Black in Quebec City: Webster is Writing His Story

with 17 comments


The first record of a black man in Québec City was Mathieu Da Costa who traveled with the city’s founder Samuel de Champlain as early as 1604 or 1607.

For a city that sometimes seems to be all about history, Québec City sometimes has a short memory.  Just ask Aly N’Diaye a.k.a. Webster, who 400 years after Da Costa often feels like a stranger at home just because he’s black.

“This is where I’m from. My world is here. All the sons of immigrants are gone, to Montreal, Toronto or the States. We are first generation to say: fuck that! You’re not chasing us out! If we go it’s always the same pattern starting all over again.”

Webster is the son of a white mother and an Senegalese father. He studied History at Québec’s Laval university and with his cool lazy flow he is now passing down his knowledge to the kids of Québec City’s surprisingly vibrant hip hop scene. Everything in Québec City, it seems, is about History.

In his song Québec History X from his first solo album Sagesse Immobile (Still Wisdom) Webster raps about Da Costa, who spoke a variety of European and native languages and was employed as Champlain’s interpreter, and other forgotten blacks from Québec’s past, like the 10 000 slaves of New France. “There were blacks in New France. Slaves, but also free men. If that history was better known blacks in Québec would feel a whole lot more integrated.”.

The truth is Québec City has had many different faces over the years, from an Iroquoian village called Stadacona, the capital of New-France, an often very English city after the British conquest of 1763, a diverse and bustling port town and, after business and ship traffic moved upstream to Montreal, the sleepy and homogeneous French-speaking provincial capital of today.

Or should we say yesterday… Once again the city is being transformed by the arrival of new immigrants from Haïti, the Middle East and Africa.

Webster’s native Limoilou district is where Jacques Cartier spent the winter in 1535-36 and his day job is at the Parc National Cartier-Brébeuf commemorating the explorer’s encounter with local native populations. Today it’s a diverse neighborhood that he and his friends call L.Land. “In a bigger City like Montreal people tend to regroup culturally. In Québec City there it’s more mixed. In Limoilou, people of all races live together.”

Unlike in Montreal, language is actually not much of an issue in La Capitale Nationale. “When you arrive somewhere, you have to learn the language. In Québec City, to function, you need to learn French. That’s it.” Webster himself used to rap in English – his name comes from the English dictionary he used to carry around – but he switched to French in 1995. “The identity of Québec Hip Hop was starting to take shape at that time and I wanted to be part of it.”

In 2008 Québec City is celebrating the 400th anniversary of it’s foundation by Champlain. The event commemorates, depending on who you ask, the birth of Canada as a country, or Québec as a nation.

A true historian, Webster doesn’t want to take sides, on that issue or the eternal debate on Québec’s independence from Canada.

“I think the issue of independence is becoming obsolete. If it had to be done, it should’ve been done in the 1980’s. A country that wants it’s independence gets up and takes it. That’s all. If it happens, though, I will be happy from the historical point-of-vue. To see that live, from the inside. To live history. I’d love to see that.”

More interviews:

AngryFrenchguy talks to KRS-One and Alexis Wawanoloath

Written by angryfrenchguy

March 9, 2008 at 6:21 pm

17 Responses

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  1. Ask Aly how he likes to be segregated by the language of education provisions of Quebec’s Bill 101.

    Tony Kondaks

    March 10, 2008 at 11:15 am

  2. The only people who are segregated by bill 101 are anglophones.

    And I agree it’s wrong. Anglos should go to French school too.


    March 10, 2008 at 1:00 pm

  3. Actually, the only people segregated by Bill 101 are those that can’t go to English schools, such as most francophones and most allophones.

    Anglophones can freely choose to attend EITHER French or English publicly-funded schools.

    So it is not anglophones who are segregated but francophones and allophones.

    You’ve got it 180 degrees wrong, as usual, AngryFrenchGuy.

    Tony Kondaks

    March 10, 2008 at 2:01 pm

  4. Gosh, what will AngryFrenchGuy and his racist friends do if the Supreme Court of Canada upholds the judgement of the Quebec Court of Appeals and shoots down Bill 104?

    If Bill 104 loses, Bill 101 is effectively dead because all that immigrants and francophones will have to do to attend English schools in Quebec is to do Grade 1 in English in a private school and then they are free to do all the rest of their school in English.

    Tony Kondaks

    March 10, 2008 at 2:04 pm

  5. Sorry Tony.

    All the people of Québec go to the same schools. Only Anglos refused.

    Anglos talk about diversity and bilingualism, but in the end they demanded a “separate but equal” system.

    How do you call that again? Segragation? Apartheid?


    March 10, 2008 at 3:13 pm

  6. AngryFrenchGuy wrote:

    “Sorry Tony.

    “All the people of Québec go to the same schools. Only Anglos refused.”

    Not only did the French of Quebec insist upon separate Catholic schools for themselves but insisted even more that “les autres” NOT go to the same school as themselves.

    This is Quebec history. It is fact.

    Indeed, it was the anglo system that welcomed all the allophones, Blacks, Jews, and anyone else that wanted to, to come into our school system. Those that were rejected by the French system.

    Only a hateful racist could attempt to rewrite history.

    Tony Kondaks

    March 10, 2008 at 3:57 pm

  7. Well, actually Tony, there are a few things that English Canadians don’t have to be proud of either.

    There was quotas for Jews at McGill University up until the 50s I believe and McGill is an English institution.

    As davidg, the guy who screams racisme each time he has a chance has it right on McKenzie King, the prime minister of the 30s of Canada who said speaking about Jews trying to escape the Nazi regime has Hitler himself asked them to do that that “None is too many.”

    While Adrien Arcand was French Canadian as the leader of the Bloc Populaire, he was partially financed by the Conservative party who sought alliance with Arcand and his fellow kinsmen.

    Anyhow, the point is not to say which community has the biggest scar in its “racism”, “discrimination” or “antisemetism” record but the point is to say that in each society, there is a bunch of wako racists and there is a whole bunch of good people too.

    Unfortunately, usually, they are too busy writing on blogs or they don’t want to take the risk of being labelled racist when someone really frustrated happens to disagree with you.


    Tym Machine

    Tym Machine

    March 10, 2008 at 4:26 pm

  8. Anyhow, I agree that since racism is not as fashionable as it should be that lots of people are attempting to rewrite history.

    As Goebells and Staline used to say each in his own diffent words: Tell a lie really often and it becomes an accepted beyond any shad of doubt truth.

    Tym Machine

    March 10, 2008 at 4:29 pm

  9. oups I wanted to say as it used to be…

    Tym Machine

    March 10, 2008 at 4:29 pm

  10. Actually, Tym Machine, I’d be more than happy to stick with the present and the laws that are CURRENTLY on the books and restrict my discussion to that but it was AngryFrenchGuy who invoked the past.

    Tony Kondaks

    March 10, 2008 at 7:32 pm

  11. […] AngryFrenchguy talks to Webster […]

  12. Usually those who win write the story. That’s the problem. Try to read a history of Canada by english speaking historian ? Painful experience with certain biaised historians. You should ask American Blacks what they think about George Washington or Thomas Jefferson ? Or Mexicans what they think about loosing half their country stolen by the US ?

    Marc Authier

    April 11, 2008 at 6:43 am

  13. […] years later, listening to Aly N??Diaye a.k.a. Webster talk, you almost feel as if being black in de Champlain – Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaSamuel de Champlain, c. 1567 – 1635 the […]

    samuel de champlain

    May 9, 2008 at 2:40 pm

  14. […] family tree has roots who back to those first French settlers, as pure as Gregory Charles, Aly N’Diaye, Normand Brathwaite and Donald […]

  15. I’m an African American novelist and journalist who’ll be traveling to Québec City (tomorrow!) on an unrelated travel story, but would also like to explore the city black community — such as it is — and possibly write about it. Any contacts that anyone out there can provide in contacting Webster, other black Québeceers (is that how you say it), events, and institutions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.


    July 24, 2008 at 6:28 am

  16. Hi Sandra!

    Did you ever go, and how was it?


    September 17, 2008 at 1:57 pm

  17. Gee, That was no help on my homework, but thanks for adding the little information on Mathieu Da Costa!


    September 22, 2009 at 4:23 pm

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