The Halifax Explosion and Au Revoir to Hi: The Canada Letter

Its co-producers, Linda Campbell and Jim McDermott, both deaf, are filmmaking neophytes. Ms. Campbell is a professor of environmental science at St. Mary’s University in Halifax and Mr. McDermott teaches in the deaf studies program at Nova Scotia Community College.

Ms. Campbell said in an email that they started out to make a 10-minute short after attending a workshop in Halifax led by Catherine MacKinnon, the director of the Toronto International Deaf Film and Arts Festival. But the story and their ambition grew.

The film is subtitled for viewers who don’t know American Sign Language, which is used in interviews and narration. Ms. Campbell said in an email that some hearing audience members have told her “that the lack of sound really changed the experience for them, making it much more immersive.”


Military re-enactors in World War I uniforms at a ceremony on Wednesday marking the centennial of the Halifax explosion.Credit Ian Austen/The New York Times

As well, Ms. Campbell wrote that Shawn Beckwith, the film’s editor, took the producers’ advice “about editing in ‘A.S.L. rhythm’ as opposed to Canadian English editing patterns.”

The film also reveals another aspect of Halifax’s deaf community. The subtitles sometimes indicate that someone is speaking in Maritime Sign Language. Ms. Campbell, an Albertan by birth, said that M.S.L. is little known outside Atlantic Canada, even among deaf people. She learned it after moving to Nova Scotia from Ontario 11 years ago and now must remind herself to switch back to A.S.L. when traveling.

The film will be making the rounds of festivals in Canada and the United States next year. Catch it if it comes to your community.

Read: Century After Halifax’s Great Explosion, City Marks Anniversary


From Dan Bilefsky, who began reporting for the Times from Montreal this week:


Downtown Montreal viewed from a lookout on Mont Royal.Credit Yannick Grandmont for The New York Times

When I came of age in Quebec in the 1980s, the province was being buffeted by a Catalan-style referendum on independence, and business was fleeing. French Quebecers were agitating to uphold their right to live in French. Stop signs across Montreal were painted over by vandals to say “Stop 101,” a reference to Bill 101, a law strengthening the French language in Quebec

Today, many young Québécois switch effortlessly between French and English, French Canadian rappers perform in English and French; and separatism is largely in retreat. The top official in Quebec, the Liberal party’s Philippe Couillard, recently appealed to Anglo-Quebecers who fled the province to “please come home!”

Nevertheless, nearly three decades after I left, it only took me a few days back in Montreal to see that the culture wars of the past are far from dead. Barely had I set foot on Canadian soil before the province’s legislature passed a resolution calling on merchants to say “Bonjour” instead of the hybrid “Bonjour-Hi,” the quintessentially Montreal bilingual greeting. It had an eerie sense of deja-vu. Judging by the backlash against the move — and the backlash against the backlash — these questions of identity politics are here to stay.

Lorsque j’ai eu 18 ans dans les années 80, la belle province venait de tenir un référendum sur l’indépendance, comme l’a fait la Catalogne dernièrement, et les entreprises fuyaient vers Toronto. Les Québécois francophones se battaient pour le droit de vivre en français. Des vandales repeignaient «stop 101» sur des panneaux d’arrêts à travers Montréal, une référence à la loi 101 qui faisait du français la langue officielle au Québec.

Aujourd’hui, plusieurs jeunes Québécois n’ont pas de complexe à passer du français à l’anglais. Les rappeurs québécois chantent en «franglais», et l’appui à l’indépendance est en déclin. Le premier ministre Philippe Couillard invite même les Anglo-Québécois qui ont fui la province à y revenir.

Trois décennies après mon départ, je n’aurai toutefois eu besoin que de quelques jours à Montréal pour constater que le débat linguistique est loin d’être derrière nous. Je débarquais tout juste de l’avion que l’Assemblée nationale du Québec adoptait une motion appelant les commerçants à dire «Bonjour» au lieu de l’hybride «Bonjour, hi», salutation bilingue typiquement montréalaise. Quelle impression de déjà-vu! Si je me fie aux réactions que cette motion a suscitées, et aux réactions aux réactions, je crois que le débat sur l’identité québécoise est là pour rester.

Read: Quebec Tries to Say Au Revoir to ‘Hi,’ and Hello to ‘Bonjour’

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Lire: Le Québec Veut Dire Au Revoir à «Hi» et Salut à «Bonjour».



President Vladimir Putin with Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.Credit Mikhail Klimentyev/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Rebecca R. Ruiz, a sportswriter at The Times, and Michael Schwirtz, an investigative reporter who previously worked in Moscow, get the credit for exposing Russia’s systematic doping program last year. This week, that led to the country’s expulsion from the upcoming Winter Olympic Games. As a follow-up to that decision Ms. Ruiz has come up with a fascinating guide to gaming the system, Russia style.

The absence of Russia has already prompted speculation that Canada will see big medal gains at the Winter Olympics—the ones that matter most to Canadians. Before getting too excited, however, it’s worth reading this analysis of what the ban actually means by the always well-informed Jeré Longman.

Read: How Russia Cheats

Read: Russia Banned From Winter Olympics by I.O.C.

Read: Did Russia Get Off Easy in Olympic Ban? Read the Fine Print

A Long Road

James G. Robinson, the director of global analytics at The New York Times, and his wife were confronted by all parents’ worst fear: the death of a young child.

To cope with the loss, the couple and their two other sons took a month-long “crazy road trip” across the United States. “Because all I really wanted was to get away, preferably at 65 miles an hour,” Mr. Robinson wrote.

His moving account of the trip appears in Travel.

Read: Road to Recovery

Canadian Comment of The Week

From the list of most popular comments on a Times article by a Canadian this week, here is “D.S.S.” from Ottawa on President Trump’s plan to shrink two national monuments in Utah by about two million acres:

“Even if there were lots of money guaranteed to fix the drilling and mining sites that will be disfigured, it would never be the same. So no matter what they say, some areas of the country should remain untouched, period.”


The Times’s Reader Center, which is a key way for you and all readers to connect with the newsroom, is looking for dedicated readers-listeners-viewers to nominate themselves for membership in The New York Times Reader Center Facebook community. All the details are here. You do not have to be a subscriber (much as we hope you’ll subscribe) and the deadline is Dec. 20.

Apply: The New York Times Reader Center Facebook community

Big Screen, Little Screens

The approaching holidays means the arrival of lists looking back over the past year. The Times’s two chief film critics, Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott, have ranked their favorite films.


Clockwise from top left: “Wild,” “Bright” and “Halt and Catch Fire.”Credit Fox Searchlight Pictures; Netflix; AMC

And my colleagues at Watching have produced their monthly guide to Netflix offerings in Canada.

Read: The Best Movies of 2017

Read: The Best Movies and TV Shows New on Netflix Canada in December

Continuing Challenge

Last week we launched a challenge to see if readers of the Canada Letter can encourage more new subscribers to sign up for it than readers of the Australia Letter, by Jan. 1.

We’re off to a roaring start but victory is far from assured. Although the newsletters’ release dates gave Australia a head start, we’re ahead on sheer numbers. As of Thursday, the Canada Letter had gained 1,689 new subscribers compared to just 864 sign ups for that other newsletter.

But the judges, my bosses, are also going to look at the growth rate. On that basis, Australia grew by 3.36 percent compared to 2.42 percent for Canada.

So work remains if we are to salvage the nation’s pride in this Commonwealth competition. Please encourage your family, your friends, even people you make not really like, to sign up for the newsletter here. Be sure to tell them that it’s free.

And remember that an individual prize will be awarded to the reader who sends the most entertaining, amusing, telling or dramatic tale about signing up new subscribers to [email protected].

Sign Up: Subscribe to Canada Letter

Centre Ice

The Canadian Women’s Hockey League went very far afield for its expansion: to China. A recent game between Kunlun Red Star and the Toronto Furies drew 1,850 spectators to the Shenzhen Universiade Sports Center and another 14,000 online viewers.

A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported about Canada for The New York Times for over a decade. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten. Remember: we have until New Year’s Eve to beat Australia.

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