It’s flag-waving season

Bleu, blanc, rouge, stars, stripes, maple leaves, Fleurdelisé.


Waving flags

Along the avenues in Verdun, working-class families in working-class apartments greet the arrival of summer with a small sea of flags, alternating with dependable regularity between the Maple Leaf and the Fleurdelisé. In every fourth year, a spattering of flags from Europe and South America and Africa add some fresh colour to the parade of red-white-and-blue as World Cup fans celebrate and mourn the performance of their favourite teams.

If a fight breaks out, it’s more likely to be over the questionable penalty call in the final minutes of the Greece-Ivory Coast match than it is over the relative merits of Canada vs. Quebec. That’s a battle we engage in every 15 years or so, or whenever the coaches of the underdog Sovereignty squad think they can convince fair-weather fans to abandon Team Canada. That’s not a battle anyone wants to fight every day, especially not on a holiday.

Along the avenues in Verdun, the flags that fly from the porches and balconies of three-storey walk-ups are mounted with roughly the same fervour that sees these dwellings embellished every fall to greet princesses, goblins and Gandalfs, or in winter to celebrate Santa, Jesus and ornament sales at Wellington St. dollar stores. Flags and decorations, or the lack thereof, are all statements about the identity of the people who live in these homes, but they aren’t attempts to proselytize the neighbours or the neighbourhood.

They are simple statements: “This is me, this is what makes me happy, and you’re welcome to share in that if you want.”


A new poll is out that draws the unsurprising conclusion that our dueling national holidays reflect our linguistic duality. While roughly two-thirds of francophone Quebecers polled said they felt that the annual Fête Nationale strengthened their sense of attachment to Quebec, only one-third of non-francophones agreed. Canada Day celebrations, on the other hand, boosted the feeling of appartenance in two-thirds of non-francophones and just one-third of francophones.

You can be fairly certain that a survey evaluating whether Christmas boosts the strength of attachment to Christianity or Thanksgiving elevates fondness for turkey would yield similar results, with agnostics and vegetarians voting nay. But like the post-meal paralysis of a holiday feast, the strength of feeling fades with time. By the time the construction holiday begins, most of us will have reset our patriotic passion to low, left simmering until a crisis or athletic contest brings it bubbling back to a slow boil.

Whether Canadian or Quebecer, few of us embrace the jingoistic formula so evident in our neighbours to the south. We don’t force our children to swear allegiance to the flag, we don’t delude ourselves into believing we lead a world that actually mostly hates us.

Whether Quebecer or a Canadian, we’re unlikely to feel national pride beating in our chests at the simple sight of a piece of cloth, whether fluttering from a flagpole or waving among participants in a parade. Pride doesn’t come from symbols, it comes from action, creation and community. We feel it when we see our leaders rush to aid a community blistered by fire, battered by water or collapsed in the wake of a quake. We lose it when they are silent in the face of injustice, complicit in helping the haves over the have-nots, indifferent to the need to save resources for future generations.

How we react to the raising of the flag shouldn’t be a measure of our patriotism. Instead, love for our community is best shown by defending the values and traditions that inspire our pride.

Sometimes that will mean we feel shame when see the flag waved in support of xenophobic legislation or flown alongside the banners of countries that are oppressing and killing their own people.

It was a hard year to be a proud Canadian or québécois et fière de l’être.  So if you don’t feel like wishing anyone a joyeuse fête nationale or happy Canada Day, you likely aren’t alone. ■

Peter Wheeland is a Montreal journalist and stand-up comic. His sardonic observations about the city and province appear on Cult MTL every week. You can contact him by Email or follow him on Twitter.