How Does a Western Anglophone end up living in Rural Quebec?

It's a long story.

I've been getting some questions here at FIMBY lately along the lines of, "are you bilingual?" and "how did you end up in Québec, Canada?"

I've shared the whole story of our American exodus and what precipitated that move in a bunch of posts over the past couple years. And through FIMBY's seven and half year run, I've shared bits and pieces of the back back story - our original move across the continent from where we grew up and got married in western Canada.

It's time to share the whole story, in one post. You'll excuse me if it's a long one. You asked.

Let's start with your question - Am I bilingual?

No. Damien is. Our children are decidedly not.

Before I go on I should state for those not aware that Québec is a francophone province in Canada.

Some people think all Canadians speak French. That's not the case. With the exception of Québec, New Brunswick and parts of Ontario most Canadians speak only English. And because Canada is so multi-cultural people speak all kinds of languages here. French, as well as English, are Canada's official languages.

Québec has a unique culture and very different vibe than the rest of Canada. Over the years Québec has tried to even (unsuccessfully) separate from Canada. This would be a big loss to Canada's identity but I can understand the separatist point of view more since living here.

But this is not a political story, it's a personal one.

The fact that I am living in Québec, having grown up in conservative, western Canada still amazes me, so I'm going to walk you through how this happened.

I was born and raised in the land-locked prairie province of Alberta. I grew up in a small-ish farming community, close to a large city, but we weren't farmers. My parents were entrepreneurs and small business owners. After I graduated from high school, I went to the University of Alberta. I met Damien my second year of school at an IVCF campus group and the rest, they say, is history.

Life 1.0

A couple years after we were married and one year after Celine was born we decided to move to New Jersey.

This was a totally spontaneous decision. Well, almost spontaneous. I didn't even know where New Jersey was before that. We had just bought our first home and hadn't yet closed on it when we decided to leave the country.

What were we thinking?

Specifically, we were thinking that we needed to build Damien's career.

For the first few years of raising children we were committed to a one income household, dad goes to work, mom stays home type of arrangement. This meant I was willing to make certain sacrifices and take some calculated leaps to help Damien build his career. He was going to be solely responsible for supporting our family for years to come and his work mattered to our family, a lot.

This was near the tail end of the dot com era when there was lots of money in tech stuff and Damien was offered a job, with paid moving expenses, by an internet service provider company in New Jersey.

Now, I should back up and say that Damien's university degree is in Civil Engineering. He took up computer work shortly after graduating, moonlighting as a network engineer and had to bootstrap his way into the industry. Not pursuing Computer Engineering from the get-go of his education is one of Damien's regrets. But then he wouldn't have met me (he would have been a different place at a different time) so it all worked out in the end.

So, when Damien was offered a full time, salaried position to build his experience in the work he wanted to do (with paid moving expenses) we jumped at the chance. Even though we had just bought a home.

Life 2.0

It was an adventure. And we planned to move back.

We didn't.

We rented out the house we had just bought and sold it two years later when we realized we weren't going back "home".

New Jersey has many fond memories for us, including Laurent's birth and a close neighbor whose friendship helped me through Laurent's very difficult first year of babyhood. She had a difficult baby also. We commiserated and went for lots of morning walks with our littles and spent lots of afternoons sitting by kiddie pools.

Two years in New Jersey was enough to get our fill of traffic and city life. I loved being a 1/2 hour from New York City, it was fun to take our family there when they visited, but what we really wanted was more nature and affordable living.

So we moved to Maine with friends. Another kind of impromptu decision. I think my parents may have been kind of devastated at this point (two grandchildren living on the other side of the continent) but they took it well. The big draw this time was (are you ready?) communal living. Long story very short - it didn't work out. But Maine did.

Maine rooted itself in our hearts. Maine is where Damien re-discovered his love for the mountains. It's where I discovered local food and farms. It's where I learned organic gardening and natural living. Maine really is "the way life should be".

By God's grace we landed a good job for Damien, a really great job. We bought our "second" first house in a great urban location and this time we actually lived in it, for five years.

We lived well and realized many of our dreams in Maine. One income family, one car living. Connected in our community.

Maine is where we grew into our adult selves and it's where we grew our family. Brienne was born there and Maine will always have a special place in my heart.

We wanted to stay, permanently. We asked the government to stay. They said yes, but first we had to wait. And wait. And wait some more before they could finish "processing that request".

While we waited I was unable to earn money, this was ok for the first few years in NJ. I was too busy caring for children to do anything else. But this waiting - 7, 8, 9 years grew old. Having established Damien's career and our family life we started to have other dreams and goals. The dreams and goals I've been talking about now for the past year here at FIMBY.

Life 3.0

Those dreams weren't possible in the United States without our permanent residency. Which was not forthcoming. So we made the very hard decision to leave Maine and return to Canada where we would have freedom to create the life we wanted for our family.

But where to return to? Western Canada has the mountains but was a long unpaid move away (no company was footing the bill this time!) And there was another factor keeping us east. During our Maine stint my parents moved to Nova Scotia. They were having their own mid-life adventure.

I moved far from my parents at one point in my life, my early twenties, but I didn't want to do that again. This time there were three grandchildren and they were older and had deeper rooted relationships that I wanted to nurture. I didn't want to be on the other coast.

But we had to move where there are mountains and there aren't mountains in Nova Scotia. So Damien pulled up a topographical map on google and found the mountains closest to Nova Scotia - the Appalachian Mountains on the Gaspé Peninsula of Québec.

After some research and reconnaissance we discovered the Gaspé had everything we needed for home base. Mountains, homeschool freedom, affordability, a day's drive from my parents, farms and local food and other cool things. The Gaspé peninsula is rural and full of natural beauty but it's not the cultural "sticks", this was important to me.

The Gaspé peninsula also happens to be located in Canada's francophone province. So when we decided to move back to Canada we ended up living in a different culture than what we knew in western Canada.

One of the things that makes this possible, as far as the language barrier, is that Damien spent one year in France before starting university. He learned the language and was totally bilingual. He can get by here with the language, even though they speak a local dialect of French, different even than Québec City.

I learned French in high school but am nowhere near bilingual. I am learning and will start more formal language lessons this summer.

What about our French names?

My parents named me Renee (no accent) because they liked the name. They are totally anglophone. I took Damien's last name because I'm a traditionalist. No one I've met in Québec takes a married name.

Damien's paternal family is French Canadian from a different Canadian province. There are francophone pockets all over the country. Damien's dad's family is from one of these.

Because of Damien's year in France (and the pretty girl he met there named Céline), his paternal history, and my own French given name we went with French names for our children. Laurent-Auguste is a family name. Brienne we kind of made up. It's French-ish.

After hearing all this you can imagine my tongue tied response to the common question - "where are you from?"

I want people I meet to know I'm Canadian (I want them to know I belong here, especially after years of being a resident alien in another country) but I also want them to know I've lived in the US for nearly my whole adult life. 

Want to know the really ironic part of this whole story?

One of the reasons I married Damien, or was attracted to him at least, was because he is very stable person. Secure in himself and just steady. He was studying to be an engineer and this spoke strongly to my desire to marry a breadwinner. I knew I wanted to stay home with babies and I needed someone who could support that. Engineers work in offices, have stable jobs, lead predictable lives. At least the engineers I knew. Ahem.

Turns out Damien is also a visionary. This wasn't so evident to my young lust eyes but over the years this has become more and more apparent. Adventure is in Damien's blood. And somehow, very unexpectedly, it's become a part of mine too. 

Adventure with a home base, because I'm a homemaker at heart.

I don't know how long our future is, here in Québec. We have some crazy ideas for when the kids are all grown (that's less than 10 years away). Basically we want to build community with them and will support them wherever they land (ie: we're following them). Which could take us... anywhere. (We're rooting for New Zealand.)

Which is all part of the adventure. But first I really want to learn French.

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Our Month in Montreal »
  • Isabelle

    Isabelle on May 29, 2012, 1:54 a.m.

    Bonsoir, I have been following you for a while but it's the first time I leave a comment.

    I liked reading about your perspective of the province I have always lived in (currently the north shore of Montreal).


  • Cari

    Cari on May 29, 2012, 3:55 a.m.

    I love this post Renee.

    Our life stories are indeed beautiful, challenging and stretching in so many ways. I love that you married a steady guy who come to find out also happens to be visionary. While I'm sure not every twist and turn has come without pain I am encouraged by the love and respect you two seem to share and your willingness to embrace the fact that we humans are dynamic - ever changing.

    Have a great time in Montreal!


    • renee

      renee on May 29, 2012, 11:30 a.m.

      Cari, that is so true! Someone asked me recently for a bit of advice pre-marriage or "what I wish I'd known" before gettting married. And this was it - that life is dynamic and changing. And the best ride is just to go with that. To let your spouse grow into who they are, to let yourself grow and to consciously choose to grow together, not apart. 


  • Amanda

    Amanda on May 29, 2012, 6:55 a.m.

    Hey Jacinda...I'm cheering for New Zealand too! Great to read the Life 1.0 part of the story Renee.


  • Francesca

    Francesca on May 29, 2012, 8:35 a.m.

    Seems to me that however unexpected, life is taking you to wonderful directions Renee. It was interesting to read you make the point about the languages - one thing I've noticed about the north american folks that come to visit us, is how terrified they are of foreign languages and how uncomfortable they are with linguistic diversity, which I really can't understand: there are so many (unofficial) languages spoken over there! Have fun in Montreal!


  • Anna

    Anna on May 29, 2012, 10:08 a.m.

    You'd love the mountains and the ski-ing in New Zealand. Meanwhile we in NZ have rural Canada on the "possible adventure location" list. If only they recognised my NZ medical degree, can't see myself sitting big licensing exams in the midst of life with 3 kids...


    • renee

      renee on May 29, 2012, 11:32 a.m.

      We live in beautiful rural Canada, so you know where you can come visit at the very least (smile). New Zealand really is on our bucket list, but we've got a long life, God willing, left to live and will make it there hopefully one day.


  • Amanda

    Amanda on May 29, 2012, 12:44 p.m.

    Such a great adventure! Love this post, Renee. I do want to hear more about the communal living thing, not that it's very relevant to your current life adventures...but I bet it's interesting all the same!! Wish we could visit you in Montreal (3 hrs away) - great city! Once I was there with my young sister and my car broke down, had to bring out the rusty French to get help so we could go home...


    • renee

      renee on May 29, 2012, 12:49 p.m.

      Community living (both communal and in close proximity) is very much one of our dreams. We have moved in and out of this, in practice, over the years. I'm hoping it will become more a part of the story moving forward.


  • Kika

    Kika on May 29, 2012, 2:44 p.m.

    Quebec city is my favorite of all the places I've lived/visited - will you stay in Montreal or spend a few days in Quebec? Love hearing the back story; I love mulling over how Georges and I met, with all its twists and turns including learning new languages, changing career paths, etc. Life is exciting!!!


    • renee

      renee on May 29, 2012, 2:49 p.m.

      No time in Québec City this time around. We've rented this apartment for the month and it's so much cheaper this way to stay. To rent a hotel, even for the weekend, in QC would be 1/3 of our monthly rent here!  Next time though... And yes, life is exciting!


  • Jen @ anothergranolamom

    Jen @ anothergranolamom on May 29, 2012, 4:01 p.m.

    I loved what you said about following your kids. That is exactly what we hope for our family -- that we stay connected, a community, throughout their adult lives. And we will follow them wherever we need to go to make that happen, although I'm NOT voting for cold weather.


  • CathyT

    CathyT on May 29, 2012, 11:21 p.m.

    Thanks for sharing. I have been wondering about your past since I started checking in on your blog a few months ago.


  • Isa

    Isa on Feb. 3, 2014, 7:45 p.m.

    Thank's for sharing your experience, it's seems very interesting to me.

    Actually, I'm wonderig if trying to move to rural Québec would give to me and my husband

    more quality of live. We are living in Montréal but we love nature and peace. 

    However, I've heard that can be harder to start a new life in places like the Gaspesy 

    because people are closer than in big cities. 




    • renee

      renee on Feb. 6, 2014, 8:50 p.m.

      Isa, I can't speak for other parts of rural Quebec but I can share what it was like moving here. The gaspe peninsula has many recent "imports" from other areas of Quebec, Montreal predominantly. We also know people that have moved here from Africa, France, England, Japan, the Philipinnes, the United States, etc. I probably know more immigrants than most locals because of my french language classes. 

      Almost all our close friends either grew up here and then left to study & travel and returned to raise children or they left the cities to live here for the quality of life.

      I personally find the community to be quite open to newcomers, however we are not "sit back and wait for people to be friends with you" type of people. We make an effort. 

      There is not the same variety of people here that you find in a city, for sure ,but everyone has been so friendly to us. And those that haven't I guess I just haven't paid much attention to them.

      We love the Gaspe peninsula and if you value quality of life, and don't mind cooking your own food most of the time (we really miss the variety of good restuarants we had in a city) you'd love it here. There are farms to buy your vegetables, the mountains to ski, the ocean to swim and the pace is definitely slower. The trick is finding work (smile). That's one of the first questions people have when we meet them - where do you work? because that can be tricky. 

      If you ever want to visit and need a place to stay you can find us on couch surfing.

      There is an organization, I'm not sure the name, that works to attract young people to the peninsula. They do tours sometimes. One couple we know moved here because they visited on one of these tours. 



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