Donald Smith: The notion of nation
3 by Ellen Hall 3
Donald Smith breezed into a cafe in Collioure bearing a computer, a
briefcase (containing Catalan homework) and a poster for the fires of
Saint Jean. His “Orgullós de ser Català” (Proud to be Catalan) T-shirt
was only partially obscured by a denim jacket.
His English conversation is infused with French and Catalan
expressions, his most passionate words are dedicated to the cause of
regional languages and identity.The French-English divide of his native
Canada has made him sensitive to the problem of two nations sharing one
territory. His political essay “Beyond Two Solitudes” (2000) argues
that French- and English-speaking Canadians should look beyond their
linguistic biases to the richness of each other’s cultures.
While Donald grew up in an English-speaking household, his education
after the age of 18 was in French. He became a professor of French
literature at Carleton University in Ottawa and has published 14 books
and hundreds of articles on Quebec artists, writers and filmmakers.
Seven years ago he and his wife took a sabbatical year and came to
They arrived on 23 June, the night of the Saint Jean bonfire to
celebrate Catalan unity. It is also the date of the Fête Nationale of
Quebec. When he saw the flames on the beach, Donald felt he had found
his “chez moi” and he knew he had to stay. And stay they did.
Four years ago Donald started playing petanque with the
Catalan-speaking locals. Determined to speak to them in their own
language, he immersed himself in Catalan lessons, classes, newspapers,
radio and TV . He has recently published his first article written in
Catalan for “El Vallespir” magazine, a personal history of being a
Canadian in Collioure.
Although Donald is presently suffering from a severe case of writer’s
cramp (even writing his email address is a slow process, requiring both
hands) he hopes to overcome this handicap and is already researching
his next book – on regional languages.
Donald asserts that of all the European regional languages like
Alsatian, Basque and Breton, Catalan has the greatest chance of
surviving. Thanks to the more than 10,000,000 Catalan-speakers, it is
the 10th or 11th most spoken language in Europe.
His message to English-speaking people settling in the
Pyrénées-Orientales is to learn at least the basics of French and
Catalan and participate in the wealth of local culture. “This is
important for integration into the community and it’s also fun!”
On Sant Jordi – the book and rose fair – 19 April in the market square
of Collioure Donald Smith will present his books, including the
best-selling “Dictionary of Canadian French”. Look for the man in the
“Sant Jordi” T-shirt portraying the legendary dragon killer, St George,
patron saint of countries and cities across the world and now the
defender of books and roses in Catalonia.