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Vancouver 2010 Olympics opening ceremony: Where was the French? Where was Quebec?

 In the days following the Vancouver 2010 Olympics opening ceremony, many Quebecers have been asking: Where was the French?  Where were we in the representation of Canada?

From a promising opening with snowboarder Johnny Lyall soaring through one of the Olympic circles, the ceremony quickly went from daring to predictable.  

And with Canada's first gold medal since won by Quebec's Alexandre Bilodeau, the Olympic slight seems even more hard to reconcile.

In her piece What We Saw at the Opening Ceremonies of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games, Linda Solomon of the Vancouver Observer wrote, "Perhaps above all else, the ceremony attempted to make a statement about the place of First Nations people in Canada. It celebrated four First Nations bands that chose to participate in the event and the First Nations culture in general, putting it up front and central in the production as if to suggest a level of visibility in the mainstream culture that is what Canada hopes for, rather than what Canada is."

But is that really what Canada hopes for? If so, a celebration of First Nation bands became a celebration of "Canada's brand."  And while it was appropriate to highlight the First Nations, why not present the full spectrum of Canadian culture, which includes Quebec?  There are so many ways that could have been done, through integrating song, dance, imagery. Instead, the presentation just reinforced the divide between Quebec and ROC – rest of Canada.

Each Olympics offers an amazing opportunity to showcase the host country – its natural treasures and cultural diversity. Consider the opening ceremony one giant advertisement that broadcasts worldwide: "Look at what we are doing, why you should come visit, invest in our businesses, our future."

Instead, the key message was anchored in the past.  An emotional tribute to heritage and pageantry. That is simply too easy.

Why not build a bridge from the past to the present, celebrating  the amazing contributions Canada is making today in the arts, in technology? Showcase Cirque de Soleil, CAE, SNC-Lavalin and tap into all the local creative talent in animation (as done by Steven Spielberg and Ubisoft).  Imagine what they could have come up with together. What richness they could have brought to the story being told. A multi-layered, multi-cultural ceremony. Yes, build on tradition, but don't dwell there and limit the true reach and application of Canada today. Apparently Guy LaLiberté was approached at one point to participate, but was so turned off by the concept presented that he abruptly cut the meeting short. 

And if being true to origins is so important, keep in mind that as with Canada, the official languages of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) are French and English. And that IOC founder and father of the modern Olympics was  Baron Pierre de Coubertin, a Frenchman.

Given the geographics, the politics and likely the concern of alienating viewers, perhaps it is not too surprising that the focus was English language and on the First Nation communities.  Unfortunately, the single French musical number, "Un Peu Plus Haut, Un Peu Plus Loin," was sung off-key by Garou. And the one depiction of French culture was La Chasse-galerie, a folklore tale of innocent travelers selling their soul to the devil. 

And though Vancouver Olympics organizers claim they tried to get high-profile Quebecois singers like Céline Dion, the question is when did they try, given it appears there were scheduling conflicts?

And why the lack of a Quebecer to light the torch?  Certainly there is no lack of candidates: Wasn't three-time gold Olympic medal winner Gaétan Boucher once lauded as the golden boy Bilodeau is today?

The most publicized reactions included:

"I expected something else. What I saw at the opening ceremonies was a concert, which had been conceived, developed and presented in English - with a French song." – Graham Fraser, Federal Commissioner of Official Languages

"It was really pitiful. It shows that official bilingualism in Canada is a farce. It's only stated in theory to calm linguistic tides in Quebec, but the reality is it doesn't work." – Mario Beaulieu, President Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society

"They were beautiful, they were spectacular on television, but there should have been more French. I was disappointed there wasn't as much French as we were expecting, as we were told that there was going to be." – James Moore, Heritage Minister

Note you can follow Moore on Twitter. His latest tweet as of publication: "Prime Minister Harper just spoke with Alexandre Bilodeau & told him this was "a historic victory and that all Canadians are proud of him"

More from Twitter
What were your expectations of the opening ceremony? Do you think Quebec was fully represented? Here are some reactions to the perceived lack of French Canada representation.

mnacampbell Watching the Olympic broadcast with Anne-Marie over Skype. Good show—but she's not pleased with the language balance. #francais

Funkycrapet On a oublié l'autre langue officielle...RT @lactualite: Cérémonies d’ouverture: où est le français? #jo2010

thibaultjf Que j'en vois pas un basher que le Québec a été négligé dans les cérémonies... #JO2010

stephan75 Avant les JO étaient bilingue,  désormais ça se déroule dans un pays bilingue et ça ne parle qu'anglais :) #JO2010

Blogstory Je crois que le Québec ne fait plus parti du Canada!!! En tk pas à cette ceremonie des #JO2010

For more information:
Cérémonies d’ouverture: où est le français?
Le français aussi rare que la neige à Vancouver
French language an afterthought at Games, Quebec critics charge
Heritage minister 'disappointed' by lack of French at Olympic opening
Canada's French-English strife flares at Olympics
Vancouver 2010: Opening ceremony: Slideshow

Alison Cummings is a Web Strategy consultant and Social Media blogger based in Montreal. You can find her on Twitter @alisoncummings and Facebook.


  • Betsy Schuurman: Ottawa Cooking Examiner 5 years ago

    I was disappointed by the Opening Ceremony. It really did only focus on Vancouver and B.C. There wasn't any connection to the rest of Canada. I also thought it was too Canada-centric as a whole. The best part about the Olympics is that it's athletes from all over the world coming to compete.

    And as someone who's only been in Ottawa for 1 year and is trying to quickly learn French to catch up to everyone else around here, I am always looking for more French.

  • Luc 5 years ago

    I agree with Betsy. Too West Coast centric. Aren't these Games the CANADIAN Olympics! Never mind the language for the poor ROC sensitivity. It was about Canada. And as much as I know, Quebec is still part of it. Can you imagine if the Olympic Games were held in Quebec City and all the opening ceremonies were to be held in French Only (with one song with Ann Murray). Where the thematic would have been Quebec, some of the Atlantic provinces and Ontario? At that rate the opening ceremonies should have held in Mandarin and English. BTW, just a note here about the Chinese games: the opening ceremonies and results were always announced in Mandarin, French and English. Now who are the racists or the red necks here?

  • Carol Roach, Montreal Mental Health Examiner 5 years ago

    I think it is absolutely disgusting myself, it shows we have no real presence in canada,

    I mean they could even have had willian shantner, they had donald sutherland, so what is the diff,

    by the way I have a second column here now as well as being the montreal mental health examiner I am the motnreal health examineri please subscribe

  • Geddington 5 years ago

    I think you may be forgetting that the Olympics are awarded to a city, not to a country. As an non-Canadian, I thought the opening was great. As I understand it, there are more than four original nations in Canada, so under the "Quebec being left out" where is the complaint for them? I thought it was an appropriate display of colour, art and culture. Well done Vancouver!

  • Geddington 5 years ago

    Just heard the Garou song and you need to get your ears tested if you think it was 'off key'. Think your Quebec inferiority complex is clouding your judgement!

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