Quebec Studies

Strategy and Vision for an Intercultural New Brunswick in the Recent Poetry of Herménégilde Chiasson and the Translation of Jo-Anne Elder

Quebec Studies (2010), 50, (1), 97–112.

Abstract

97 Strategy and Vision for an Intercultural New Brunswick in the Recent Poetry of Herménégilde Chiasson and the Translation of Jo-Anne Elder Tony Tremblay St. Thomas University While New Brunswick is often thought to be unique in Canada for its bilin­ gual character, its true nature consists of bilingualism without interculturalism, a paradox not lost on Fred Cogswell, the province's leading literary translator in the second half of the twentieth century. "In no other Cana­ dian province," wrote Cogswell in 1967, "is the ratio of English to French speaking peoples so even; nevertheless, in New Brunswick, these balanced elements form a mixture not a compound" (20). Cogswell's observation still holds true forty years later. The province remains a model of nineteenth-century biculturalism, a working détente in which two linguistically different settler societies legislate the division of political and economic power so that members of both are equitably served. Its biculturalism, then, is essentially a truce maintained by equitable divi­ sion, the legislated face of which was set by the Royal Commission on Bi­ lingualism and Biculturalism in the late 1960s. Based on that Commission's central-Canadian view that harmonious co-existence was to be favored over bolder pluralist or intercultural aims, biculturalism in Canada (and certainly New Brunswick) has always been more formally bureaucratic than functionally cultural. Nino Ricci's recent biography of Pierre Trudeau makes that point clear once again (185-87). In this essay I will describe the structural conditions of biculturalism in New Brunswick in an effort to understand some of the factors that con­ tinue to impede intercultural awareness across English and French language lines in the province. In particular, I will examine the recent collaborations of Acadian poet Herménégilde Chiasson and anglophone translator JoAnne Elder as preparing the ground for the emergence of interculturalism in New Brunswick, Canada's only officially bilingual province. To some extent the adoption of a bicultural détente in Canada was preordained, at least as a starting position, for the Royal Commission's "two nations/two solitudes" approach to bicultural nation-building stemmed from an earlier colonial bias that had become fixed in the Canadian ethos — and was certainly writ large in the early Maritime literature of T.C. Haliburton and Thomas McCulloch. Given later credence by the Canada First and other imperial movements that sought to narrow and fix dominances in the Canadian psyche (Berger 49), the bias held that a society had to be one thing or the other: if not homogeneous then harmoniously diverse. Diversity worked, in other words, as long as difference was managed for appease­ ment, and as long as competing imperialisms didn't threaten. As one of Haliburton's characters observed about a tenuous Canadian nationhood 1 2 Québec Studies, Volume 50, Fall 2010/Winter 2011

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Tremblay, Tony