Oscar Peterson is a Québécois

with 9 comments

Oscar Peterson Québécois

Two out of three participants in the AngryFrenchGuy’s Who is Nous? poll feel the late Oscar Peterson should be included in the definition of a Québécois. Both Francophones and Anglophones were split 50/50 on the issue but 100% of Allophones who answered did not hesitate to say Oscar Peterson is one of us.

It is interesting to note that in a previous poll 100% of Allophones said another former Montrealer, Leonard Cohen, was not a Québécois.

Oscar Peterson was born in Montreal in 1925. He grew up in Saint-Henri, a working class neighborhood that was mainly populated by the French-Canadian factory workers who worked along the Lachine Canal but also had small Irish and black pockets. Oscar Peterson’s father was a CN railways porter, one of the few professions available to black men at that time. St-Henri is situated right at the base of Mount-Royal and the massive mansions of Westmount, then Canada’s wealthiest municipality, towered directly above.

Other famous Montrealers from Saint-Henri include fellow jazz pianist Oliver Jones, the legendary strong man Louis Cyr, comedian Yvon Deschamps and the former Parti Québécois MNA and first female cabinet minister in Québec, Louise Payette.

Oscar Peterson Montreal

Oscar Peterson left Montreal in 1949 for the United States where he played with many of the greatest jazz musicians of his time. He lived his later years in Toronto where he was chancellor at York university and even considered for the position of Lt-Governor of Ontario.

Click on the picture above for a link to a rare Radio-Canada archive of Oscar Peterson speaking French and playing one of his most famous compositions: Place St-Henri.

Written by angryfrenchguy

February 11, 2008 at 11:04 am

9 Responses

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  1. Oh, yes AngryFrenchGuy, Oscar speaks a wonderful French.

    He must have learned to memorize the few lines of French he spoke on the video from the same person that taught Ronald Reagan the few lines of French he spoke when he visited Quebec City in the ’80s.

    Oscar so loved Quebec that he retired in Ontario, where he died last year.

    Tony Kondaks

    February 11, 2008 at 5:05 pm

  2. I don’t know if Oscar Peterson loved Québec or considered himself to be a Québécois. I don’t know if he answered my poll from heaven. Do they have the internet up there?

    I do know that a majority of those who did answer consider him to be Québécois, even though he doesn’t speak great French, even though he left Montreal in the 40’s, even though he lived his later life in Toronto.

    All that information is in plain English in my post.

    Tell me, Tony. Who thought you English? You might need a refresher…


    February 11, 2008 at 8:47 pm

  3. Tell us, AngryFrenchGuy, what was the size of your poll sampling?

    Tony Kondaks

    February 12, 2008 at 5:37 pm

  4. A record-breaking 6, that’s right 6, people were so bored that they took the AngryFrenchGuy’s Who is Nous? poll.

    What? Do I look like fucking Angus Reid?

    Aren’t you just a little constitutional Trekkie, Tony! You’re like a 12th level dungeon master of Canadian political trivia with no sense of humor.

    You should try out the porn, homie, it relaxes the muscles and takes your mind of the hate that causes cancer.


    February 12, 2008 at 10:40 pm

  5. agf,

    i once had the honour of meeting the man and photographing him by his Bösendorfer in his home in mississauga . i was so excited to meet him that i had to apologise for gripping his hand so enthusiastically. i still cringe when i think about the way i shook his beautiful hand.

    like me – he was not montréalais – but montréaliste!


    February 18, 2008 at 9:03 pm

  6. and you should show mr. t . some respect – he’s got his chops down in rational thought and empirical…. a rare commodity in the blogosphere.

    puhhh-leease. (s.v.p.)


    February 18, 2008 at 9:15 pm

  7. I myself was born in Montreal, Quebec and I am a black living in Toronto,Ontario….You won’t believe how long I have been searching for a clip that proves Oscar Peterson spoke French. I only wish he spoke it more in public. I am happy he recieved the National Order of Quebec and I hope a street in Montreal gets named after him to honour his legacy. If you look at Quebec from a linguistic/cultural point of view there are the First Nations (Innu, Inuit, Blackfoot etc.) that speak there own language along with French and English….., French Speaking Quebeckers (Quebecois:Habitants/Voyageur and “courier du bois”,original French Canadian settlers….MAJORITY IN LA BELLE PROVINCE) and English Speaking Quebeckers (Irish, Scottish, English, Blacks) and then the Allophones (Immigrants that help Quebec in all aspects as a province and ‘Canadian Unity’ but also slow down the Sovereignty movement)……Oscar Peterson is a English Speaking Quebecker…He could call himself a “Quebecois” , but with the constant use of this word as a provincial definition for those who come from the province or sovereigntist definition for nationalism sometimes its kind of hard to know when the word is used. Is he Quebecois in a national sense? (No) or a Quebecois/Quebecker in a provincial/Canadian sense (Yes)…just like how Joni Mitchell is a Saskatchewanian.

    Abraham Ahmed

    March 4, 2008 at 8:26 pm

  8. Oscar spoke French. I checked out that recording as well as some others that were available at the BN last year. In his era to pretend to speak French as a courtesy, was quite rare. His French wasn’t great, but you know what he was from Quebec. Period. All Quebecers should be proud of him. Now I’m a black anglo, but I hope our pride can transcend racial or linguistic lines. I’m proud of Gilles Ducceppe. When he said «tous les québecois et toutes les québecoises» I felt fantastic. I think Oscar would be included in there.

    Quebec’s identity is not some mythological project to be created in a future independent Quebec, but rather a culmination of its varied history, its diverse people, its complex experiences. All Quebecers are a part of that.

    Incidentally, Riopelle spent most of his adult life in France, but c’mon if your Parisian friend says “Riopelle was a great French painter.” You’ll, at the very least, remind your friend that Riopelle was a Quebecer/Canadian/Montrealer (depending on your identity situation) too.


    February 25, 2009 at 11:05 am

  9. Very interesting, thanks for the french-speaking Oscar video. I completely agree with the two comments above.


    October 28, 2009 at 10:36 pm

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