Pure Laine is an English Word

with 143 comments

pure laine again

Just about as long as I’ve had this blog I’ve been using Google Alerts, a service that notifies you whenever some word or words of your choice pops up anywhere on the Internet.  I’ve been using to cover the AngryFrenchBeat, monitoring what’s being said about Québec, Montréal and Beyoncé on the Web.

One of the words I’ve been keeping track of for a few months is Pure Laine.  According to wikipedia, Pure Laine is “a politically and culturally charged phrase referring to the people having original ancestry of the French-Canadians.”  Apparently, at least according to Sun Media columnist Micheal Den Tendt, “many “pure-laine” Quebecers have always believed — that they, the descendants of original French settlers, are the only true Quebecois.”

The concept of the Pure Laine (or Pur Laine, I track the two spellings) was at the center of the infamous Jan Wong controversy.  In 2006 she wrote in the Globe & Mail about the Dawson College shooter Kimveer Gill: “the perpetrator was not pure laine, the argot for a ‘pure’ francophone. Elsewhere, to talk of racial ‘purity’ is repugnant. Not in Quebec.”

Well, it seems the English Canadian media has been doing a little bit of projection, here.   In the six months or so that I’ve been tracking the use of Pure Laine on the Internet, the racial purity of the Québécois has been an EXCLUSIVELY English-Canadian preoccupation.

The term Pure Laine came up in 56 english-language web pages, that’s more than twice as often as it’s use on french-language websites.

In thirty-seven cases – that’s 70% of the time – Pure Laine is used in English to describe the Québécois of Franco-Catholic ancestry.  This seems to be a very important concept in the English-canadian worldview.  Whenever Québec, canadian politics or language is discussed, the Pure Laine come up.  Not the Québécois as a civic nation.  Not French-speakers as a linguistic group.  Pure Laine Québécois as an ethnic group.  The Québécois as a race.

Of course, the people using the the term Pure Laine deny being the ones preocupied by the ethnic purity of the Québécois.  Nearly a third of the uses of Pure Laine were by people who felt they could state with absolute authority that “Pure laine is what some francophones from Quebec like to call themselves to state that they have pure, undiluted French blood and that they can trace their lineage all the way back to the original settlers who sailed over from France in the 1600’s”

What do bloggers know, you say?  Well one of them (one of only three english-language sources who challenged the ‘fact’ of Québec’s preoccupation with ethnic purity) kindly dug up a quote from some Calgary West Reform Party MP called Stephen Harper who, back in 1995, declared in the House of Commons: “Obviously, given the ethnic and sociocultural make-up of modern Quebec society, only the pure laine Quebecois could arguably be considered a people.”

Whatever happened to Stephen Harper?

In both English and French, Pure Laine has entered the vocabulary as a synonym for ‘true’, ‘old school’ or, more appropriatly, ‘dyed-in-the-wool’.  It came up to describe “Pure Laine Montrealers“, “Pure Laine federalists“, “Pure Laine proletarians“, and even Paul McCartney’s “Pure Laine Heterosexuality“.  In French the concept of “Pure Laine Shawin”  – as in the good people of Shawinigan, the home of former Prime minister and savior of Canadian federalism Jean Chrétien – came up no less than four times…

Such use of Pure Laine accounted for one third of the 25 times the word came up in French.  It was also used 33% of the time to discuss the Québécois, and another 33% of the time to describe – get this – WOOL.

In French, the term Pure Laine was used 8 times to describe people of ‘white-french-catholic-north-americans-of-franco-french‘ ancestry.  Five of those who used the word, however, would not be considered Pure Laine themselves by that definition…

The word is used, for example, in the journal Voir in a review of a book by Senegal-born comedian and marine biologist (yep.) Boucar Diouf about, precisely, the different prejudice and misunderstandings held by the Québécois, “Pure Laine and also immigrant”.

Imam Abou Hammaad Sulaiman Dameus Al-Hayiti, a black Québécois convert to a radical strand of Islam who’s been in the news lately, uses it to defend himself in La Presse against accusations of racism and hate speech.  His mother and grand-mother, he reminded the journalist, are Pure Laine.

Kim Myung-Sook uses the term Pure Laine to describe herself in her fascinating blog about the identity crisis of the children of massive international adoption who are just now coming of age all over the western world.  “Rejected/Sold by Korea.  Bought/assimilated by the Québécois.  I am a transracial adoptee, a reject of korean society recycled into a Québécoise Pure Laine with the appearance of an asian.  Ex-Korean, false Korean, Korean assimilated by the Québécois.”

“Un show Québécois Pure Laine” is also used as a caption to a picture of hip hop crew Loco Locass (who’s members are not all, as a matter of fact, Pure Laine) and as the theme of a series of videos by comedian Guy Nantel.  Whether Nantel’s objective was the glorification of the Pure Laines’ racial superiority, I’ll let you be the judge of that…

As for examples of Pure Laine Québécois claiming Pure Laine-ness, exalting the purity of their roots and the special privilege that comes or should come with the ability to trace one’s ancestors to Samuel de Champlain and his crew, not a single one.  Pas un.  Nada.  Zéro.

That definition of Pure Laine, it seems, is a purely English-language concept…

Written by angryfrenchguy

January 11, 2009 at 5:27 pm

143 Responses

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  1. @JOL

    Sounds like a good party to me..

    Hell, I might even come and buy a round for all..

    The Monkland bar sounds good, not far from where I will be staying..and a few anlgos so I wont lose my way.

    What about it AGF?? Sound like fun.

    Lets get to know each other one on one…I might even try to speak broken french…Of course, watch out for madam.

    GCL, Acajcak, and all would be welcome. Even the so called trolls.

    A fete pour le blog de AFG..



    January 16, 2009 at 11:44 pm

  2. OK, but I warn you that I might turn out to be a 12-year-old girl from Halifax.


    January 17, 2009 at 10:23 am

  3. OK, but I warn you that I might turn out to be a 12-year-old girl from Halifax.

    No problem, there is a Ben and Jerry’s just down the street.


    January 17, 2009 at 6:01 pm

  4. @ABP

    J’acheterais comme vous m’avez conseillé la maison à l’est de Saint Dennis, c’est certaine, mais je ne “réponderais jamais à personne en anglais.

    J’attenderais simplement le “switch” en revers.

    Les banlieux seront trop plat pour moi!

    Si nécessaire je prendrais le métro pour y aller et y fréquenter les centres d’achats de ces faubourgs “suburbaines” pour practiquer le français si les gens de centreville ou le plateau n’ont pas l’envie de parler avec moi.

    Pis, si une “fixe” d’anglais devenait la chose dont j’étais saissi, un besoin assez déséspéré, je pourrais m’échapper, surreptieusement, à Westmount pour un après-midi avec du thé et des ‘crompettes’ anglaises. Bonne solution!

    Merci trente-six fois à vous, ABP, de cette suggestion d’une telle brillante sorte! Vous êtes si gentil!

    Mais je vous rassure, ABP, je resterai quand-même surtout, un bon Canadien.


    January 18, 2009 at 12:59 am

  5. @ all of you,

    I’m not sure I know you guys well enough to come over and get plastered in the “fave” local tavern.

    And I certainly don’t want to be a “found-in” with some 12 year old girl from Halifax!

    Also, … PSSSST …. about the…(sssh!) … language police — what if une parole anglaise should escape my lips at the pub — how heavy would the resultant fine be? Or the term dans la détention rémédiale corrective indeterminée? …like…(yike) ….vingt ans maximal?

    Spend “Hard time” breaking rocks?

    Put in the stocks pour que la foule puisse me jetter des tomates?

    I still have a kid in college you know.


    January 18, 2009 at 1:13 am

  6. @ Edward,
    You’re grounded young lady! Hanging out with a bunch of men discussing politics and then going to a bar! Really…just, just go to your room, I don’t even want to look at you right now. Look at how you’re upsetting your mother.

    @ bruce,
    PMDR…I love how you are waay more worried about the consequences of speaking English than about the consequences of meeting some people at a bar and a 12 year old showing up. ^^ If you start speaking English, the language police will not hang you in stocks, but I have a feeling that, without missing a beat, AFG will continue in French. Whether you switch back is up to you.


    January 18, 2009 at 9:17 am

  7. @Acajack,

    Merveilleux, Tu l’auras bientôt!

    Aaaah! .. ah, ah, ah, ah ah, .. ha, .. ha, .. ha, ha, ha,,, pa.. pa, pa pa, pa .. papa, pa.. pa pa, …

    pa, papa pa pa , pa papa pa pa ….


    Une fois encore!

    (Work on your phrasing a bit more and you’ll have it! — your first attempt (15Jan 10;09 above) wasn’t bad though!)

    Chante plus!


    January 18, 2009 at 9:23 am

  8. @Nom,

    Quoi? Moi inquiète? MDR encore! Quelle bonne jolie blaque!


    January 18, 2009 at 9:30 am

  9. To rosy, greenie, sweetie, Franco adoring Bruce.
    ABP is right. And do not forget to apply for welfare as soon as you move to Quebec. This is a normal way of life here.


    January 18, 2009 at 10:45 am

  10. LOL

    Billy Bob

    January 18, 2009 at 6:26 pm

  11. Thanks for the link :)

    I’m surprised that so few Anglo bloggers weren’t aware that ethnicity and identity are complex things in Quebec – as they are pretty much everywhere else.


    January 19, 2009 at 6:59 am

  12. Well, to think that anyone is a “pure” descendant of any group is ludicrous.


    January 21, 2009 at 12:15 am

  13. True. And identity is about so much more than ancestry anyway.


    January 21, 2009 at 3:30 pm

  14. “In the six months or so that I’ve been tracking the use of Pure Laine on the Internet, the racial purity of the Québécois has been an EXCLUSIVELY English-Canadian preoccupation.”

    If you track the word “Apartheid” for 6 months on the Internet you might come to the conclusion that it was not of South African origin. I remember the term being controversial well before 2006.

    Have you considered that it has left common usage in French discourse lately because they are embarrassed about it. I first heard of the term from French sovereignist politicians in the last millennium.

    Snake Oil Baron

    February 7, 2009 at 7:09 pm

  15. […] (Pure) Laine: The most commonly used word in the English language to designate the Them.  The notion of purity is part of the Lord of the Rings or Star Wars […]

  16. Found this post through a search for the phrase in question, and read the comments with interest. Thanks, Grant, for a reasoned and interesting rebuttal — it’s a bit sad that nobody ever got back to rebutting that with something more than the “Anglo media calls Quebecers Nazis” canard (which nobody seems to be able to dig up any concrete proof of either).


    July 10, 2009 at 1:49 pm

  17. I very much enjoyed you’re blog as it definitely gave an enlightening aspect for today’s general view.
    I very much agree with what you say on a more contemporary basis even though you wrote this a couple of years ago, I’m sure not too many people in our modern society would be at all proud of “ethnic dominance” in any way, shape or form.
    However I do not believe this to be so true in a historical sense, and I also know that this was not fully looked at in your blog but it should still be considered.
    Anyone who lived through the rapid changes of Quebec’s society especially in the later half of 20th century can most likely recall one or even three horror stories in which not being “pure laine” negatively effected them on some level, even myself who is still mostly Francophone but is still Mic Mac and Anglophone in heritage. Clearly this was not the mentality for everyone as it wouldn’t make sense but this still existed in certain areas and unfortunately this aspect of Quebec’s society in the end prevented much progress for themselves in many ways let alone negatively influenced the early materialization of the Quebec we see today.
    This word was definitely used frequently amongst the Francophone community at one point in time so I, in the end, disagree with your statement of this expression being “an English word”.
    I do agree however that it does seem more and more evident how the English media still holds on to it as if to say the mentality still strongly exists in Quebec when in fact it doesn’t so much anymore…if at all.


    May 24, 2011 at 5:31 am

  18. Lying schmuck. The expression ‘pure laine’ is in constant use throughout French Quebec. A French language google search confirms what everyone knows; it’s you’re problem if you rely on a broken tool like google alerts. And *of course* Québecois racists are not preoccupied with their racism. Why would they be? They just dish it out; they don’t have to take it.

    Quebec racism is a daily agony for those who live it, and anyone who cares to find out about minority experiences knows this. Nor does it take much caring; the racism isn’t concealed. It is hard to conceive what twisted psychology would produce the massive dishonesty you’re retailing here.

    Mark Norman

    May 20, 2012 at 10:05 am

  19. There were estimated 2,600 couples (including les “filles de roi’) to settle the Quebec colony. Inbreeding was rampant obviously.

    There were other choices though. Many original french settlers chose native (cree etc.) brides and the new generation became the Metis. Then Irish and Jewish and other immigrants came and there started being a lot more choices of mates.

    Only the xenophobic clan-minded settlers did not stray from the original settler pool. They continued breeding with the already inbred generation of settlers. These are the “pur laines” it’s not a fantasy…it is history.

    Not to cause a stir…but their stupidity is directly related to their inbreeding.


    December 5, 2012 at 8:47 pm

  20. A stronger matdane to speak to whom about what? If Harper keeps poking his nose in provincila jurisdiction like cap and trade, bitumen and health care he is in for a rude awakening.


    January 5, 2014 at 10:55 am


    I am old enough to remember well the original expression as it was used back in the 50’s and 60’s: it was always “CANADIEN PURE LAINE”, never québécois.

    And yes, it referred to French and Catholic backgrounds, butit was not at all pejorative to other ethnic groups.

    Let me remind to all that French speaking people in the St. Lawrence valley has called themselves “Canadiens” since 1670, living already in a French country called Canada,long before the British Conquest. For 200 years they kept calling themselves Canadiens before turning (recently) to Québécois.


    November 18, 2014 at 7:15 pm

  22. My family is half francophone, and half anglophone. And I have only heard the anglophone side use the word “pure laine,” and it’s always used to validate a media article about how the Quebec or francophone “race” is more racist than the normal anglo non-race.

    Anglo media does this because accusing THEM of racism is a normal tactic when you’re at war with another people. And the Anglos need constant war to give them a mission to replace the culture they unfortunately don’t have.


    June 27, 2015 at 12:09 pm

  23. I’ve heard the term ‘pure laine’ far too many times since I’ve moved here. In comparison with the west coast of Canada, the québécois are much more racist. Not everyone, but as a recent immigrant it’s quite noticeable. In 6 weeks I’ve encountered too many situations to think otherwise.

    As a bilingual Anglo, I’ve had great relations with the muslims here. It seems the immigrants are sticking together. It is a great opportunity to get to know people who are open to being friends with other cultures.

    Whenever I hear the term pure laine, I think of fleecing, since that is what is done with sheep. The Quebec government is fleecing all of us, both immigrant and ‘pure laine’.

    Quebec and Alabama have much in common these days.

    New to Quebec, and thinking of leaving

    August 23, 2019 at 2:47 pm

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