When I first moved to the Eastern Townships, I was thrilled to learn that there was a CBC Radio network dedicated to serving the English community outside Montreal. It wasn’t long after this that I learned that CBC referred to all these non-Montreal places as “the regions.”
I imagined this scenario:
“You mustn’t go, Jean-Louis, you mustn’t!”
“I’m sorry, Marie-Framboise, but the regions call to me. Their barren, vaguely described spaces, the noble savagery of their slow-moving farm machinery, the haunting homogeneity of the natives’ overall whiteness.”
“Mais Jean-Louis, you must surely know that, in the regions, you may never again find… a decent bagel.”
“It’s the risk I must take, ma petite crevette, for go I must, to broadcast live from Townshippers’ Day.”
“The regions” sounds like a place where people and careers go to die. It’s a phrase said in a somber, defeated tone, like “The Troubles” or “The Canadiens.”
It’s a flat, grey term that does a disservice to the diversity of Quebec’s non-urban communities. It patronizingly transforms Quebec into Montreal and Everywhere Else, the City and Unimportant Places, the Centre of the Universe and That Place With All The Parking.
(I solicited comments online about this term, and a number of people suggested that Quebec City and Gatineau aren’t considered part of the regions. But I bet if you asked someone from Montreal, then, yeah, come on, they’re in the regions… As for Sherbrooke, totally region.)
I thought this was just a CBC thing, but I suspect it probably goes back to the division of Quebec into 20 administrative regions, which is not something you’re going to see on a tourism brochure anytime soon: “Come for the Administrative Region, Stay for the Contract Bid Submissions!”
I’ve also seen the term a couple of times during the current provincial election campaign. The front page of Monday’s Montreal Gazette, for instance, reported that the CAQ’s “Legault heads to regions.” This is a somewhat dismissive term to describe his campaign trip to Val d’Or and on to Chibougamau. The correct term to describe these places is, of course, “really friggin’ far.”
Earlier this month, PQ leader Jean-François Lisée floated a proposition that English cegep students should spend their final semester at a French cegep, “preferably in the regions” (en région). First of all, Lisée seems unaware that English cegeps like Champlain College already exist in “the regions” (typical regionalist!). How are those English students already in the regions supposed to go off and study French in the regions? Somewhere even regioner? Is there an area of Quebec that’s the regionest of them all? (Yes: Piopolis.)
As I was carping about this online, one of my CBC acquaintances chimed in, saying “regions” was at least better than “off-island.” She then challenged me to come up with an alternative term.
So what are we to call these so-called regions? They have many of the same services, options and cultural offerings as the city, only perhaps in less quantity. Thus you have “the metropolis,” and then you have “the metropoless.”
(A variation also works in French: There is “le métropole”; and then there is the place without a subway, “le métro-pas.”)
- Pays de Potluck
- Frontières Sans Médicins
- Chainsaw Country
- The Outlands (which would make its residents Outlandish)
- Les Zones Vertes
- Les Zones Fosse Septique
- Chez Ross
At very least we should not be lumping all of rural and semi-rural Quebec under a single catch-all term. We should have the Eastern Regions and the Western Regions, the Upper Regions and, naturally, the Nether Regions. (Thank you, Andrew Greenfield, for this suggestion.)
I challenge you, readers, to come up with a solution. And fast, for now that we have let this cat out of the bag (laisser le chat échappé le sac), I fear the government will step in with an official toponymie, and we will become known as les territoires sous-urbaines multifonctionnelles de la paysage, or TSUMPs – which is what you get when the city folks come out here to the regions and cut down all the RTEEs.
Note to my non-Quebec readers: I considered hyperlinking much of this content so you could understand the terms and context, but you kind of have to be here.