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Québec: French Culture, First Nations & Folk Music

Contemporary Cultural Figures

Montreal 5th Annual Winter Carnival and Ice Palace Fete, 1889. 1889. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Modern-day Québec has a vibrant and diverse community of artists, entrepreneurs and citizens. Québec drew many Americans who were seeking a new environment away from American politics that was closer than Europe. Richard Wright, author and poet on racial themes, spent significant time in the village of Sainte-Pétronille on the Île d'Orléans before his permanent move to Paris, France in 1946. Beginning with René Lévesque's so-called "Quiet Revolution" of the 1960s, Québec began to form a Québécois identity that vocalized dissatisfaction with the policy of assimilation for Francophones. Slogans such as "C'est le temps qu'ça change" (It's time for things to change), "Maîtres chez nous " (Masters in our own house) became popular as there was a strong push to distinguish themselves from the dominant anglophone community. Today Québec is increasingly diverse and English is no longer the only other language in use.

  • Marie-Célie Agnant moved to Québec from Haïti in the 1970s. Author of poetry, novels and novellas, she is also a talented storyteller and author of young adult and children's books. She draws from her personal life experiences and has won awards for many of her books including La Dot de Sara (1995), which won that year’s Desjardins literary prize, and Le Silence comme le sang, which was the 1997 finalist for the Governor General’s Award. Her most recent novel is Femmes au Temps des Carnassiers. Further reading
  • Joe Buffalo is an Indigenous skateboard legend. He’s also a survivor of Canada’s notorious Indian Residential School system. Following a traumatic childhood and decades of addiction, Joe eventually faced his inner demons to realize his dream of turning pro and now works with youth groups and the skateboarding community. Further reading
  • Leonard Cohen was born in Westmount, an affluent suburb of Montréal. He started-out as a poet and novelist in the 1950s and 1960s, however, he transitioned to making music in 1967. His debut album, "Songs of Leonard Cohen", marked the beginning of a successful and influential music career. “Hallelujah”, perhaps his most well-known song, experienced a revival after his sudden death in 2016. Further reading
  • Roméo Dallaire was born in the Netherlands but moved to Canada at six months old and grew up in Montréal. His service as a force commander of a peacekeeping force for Rwanda during the genocide caused him to suffer from post traumatic stress disorder and eventually resulted in his book, "Shake Hands with the Devil". He served as a Canadian senator and is known now as a humanitarian. He is a senior fellow at the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies. He is also co-director of the Will to Intervene Project which aims at preventing mass atrocities. Further reading
  • Céline Dion is perhaps one of the most celebrated and best-selling singers of all time. She was born in Charlemagne, a suburb of Montréal, and is the youngest of fourteen children. Ever since her youth, she had dreamed of becoming a singer. She began releasing French-language songs like “Ce n'était qu'un rêve” and “D'amour ou d'amitié.” Her most famous songs are “Pour que tu m'aimes encore”, “My Heart Will Go On”, and “The Power of Love.” Further reading
  • Xavier Dolan a Montréal-native, is a celebrated filmmaker, actor, and costume designer. Many of his films incorporate elements of queer identity. He has been nominated for and won numerous awards at the Cannes Film Festival and the César Awards. His film, "It’s Only the End of the World" (2016) won the prestigious Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival and "Mommy" (2014) earned a César for the Best Foreign Film category. Further reading
  • Glenn Ford was born in a village close to Québec City and at the age of six, moved to California with his family. He was a staple actor during Hollywood’s Golden Age in the mid-twentieth century. Ford starred in classic films like "Gilda" (1946), "The Big Heat" (1953), "Blackboard Jungle" (1955), "3:10 to Yuma" (1957), "Pocketful of Miracles" (1961), and "Superman" (1978). Further reading
  • Yasmeen Ghauri was born to a German mother and a Pakistani father in Montréal. She has since paved the way for women of color in the modelling industry. She rose to prominence in the 1990s, premiering in cities like Milan, Paris, and New York City. Ghauri also became a face for luxury fashion brands such as Valentino, Hermès, and Lanvin. Further reading
  • Naomi Klein is an author, professor, activist, and filmmaker who was born and raised in Montréal. She is best known for her harsh criticism of Capitalism, Fascism, and Consumerism, and is an avid supporter of left-wing politics and Ecofeminism. Some of her most famous works include "No Logo", "The Shock Doctrine", and "This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate". Further reading
  • Stanley Péan was born in Port-au-Prince, Haïti and grew up in Québec. He is a prolific author and contributor to numerous literary and cultural magazines. He is on the editorial board of the journal "Le Libraire" as well as "Alibis" (a journal devoted to detective literature). He also hosts radio shows where he produces content on jazz and blues music. Further reading
  • Antoni Porowski is a television personality, author, model, actor, and chef who spent a large portion of his childhood and early adulthood in Montréal. He is best known for his role as the food and wine expert on "Queer Eye". He is also a judge on the Food Network cooking competition "Chopped". Further reading
  • Jason Reitman spent a portion of his childhood in Montréal before moving to Los Angeles, California. Following in the footsteps of his father Ivan Reitman ("Ghostbusters" (1984), "Kindergarten Cop" (1990)), he became a dedicated filmmaker. He has directed critically-acclaimed films such as "Thank You For Smoking" (2005), "Juno" (2007), and "Up In The Air" (2009). Further reading
  • Justin Trudeau is the current Prime Minister of Canada and the Leader of the Liberal Party. He was born in Ottawa, Canada and was educated in Montréal, graduating from both Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf and McGill University. His father, Pierre Trudeau, was the 15th Prime Minister of Canada and played an important role in fostering a pan-Canadian national identity. Further reading
  • William Shatner is an acclaimed actor, director, screenplay writer, author, and producer from Montréal. He is considered an international icon for his role as Captain James T. Kirk in Star Trek. Shatner has played significant roles in "Judgment at Nuremberg" (1961) and legal drama television series like "Boston Legal" and "The Practice". Further reading
  • Rodney Saint-Éloi is a Haïtian-Canadian poet and founder of the Haïtian publishing company "Éditions Mémoire". He has been nominated twice for the Governor General's Award for French-language poetry: "Jacques Roche, je t'écris cette lettre" and "Je suis la fille du baobab brûlé". Further reading
  • Denis Villeneuve is a director, producer, and screenwriter from Bécancour, a city close to Trois-Rivières. His major feature films include "Incendies" (2010), "Sicario" (2015), "Arrival" (2016), and "Blade Runner 2049" (2017). The latter films have been nominated for the Academy Awards, the BAFTA Awards, and the Golden Globe Awards. In fact, "Arrival" (2016) was nominated for the esteemed Best Picture category at the Academy Awards. Further reading