March of the Language Police (or La Police de Langue)

When the separatist Parti Québécois took power in the province in 1976, it wasted no time in attempting to make Québec unilingual. Bill 101 made French the provincial government’s sole official language and sharply restricted the use of other languages in education and commerce. While the party’s fortunes have fallen and risen and fallen, the primacy of Française has remained.

In the early days, agents of L’Office de la Langue Française, the French Language Police, fanned out across the territory, scouring the landscape for linguistic insults to the state and her people. merry christmas signs were removed from storefronts. About 20 percent of the population spoke English as a primary language, and they instantly felt like second-class citizens. Francophones responded that it was about time they knew what second-class citizenship felt like.


Affected, too, was the food world. By fiat and threat of punishment, hamburgers became hambourgeois and hot dogs were rechristened chiens chaud. And Schwartz’s Montréal Hebrew Delicatessen, one of the city’s fixtures since 1928? Its exterior sign now reads “Chez Schwartz: Charcuterie Hébraïque de Montréal.”

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