Oscar Peterson is a 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 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.