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From the archives

Our Violent National Game

The great hockey debate continues

Pax Atlantica

NATO’s long-lasting relevance

Graham Fraser

Graham Fraser is the author of Sorry, I Don’t Speak French and other books.

Articles by
Graham Fraser

Reel Talk

Lights, camera, Quebec! June 2024
Roger Frappier has been an extraordinary and relatively little-known success, working behind the scenes to produce nearly eighty movies since 1971. One of those films, The Power of the Dog (2021), earned its director, Jane Campion, an Academy Award and won the Golden Globe for Drama. The best known of his other films include Le confort et l’indifférence (1982) and Le déclin de l’empire américain

The Poet Politician

A biography of Gérald Godin March 2024
On November 16, 1976, I had a rendezvous with Gérald Godin, who, to general astonishment, had just defeated the Liberal premier Robert Bourassa in his own riding, helping to sweep the Parti Québécois to power. We had never met, but I had known about Godin for several years. Malcolm Reid had written about him in his 1972…

The Librarian

Guy Berthiaume on the shelves January | February 2024
If the popular image of the librarian is of a serious woman with glasses and hair pulled into a bun, the archivist is the greying man who is the prickly custodian of dusty files. Guy Berthiaume, who finished his career as the head of Library and Archives Canada, is neither one. Gregarious and clever, Berthiaume has written Mes grandes bibliothèques: Mes

The Trio from Laval

A clash of the historians December 2023
Let’s start with a pop quiz. Choose one of the following: A) The British defeat of the French in 1759 was calamitous for Quebec, resulting in an exodus of the bourgeoisie, the imposition of British rule, and decades of subordination. B) The change of colonial administrations after 1759 meant very little for the vast majority of French…

A Formidable Presence

Lise Bissonnette on the record July | August 2023
It can be fascinating to see the gap between how people perceive themselves and how they are perceived by others. By all appearances, Lise Bissonnette is a formidable presence, whether as a reporter, an editor, a novelist, or an administrator. While deeply charming, she is known to be imperious, writing with a pen that can draw blood and responding to anything she finds fatuous or ill-informed with a devastating…

Le critique

Before the referendum came the reviews June 2023
In early 2021, the video historian Sébastien Hudon sent an old review of an Orson Welles film to the Université Laval professor Jean-Pierre Sirois-Trahan. The byline read “René Lévesque.” Hudon wondered, “Is this the René Lévesque?” So much of Lévesque’s life has been explored at length, including his years as a wartime correspondent and…

In Other Words

Lori Saint-Martin’s life in translation April 2023
Learning another language can be a transformative experience; it can, quite literally, change your life. In learning another language, one becomes another person: stupid, inarticulate, and without a sense of humour at first and then, gradually, someone with a different identity. For Lori Farnham, learning French was a passport to worlds beyond, a ticket to…

Wild Goose Chases

On the allure of the hunt December 2022
When I was a young boy, Thornton W. Burgess was published in the Saturday Montreal Star, which was available in the village where we spent summer holidays. Burgess, an American conservationist, wrote children’s stories about the creatures in a patch of forest and field: Jimmy Skunk, Sammy Jay, Bobby Raccoon, Grandfather Frog, and a host of…

Miracle Grow

Quebec is doing just fine September 2022
Existential pessimism is in vogue in Quebec. Consider François Legault, who defends his government’s new language legislation by saying that French is at risk of disappearing over the next half century. He has even dismissed the story of one immigrant — a Liberal member of the Assemblée nationale — who speaks Spanish at home but French in the workplace as nothing more than “an anecdote.” With Le miracle québécois

False Positives

Riding the first wave in Quebec May 2022
As I began to write this review, the occupation of downtown Ottawa by anti-mandate protesters, anti-vaccine militants, and right-wing populist extremists was unfolding. For weeks, the horns of big rigs that jammed the streets near Parliament Hill had kept residents awake. In a city of rule-respecting public servants, the culture shock was huge. In this…

Want My Advice?

Jocelyn Coulon thinks we’ve lost our way March 2022
As Mélanie Joly pores over her briefing books and prepares for her next trip as Canada’s sixteenth foreign affairs minister, she could do worse than to read the advice that Jocelyn Coulon gave shortly after the October 2019 election to the “future” holder of the portfolio, as yet unnamed: “As minister, you direct several thousand diplomats who are Canada’s eyes and ears in the world.” In a lengthy open…

Où ce-qu’il vient de?

The journey of a cosmopolitan Acadian November 2021
The sociologist Joseph Yvon Thériault is a remarkable figure in Canada’s French-language intellectual life. Extraordinarily prolific, he has written on community identity, cosmopolitanism, international perceptions of Quebec, modernity, small societies and large. Or, as the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation puts it, on “citizenship, democracy, the ­welfare state, memory, the French-speaking world and collective identity.” He has led research groups and headed university…

The Art of Losing

The archeology of two lives September 2021
Diaries are odd things, particularly when they are written with publication in mind. Part gossip, part newsletter, at once intimate and distant, they provide a snapshot of how things appear to the writer on any given day. The British have developed them into an art form; North Americans, not so much, though Charles Ritchie and Allan Gotlieb have been…

Alive and Kicking

Le Chef continues to make an impression June 2021
Throughout February 1978, many Quebeckers changed their plans for Wednesday nights. Strikers at the newspaper Montréal-Matin moved a union meeting. A university hist­ory class persuaded its professor to reschedule a lecture. They all wanted to watch a seven-part television mini-series. Even the premier’s office organized a special screening of the second episode for reporters who had been obliged to cover a first ministers’…

There Shall Be a Sitting

Canada’s forty-third vote April 2021
The popular election narrative was born with Theodore H. White’s The Making of the President 1960. The book, which won the Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction and dominated bestseller lists for months, “revolutionized the art of political reporting,” in the words of William F. Buckley. White’s compelling prose, his access to John F. Kennedy’s team, and the exciting nature of an election that saw JFK narrowly…

Je me souviens de quoi?

A fresh take on the beautiful province January | February 2021
It’s a very good time to read Jocelyn Létourneau’s extended essay on Quebec history. For one thing, last year was a year of anniversaries: fifty years since the October Crisis, forty years since the 1980 referendum, twenty-five years since the 1995 referendum. Reflections on these existential events stimulated a stream of articles, books, and documentaries that were coloured by regret and…

Comeau Speaks

Insights from inside the FLQ September 2020
On November 27, 1979, Robert Comeau was called upon for the second time to testify in public before the Keable Commission, the Quebec inquiry into police activities during and after the October Crisis. Previously, in four in‑camera hearings, he had denied any participation in the Front de Libération du Québec and had refused to speak…

The Acadian

Michel Bastarache speaks March 2020
Even when the 1995 Quebec referendum resulted in victory for the No side, by a mere 50,000 votes, the province’s right to secede unilaterally remained a subject of debate. The stakes were high, and the federal government referred the question to the Supreme Court. Three years later, the court released its judgment in the Quebec secession…

Plain language

The first murmurs of a constitutional debate that lasted three decades July–August 2018
André Laurendeau and Davidson Dunton would begin each public hearing of the royal commission that became identified with their names by asking three questions: “Can English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians live together, and do they want to? Under what new conditions? And are they prepared to accept those conditions?” What would follow was dramatically different across the country: confusion about the question in large parts of the…

Quiet, and Not Entirely a Revolution

Claude Ryan and Quebec Catholicism’s last stand February 2018
Claude Ryan is a complex figure in a number of ways. A devout Catholic who briefly attended a monastery and worked for Church organizations for years, he never became a priest. Never having been a reporter or columnist, he became an editor and then publisher—and a confidant to those in power. Despite his personal individualism, he fought for a more hierarchical interpretation of the relationship between Catholics and their…

Undeclaring a Language War

A Montreal academic confronts the “mytho-constitutional Quebec universe” October 2017
This is the year of Canadian anniversaries. But in the flurry of events surrounding Canada’s 150th, Montreal’s 375th, the 40th anniversary of the Charte de la langue française (Charter of the French Language) in Quebec, and all the symbolic gestures of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, there has been relatively little mention—certainly in English—that 2017 is also the 35th anniversary of the patriation of the Constitution and the introduction of the Charter of Rights and…

Double Vision

A former language commissioner on the future of bilingualism January 2017
Almost exactly ten years ago, I left the Toronto Star to become the commissioner of official languages—a move from being a reporter to being an agent of Parliament, from almost four decades of managing little more than a keyboard to heading an organization of 170 people. At one level, it was a huge and improbable…