Globe and Mail - Canada
In taking on the chef who runs the famed Wildcat Cafe, Yellowknife's city council appears to have concocted a recipe for bringing Quebec-style language ...
In taking on the chef who runs the famed Wildcat Cafe, Yellowknife's city council appears to have concocted a recipe for bringing Quebec-style language politics to the Northwest Territories. In the process, it has given us the basis for a constitutional crise du jour.
The iconic eatery in Yellowknife's Old Town sports a log cabin veneer, rough wooden benches and floors, and a pedigree that harks back to the 1930s prospectors who founded it and the miners and bush pilots who made it a frontier landmark. The building was designated a heritage site in the early 1990s and it has been leased out by a municipal committee to licensed operators since reopening as a popular tourist destination in the late 1970s.
Le Wildcat Cafe, as it's now known, is currently run by a Quebec-born restaurateur. It serves up a northern repertoire of muskox sirloin, caribou burgers and, from personal experience, the best arctic char this side of anywhere. But the great northern food and ambience have been eclipsed by a language feud that brings the Constitution into play. It all turns on the French article "Le," which has been added to the historic name. The Yellowknife council wants it banished.
The chef's argument, as quoted in the news media, is that the council's demand amounts to discrimination. The council contends that it is merely out to do its duty in protecting the heritage of the site and of the region.
If the entire controversy seems to make a mountain out of the smallest mole hill, no one should underestimate the heights of constitutional theory that a certain other jurisdiction's linguistic battles have made us scale. Montrealers, or at least those over 30, will still recall the vanishing possessive on Eaton's stores in the 1980s, mandated by the ruthless Office québécois de la langue française as part of its rooting out of all things English on commercial signs under the infamous Bill 101.
When Quebec's sign law finally made it to the Supreme Court of Canada in 1988, the court had the opportunity to weigh two arguments - one by the challengers, disgruntled shopkeepers who felt unfairly targeted by this early Parti Québécois legislation, and another by the provincial government, which felt the need to preserve what it called the visage linguistique of the province.