Eastern Townships or Estrie : Viewpoint of the President of Townshippers’ Association


Tradition, history and belonging to a territory have special value for English speakers in the Eastern Townships. That’s how one could summarize their opinion on this subject that is rich in controversy. Gerald Cutting, president of Townshippers’, believes that simple wordage is what separates the promoters of the Eastern Townships (Cantons de l’Est) designation from those who defend the Estrie concept. It is about the distinction that exists between, on one hand, legal and commercial aspects and, on the other hand, the history transmitted within the population of a large region which extends roughly from the counties of Brome-Missisquoi and Yamaska to that of Megantic.
Cutting is proud to belong to a family that arrived with Jacques Cartier and has lived in the Eastern Townships for eight generations. As spokesperson for Townshippers’, he considers that the name Estrie is used for administration, like those of the MRCs, while Cantons-de-l’Est evokes the vagaries of a vast stretch of land that was divided into “squares” by the British in 1792.
In the English media, when we talk about the Eastern Townships, “a light immediately goes on, oh yes! I know exactly where I am in this province,” he says to justify the use of this term. “At Townshippers’ Association, we consider that our territory is the historical Eastern Townships; it is a territory as large as James Bay.”
Cutting sits on the Board of the CIUSSS de l’Estrie – CHUS. “I represent Anglophones on the CIUSSS de l’Estrie, and when we talk about Estrie, people who are in Montérégie or very close to Mégantic, Asbestos, are not quite comfortable because they think of themselves as being in the Montérégie, not in the Estrie.” And he wonders. “Why, does this large establishment represent all this large territory which does not correspond to a more realistic grouping like Montérégie [and the other territorial divisions which constitute this large region]?”
“ When we talk about the Eastern Townships, we immediately understand that it is a large territory, when we talk about Estrie or Montérégie, it does not quite give the same idea, especially when we talk about the tourist industry.” For him, inclusion in the greater historical territory is conveyed by the names Townships and Cantons-de-l’Est, and administration is played out in the courtyard of internal territorial divisions. “In the English-speaking community, Estrie does not reflect this territorial expanse.”
In the minds of people, the concept of generations takes on its full meaning. The oldest have known the Eastern Townships while the youngest speak of Estrie, and the capital for the latter is Sherbrooke. For example, he recalls the merger of surrounding towns with the city of Sherbrooke. “Lennoxville [for older people] is the town with its board of directors, while for those under 35, it’s both Lennoxville and Sherbrooke. The next generation will only talk about Sherbrooke. History is not a valued subject at school,” he complained.
“If it’s to attract tourists, it would be up to them [the organizations responsible for the file] to make a decision, but it’s quite possible that it would be a decision that is 50 per cent right,” he fears. When you replace the name of a company with a new one, it entails expenses. “When we start changing names, it will cost money. And then people get defensive. It can’t be done easily, it’s very emotional. You feel like you’re losing control.” So he’s noticed over the years. The territorial sparring that is being played out at the moment may look like “a step backwards.”
A drawback, however, colours his synthesis on this name change. “Is it going to give a better understanding of our history, or will it be a better vehicle to attract people to our region?” he juggles. There seems to be no clear-cut answer to this question.
Time! Time resolves many conflicts. It is with these “words of wisdom” that Gerald Cutting closes the interview.

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