The 40th anniversary of The October Crisis has just passed. It's an anniversary that has got me reflecting back on the stunning events that took place in and around Montreal in the fall of 1970. I'm not talking about the history of Quebec or Canada. I'm talking about the history of me. See, I was all of six years old during The October Crisis
Those of you are too young or too not living Quebec to know anything about the The October Crisis can click here to get more background on the story.
At six, I understood little about the events that were taking place around me. Well, kind of around me, anyway. I grew up in Pierrefonds, which is in Montreal's suburban West Island area. In 1970, the West Island was a mall and two paved roads away from the official designation of The Boondocks. That and it was colonized almost exclusively by Anglos.
I was only vaguely aware that there were even people who spoke a different language than me. The Two Solitudes reigned supreme in Quebec in those days. There was no French Immersion program anywhere in my school board. Sending an English kid to a French school was a threat our teachers would make when we were misbehaving rather than the legitimate educational option that it is today. French class in my school consisted of the teacher wheeling a TV into the classroom so that we could watch a half an hour of Chez Hélène.
It was a truly moronic arrangement when I look back on it now.
Meanwhile, back in The October crisis, about all I had to go on was my Grade 1 teacher's explanation of the situation. She told us that "the army is here to catch some bad men", which, ya gotta admit, does kinda gloss over some of the more important historical, political and social dimensions of the crisis.
What it really meant for me is that there were were soldiers in the streets near my house. The presence of guys wearing helmets and carrying guns was somehow more disturbing and a lot less cool than watching Rat Patrol.
As I pointed out earlier, Pierrefonds was not exactly October Crisis Ground Zero. However, there was some guy in my living near my house that was a city councillor for the the City of Pierrefonds or had some other similarly non-consequential position in municipal politics. Whatever the case, somebody saw fit to give the man 24/7 military security.
I remember going to look at that house with some of my friends. We wanted to see an actual real life army guy up close. Somebody suggested playing the "see if you can distract the heavily armed guard" game. I guess we somehow had the idea that this soldier would be exactly like those stern faced British guys in the big fuzzy black hats and the red jackets who keep staring straight ahead, no matter what silly thing the tourist might be doing three feet in front of his face.
One look at the guy and we thought better of the idea. The mood of our little adventure shifted quickly and we got the hell out of there fast.
I also remember being told in school that we should cross the street any time we saw a mail box. In fact, stay away from mail boxes at all costs, they told us. It was many years before I learnt about incidents years earlier involving bombs exploding in mailboxes. Fear was starting to rear its ugly head.
The crises really hit home for us kids when we started hearing stories of other schools in the Montreal area being shut down due to bomb threats. No one was freaked out or afraid they were going to get all blowed up or anything like that. Far from it. All the focus was on the other end of the story.
We might actually get a couple of days off from school out of this deal!
I remember one kid on the school bus boastfully declaring that we would have no school the next day 'cause he was going to call in a bomb threat. Over the years my imagination has embellished that hypothetical phone call. The phone at the school board rings and then some voice that quite obviously sounds both seven years old and anglo declares, "I'm with the...um...QLF and I put a bomb in St.Charles Elementary School in Pierrefonds. Better cancel school tomorrow and...uh...maybe the whole week too 'cause I put lots and lots of bombs everywhere in the school. Um...vive...le...Quebec...or something...yeah!".
We had school the next day so I guess the little school bus boaster chickened out and never made the call. Otherwise, I'm sure his plan would have come off without a hitch.
I have heard more recently from reliable sources that the initial school bomb scare was, in fact, a hoax in itself.
Hmmm....maybe my old school bus pal was a little more clever than I thought.
- Terence Bowman
- Montreal, Quebec, Canada
- I am a Montreal-based actor, writer and comedian. When U.S. President John F. Kennedy was shot, I was three days old. I cried all day. My favourite books of all time are Moby Dick by Herman Melville, The Last Temptation by Nikos Kazantzakis and The Ewoks Fun Time Activity Book by Chirpa and Pamploo. I am a member of The Vestibules, On The Spot Improv and The Best Buy Battery Club. Except for the Battery Club, I've been at all this stuff for over 20 years. Enjoy my blog.