When I was a teenager in Ottawa I discovered the Québécois rock group Harmonium, and fell in love. It was vinyl, of course, and I almost wore the grooves out listening, singing along, tasting that beautiful language as it ascended and descended through the chords. I thought Pour un Instant was the sweetest song I’d ever heard, and I envied those who truly understood the nuance in the words.
And then I came west.
Sometimes out here we forget that there are two official languages. In the West Kootenay we have an embarrassment of Anglophones, not to be confused with our embarrassment of riches when it comes to natural beauty and groovy people — some of whom are old and transplanted and formerly groovy enough to remember Harmonium.
L’Association des Francophones des Kootenays Ouest, or AFKO, reports some 600 to 700 members in the West Kootenay, and perhaps 2,000 Francophones (French as a first language) and Francophiles (non-native French speakers) in the region overall. AFKO, which just celebrated its 25th anniversary, offers great ways for those who embrace la belle langue to get together for education, recreation, and entertainment.
The Nelson library has embraced Canada’s other official language, too, with the help of the BC government’s Francophone Affairs Program. Thanks to a substantial matching grant, last year we purchased $6,000 worth of French language novels, graphic novels, MP3s, and nonfiction titles on a wealth of topics, as well as a great selection of children’s books en Français. Check out a selection on our central display, and then mosey on over to scope out the section.
We have French Canadian authors such as Marie-Célie Agnant and Jean-Pierre Charland; we have translations of popular fiction, from Miriam Teows to Dan Brown. Joseph Boyden’s biographical essay on Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont is brilliant in both languages and — yes — we have it en Français, aussi. We have Jean Vanier’s beautiful Notre vie Ensemble, and David Suzuki’s L’Équilibre Sacré. Kids can learn about the world of dinosaurs, or they can learn about le monde des dinosaures.
If your home renos are likely to go more smoothly when they aren’t lost in translation, check out Le Guide Complete du Bricolage et de la Rénovation. And if you’re up to your knees in drywall dust and could use a change of scene, we have the 2012 travel guide to Québec et Provinces Maritimes. Last time I checked, fresh lobster transcended language anyway, and I hear the poutine is better there.
Graphic novels are great for us Francophiles, for whom a picture can be worth a thousand unfamiliar words when you’re trying to learn — and they’re great for everyone who enjoys this relatively new literary phenomenon. Chantal Brodeur at the Francophone Affairs program has promised us a grant for 2012 as well, so you can watch this section and others — such as our French books on MP3 — grow.
I recently discovered that our chief librarian — my boss, June — attended a French language school when she was growing up in Saskatchewan. So when she fell in love with Harmonium, she understood all the words without even trying, but I’m so delighted to find someone equally amoureuse when it comes to the musical language of ma bande préférée, I’m not jealous. Love of language — any language — loves company, as Francophone Affairs, AFKO, and the Nelson Public Library know.
Anne DeGrace’s library column is featured in the Star every second Friday