In a spirit of recognizing accomplishments and commitment to strengthen Quebec’s English-speaking community, many of its leaders, advocates, and friends gathered last month to celebrate.
The mood was upbeat as activists, among the 47 member organizations of the Quebec Community Groups Network met over dinner to honour winners of the eighth annual Sheila and Victor Goldbloom Distinguished Service Award and the Young Quebecers Leading the Way Award.
This year’s winners are Townshippers’ Association president Gerald Cutting featured on p.5 of this issue, community volunteer Miriam Green featured in our anniversary edition last month, and jazz pianist Oliver Jones, our cover story, while Roma advocate Dafina Savic, featured on p.3 of this issue, won the Young Quebecers prize.
Global TV anchor Elysia Bryan-Baynes paid tribute to the winners for “making a real difference in the lives of English speaking Quebecers.”
She described the late Victor Goldbloom, who created the prize with his wife Sheila, as “an inspiration to our community.”
The pediatrician, Liberal politician and first Jewish cabinet member in the province, Commissioner of Official Languages Commissioner, and lifelong bridge-builder among linguistic and religious communities, died in February at 92.
In a written tribute, the QCGN praised Goldbloom for having been “a pillar of wisdom, faith, certitude, calm and, above all, enormous accomplishment.”
Sheila Goldbloom, who attended with her son Jonathan, thanked the QCGN for “each year playing a more important role in the total community.”
Its member organizations have developed more skills in talking to each other and to all of Quebec, she noted, emphasizing the advantages of a two-language country.
“We have to build a Canada that has two official languages and understand that we can live together in that way, and neither will be lessened by having it – you will be stronger if you take part,” Goldbloom said.
Official Languages Commissioner Graham Fraser was in the audience – he has described his role as “part cheerleader, part nag” – and Baynes praised him for “forcefully advocating that Quebec’s English speaking community be seen as part of two official language communities in Canada, and that federal institutions recognize our national status.”
QCGN’s formal tribute said Fraser showed “unwavering dedication to evidence-based policy development” and “will be lionized for his role in obtaining full recognition for Quebec’s English-speaking community.”
“The Quebec English speaking community has changed in 50 years – it is now more bilingual than the majority, more involved than ever in Quebec life,” Fraser said.
Listening in the audience were Quebec Opposition Leader Jean-François Lisée, newly elected as leader of the Parti Québécois, several members of the Quebec Liberal caucus, including Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil, and MP Frank Baylis (Pierrefonds-Dollard), representing Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly.
A special tribute was offered to the late federal Liberal MP Mauril Bélanger (Ottawa Vanier), 61, who died after losing his battle with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) as he attempted to get the House of Commons to agree to a gender-neutral version of O Canada. The QCGN said he was “a treasured friend, an ally of rare strategic acumen, a consummate patriot, and a tower of strength and understanding.”
The highlight of the evening was the award ceremony. The winners were described as having “steadfast commitments, which have made them more confident, more creative, and more courageous in their undertaking.”
Gerald Cutting said that when the early settlers, French and English, developed the Eastern Townships, “we learned to live together… to be able to create partnerships.”
Looking ahead, Cutting said the English speaking community has to work toward “becoming not just a minority, [but] a full participating partner at the decision-making table.”
Green, the first woman to head a regional social service agency in Quebec, veteran volunteer community organizer and chairperson of the Queen Elizabeth Health Complex, said a plaque at its radiology unit thanks the Goldblooms for “help and inspiration” in transforming the former hospital.
Pianist Oliver Jones, 82, said he is looking forward to winding down his public performing career, with eight concerts to go, but then will focus on promoting Canadian artistic talent.
“There is an abundance of talent here, I want to continue to help our young musicians and singers, be it in classical, jazz – even hip hop,” he said, laughing.
After traveling the world eight times, Jones says he’s certain “there is no place like right here, at home, in Montreal.”
Dafina Savic, 27, who won the youth award, said she does not regard herself as a leader because “change has yet to be attained” for members of the Roma community who continue to suffer persecution and discrimination, internationally, including in Canada.
“Under the previous government, Roma were designated as bogus refugees, in spite of the fact they were a persecuted people,” she said, pledging to continue her work.