Une épopée des plus brillants exploits

I grew up in Ste. Rose du Lac, a vil­lage with a strong French pop­u­la­tion. From grade 1 to grade 9, I rode the bus 20 min­utes every morn­ing and every evening1 in order to attend school at École Lau­ri­er, a French immer­sion school in the near­by vil­lage of Lau­ri­er. There I learned to par­lez en français, and all my class­es (with the obvi­ous excep­tion of Eng­lish) were taught in French. I learned my frac­tions in French, I learned about weath­er­ing and ter­mi­nal moraines and drum­lins en français, I learned about Louis Riel2 and the Métis and the plains of Abra­ham in French. Even at recess we were sup­posed to con­verse in French. We did­n’t, but the teach­ers super­vis­ing would pre­tend not to under­stand if we tried to speak to them in Eng­lish.3

I learned the Lord’s prayer in French. I learned my nation­al anthem en français, too; in fact, it was years before I learned it in Eng­lish. (Lat­er I learned that the French ver­sion is the orig­i­nal, and the Eng­lish words cur­rent­ly in use — not a trans­la­tion of the orig­i­nal, but a dif­fer­ent anthem — were writ­ten over a quar­ter-cen­tu­ry after the ver­sion that I learned, and still treasure.)

On Remem­brance Day, which is, of course, today, there’s a stan­za in the French anthem that res­onates with great power:

Car ton bras sait porter l’épée
Il sait porter la croix

En anglais, rough­ly, it means:

Because you under­stand the sword,
You also under­stands the cross

You can’t have war with­out casu­al­ties. You can’t have con­flict with­out cost. You can’t have the sword and not expect fields of cross­es, shot through with poppies.



  1. My dad worked out the mileage once. I’ve been around the world twice on a school bus. 
  2. When you go to a French immer­sion school run by a Catholic ex-nun, the pan­theon goes Dieu, Jésus, l’e­sprit saint, Louis Riel, pape Jean-Paul II, et tout le reste
  3. Unless you had, say, a scalp wound or an obvi­ous­ly bro­ken arm.