so few really live.”
Contrary to popular opinion, Sherbrooke is not evenly divided. It started out one hundred and fifty-five years ago as an English Protestant settlement; now it is more French Catholic than Montreal. The population of fifty-four thousand is eighty-six percent Canadien, eighty-eight percent Roman Catholic. Yet Sherbrooke remains as different from other Quebec cities as Prime Minister St. Laurent (who went to school in Sherbrooke) is from Premier Duplessis (who did not). Certainly anywhere else in Quebec the election of an English Protestant mayor in preference to a French Catholic supported by the Church would be an improbable man-bites-dog event. It happened in Sherbrooke last year but not because of politics, platform or popularity. It was simply an Englishspeaking citizen’s turn to be mayor. Since 1885 French and English mayors have alternated in office every two years. This tradition is the most famous example of the bonne entente in action.
French and English never fought on Sherbrooke soil. The only battle on the site occurred in 1759 between the Abekanis Indians and Rogers’ Rangers, famed Indian fighters and the subject of a recent technicolor movie. (The Rangers won, but left behind a buried fortune in gold and jewels which
is still the object of periodic treasure hunts.) Sherbrooke was discovered by a Frenchman, founded by an Englishman, and named for a man who fostered good relations between the two main groups.
Straddling the junction of the Magog and St. Francis Rivers, Sherbrooke was Big Forks to the Indians, Grand Portage to the French and Hyatt’s Mills to the English. It was discovered in 1690 by François Hertel, founded in 1796 by Gilbert Hyatt, a United Empire Loyalist from Arlington, Vt. The first step toward the bonne entente was taken in 1818 when the citizens changed the name to Sherbrooke in honor of Sir John Coape Sherbrooke, Governor of Lower Canada, because of his work in alleviating the bitter antagonisms then splitting the country.
Sherbrooke soon became recognized as the champion of equality for all, and forty-nine years later a Sherbrooker, the Hon. Sir Alexander T. Galt, a Father of Confederation, helped draft the British North America Act which united French and English Canada and established the official parity of the English and French languages. Sherbrooke’s English-speaking politicians began making their speeches in French first, a courteous practice that quickly spread in the city, arid which the Canadiens reciprocated. Sherbrooke was then ninety-five percent Englishspeaking. But, as the city grew, so did its Canadien population. Today the tale can be read in the city’s streets. In the centre of town almost all bear English names like Sanborn and Albert, Windsor and Peel. But as the city spreads back from the river banks the increasing profusion of names like Brébeuf and Courcelette, Dufresne and De La Grotte, blazon the triumph of the Canadien s larger family.
Sherbrooke’s first French-speaking mayor, Dr. H. C. Cabano, was elected by the Town Council in 1879 when the population of 6,789 was seventyfive percent English-speaking. The next two mayors were English-speaking. Then, in 1885, when the population of 8,193 was thirty-five percent Canadien, the practice of alternating Frenchand English-speaking mayors was started by the council, which that year again elected Cabano. From that time the custom became generally accepted as an unwritten law.
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citizens nominate a candidate and he is elected by acclamation. At the next election the English-speaking citizens do likewise. No mayor has ever tried to succeed himself though three times in recent years the tradition has been challenged at the polls, mainly by small groups of “new Sherbrookers.” In 1934 dentist Ludger Forest ran against dentist F. H. Bradley, the könne entente candidate, and lost his deposit. In 1946 lawyer Eugene Thibault opposed lawyer Guy Bryant, the bonne entente candidate, and was crushingly defeated. The pattern was repeated in 1950 when Senator Charles B. Howard swamped his anti-tradition opponent, Armand Nadeau, K.C.
To non-Sherbrookers the remarkable thing about the mayoralty tradition is not that it has survived so strongly, but that it has survived at all without protective legislation. Sherbrooke has no law that says a mayor can’t seek re-election, no law that says every other mayor must be English-speaking —in fact, no law at all that treats in any way with the bonne entente. As the present mayor, Charles Howard, a white-haired, roly-poly man puts it: “The bonne entente is not something that can be legislated. It must come from the heart.”
A few decades ago a Canadien merchant named Bouchard moved to Sherbrooke, opened a store, and began to do a brisk business. Then he posted a huge sign: NO DOGS, NIGGERS
NOR JEWS ALLOWED. His horrified friends pointed out that the bonne entente embraces all, regardless of language, color or creed. But Bouchard was stubborn. The sign stayed. His customers didn’t. Vainly he fought the undeclared boycott with sales. Soon he was friendless and bankrupt, but unrepentant.
Then suddenly his wife and three of his five children were seriously injured in a car smash. As one, Sherbrookers rose to his aid. Negro women cared for the remaining children. Dr. S. Shapiro and other Jewish doctors contributed their services. Supplies poured in from all sides. Local businessmen raised a fund to finance him to a new start. The spontaneous demonstration deeply moved the grief-stricken merchant and taught him what force could not. When his store reopened he posted a second sign, twice as large as the first. It read: I HUMBLY
WELCOME EVERYONE, INCLUDING DOGS. LONG LIVE THE BONNE ENTENTE!
Sherbrookers are sometimes reserved with newcomers. “When I was transferred from Toronto two years ago, I thought them unfriendly,” recalls Jack Cross, local service manager for a manufacturing company. “I was born in Montreal where the English-speaking use French only when forced to, and vice versa. So I ignored the bonne entente and got the deep freeze. But as I thawed, so did Sherbrooke. People began going out of their way to help me. Now I’m a Sherbrooker and proud of it.”
Cross’s wife, born in Scotland, but raised in Toronto, feels the same way. “Sherbrooke is a wonderful city, full of happiness,” she says. “We wouldn’t trade it for Montreal, Toronto or any place. We want our two children to be brought up in this Christian, bilingual atmosphere.”
The bonne entente has made Sherbrooke Canada’s most bilingual city. Ninety-one percent of its people speak both languages fluently, compared with fifty-seven percent in Montreal, thirtyfour percent in Quebec City, eleven
percent in Trois-Rivières and seven percent in Sorel. Sherbrooke has also eradicated clannishness and hostility. When Maurice Duplessis and his organizers first came around preaching Quebec nationalism, Sherbrookers pointedly stayed home. Now the Premier leaves the Sherbrooke vote to his Minister of Lands, Forests & Hydraulic Resources, John S. Bourque, a favorite son of Sherbrooke and an outspoken advocate of the bonne entente. “If every city had it,” he says, “the world would be a happier place.”
The bonne entente has likewise alleviated religious animosities. The Witnesses of Jehovah and the Baptists are not persecuted in Sherbrooke. The city’s churches help each other, and without seeking publicity. Not long ago when a small Protestant church needed a new carpet the big Catholic church down the street donated one anonymously. A few months later the Catholic church sponsored a charity bazaar and the women of the Protestant church baked cakes and pies and donated them—also anonymously.
Sweetest Music In the World
Sherbrooke’s social, service and sports clubs are open to, and frequented by, any citizen irrespective of French or English ancestry. Proceedings are always conducted in both languages, with speakers talking in their native tongues last. Afterwards, the Englishspeaking sing O Canada in French while the French-speaking sing it in English. “To strangers it may sound discordant,” says Bob Duffy, a CNR Diesel electrician who was once Sherbrooke’s top pro dance-band leader, “but to Sherbrookers it’s the sweetest music in the world.”
Many Sherbrookers like to patronize merchants, plumbers, doctors and lawyers of the opposite language. The city’s two radio stations, two weekly and two daily newspapers—one each of each language — often use each other’s material in the original language. And both groups are represented in everything, including the top jobs. The local air force commander is English-speaking, the local army commander French-speaking, and in both wars the city had two infantry regiments overseas—Les Fusiliers de Sherbrooke and the Sherbrooke Fusiliers.
Critics of the bonne entente (some of whom have never visited Sherbrooke) often attack it on the grounds that it can only result in inefficient, unstable and unsound government. Others claim the attendant courtesies are not only hypocritical and foolish, but costly time wasters for business. Still others charge that it is all a dirty Catholic, Protestant, French or English plot aimed at assimilation of one group by the other.
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Continued from page 34 Sherbrookers respond with a hearty, bilingual raspberry. Sherbrooke, they point out, has thrived on the bonne entente. Its sixty-f.ve miles of concrete sidewalks and eighty-three miles of wide business and shaded residential streets (45 miles paved, 38 macadamized) are kept clean and in good repair. Its streamlined, city-owned buses provide quick dependable service. Its municipally owned water, gas and electricity services are reliable, abundant and cheap. Ten modern bridges span its winding rivers. In its nineteen flowering parks, supervised playgrounds are equipped with everything from toboggan slides to wading pools, and summer band concerts are held in the parks three times a week.
An Irishman With Sixteen Sons
Sherbrooke has seven hospitals and fifty-nine schools, including the famous Bishop’s College University in nearby Lennoxville. It also has a one-hundredthousand-dollar artificial-ice hockey arena with senior league games, and a 8eventy-five-thousand-dollar baseball stadium. This was the home of the famous Outlaw League, formed when some top ma jor leaguers (including Sal Maglie, Danny Gardella and JeanPierre Roy) jumped their U. S. contracts to play in Mexico for higher pay and were subsequently suspended from American ball for five years.
The sixty-man police force headed by gruff Edouard Moreau is young (average age: twenty-six), well paid,
well equipped and well trained. Vice, gambling, juvenile delinquency and crime are not serious problems. I n the last two years the force has had only one unsolved case, a twenty-dollar theft. Sherbrooke hasn’t even a parking problem, though it has more cars per capita than traffic-clogged Montreal because the police operate free parking lots in every district.
The sixty - man fire department headed by W. P. Donahue, a genial six - foot - two Irishman with sixteen sons, is likewise a crack team. This year Canadian and U. S. underwriters voted it Canada’s best. As a result Sherbrooke has the lowest basic fire insurance rates in the country.
The standard of living in Shçrbrooke is high; food is relatively cheap because the city’s markets teem with the produce of a fertile valley. Its annual agricultural fair is eastern Canada’s largest, its winter fat stock show the only one east of Toronto. Taxes, the lowest in the province, total only twenty-one mills (next lowest: Quebec City with thirty-five-and-a-half mills). It has no slums in its ten-and-a-half square miles and the city has kept housing construction in line with industrial expansion, with the result that Sherbrooke has no acute housing shortage. Over half its workers own their homes. There is no unemployment problem: more than one hundred
industries produce things like mining machinery, scales, patent medicines and flypaper. There are seventeen huge textile factories like Dominion Textile, National Thread and the Paton Mfg. Co. Ltd., and Canada’s first woolen cloth mill (established in 1842) which makes the famous scarlet serge of the Mounties.
“To manufacturers,” says general manager Howie Peterson, of Julius Kayser & Co., Canada’s oldest and largest hosiery mill, “the bonne entente has meant happier workers, fewer labor troubles—in short, a contented city.”
Sherbrooke’s growth has been steady and controlled. The closest it has come to a boom is since the war. In five years its population has jumped almost twenty-five percent; building permits
have trebled; bank clearances have almost doubled; a dozen new industries have blossomed; and the Ascot Metals mine on the city’s outskirts, closed for twenty-five years, has reopened to produce copper, zinc and gold.
Yet there is nothing of the boom town about Sherbrooke. It has retained the atmosphere of a small town, while gaining the poise and comforts of a modern city. It has no blue laws, and every kind of recreation, entertainment and sport. Half a million Canadians and Americans pass their vacations in the district. Only thirty miles from the border, Sherbrooke sits at the southern tip of the rail-boat-road triangle it forms with Montreal, ninetynine miles northwest, and Quebec City, one hundred and thirty-nine miles northeast. It is the main port of-entry for about one million tourists each year, one fifth of whom spend more than forty-eight hours and a total of eight million dollars there.
But Sherbrooke isn’t perfect. Its thirteen hotels have fewer than eight hundred and fifty rooms, are ancient and poorly run. Seasoned travelers prefer tourist cabins. The drinking water also leaves much to be desired, a state of affairs which Sherbrookers blandly blame on the presence of the sea serpent Anaconda in nearby Lake Memphremagog. Instead of disturbing Anaconda (who has been a favorite since Indian days) the city is building a filtration plant.
“That Noble Tradition”
Determined opponents of the bonne, entente believe the first step toward its dissolution will be the death of the mayoralty tradition. They were confident this would be accomplished last year when Archbishop Philippe Desranleau let it be known that he wanted lawyer Nadeau to beat Senator Howard. Catholic Sherbrooke shied. As taximan Patrick J. Quinn put it: “Being good Catholics we always obey our bishop in all things religious. Politics ain’t religious.” Added waiter Jacques Dussault: “One must remember that Monsignor Desranleau is not a Sherbrooker. He comes from Sorel.”
The stern stocky Archbishop is not opposed to the bonne entente. But he does feel that Sherbrooke is now so predominantly French Catholic it should have a Canadien mayor. Many Englishspeaking Sherbrookers agree. Editor Doug Amaron of the Sherbrooke Record says: “With the French-speaking
majority nearing the ninety percent mark it no longer seems fair for the English-speaking to name every other mayor.” The Record, though it supported Howard, cautiously voiced this thought during the 1950 elections. But the big daily La Tribune, owned by Senator Jacob Nicol, a French-speaking Baptist who is Sherbrooke’s wealthiest man (he owns four more daily newspapers in Quebec City and TroisRivières), thundered mightily against those who sought to break “that noble tradition.”
That the mayoralty tradition must eventually die seems inevitable. But French-speaking Sherbrooke is reluctant to deal the coup de grâce. What may happen is that in 1954 or 1958 the English - speaking citizens may simply decline to nominate a candidate. This would be in keeping with the spirit of the bonne entente. +