Does Race have a Face?

Sometimes events unfold and it is not apparent immediately, but there is a sense that something is not quite right. The picture is warbled and out of focus, but you just stream along. Then, there is clarity and everything comes into focus. Last Thursday was one of those times.

Andy and I were in Chibougamau to pick up the cat from the vet. We planned to stop at a restaurant recommended by one of his students for Chinese buffet. It was sunny and warm, and the sidewalks were teeming with people. We recognized several families from Mistissini. It was a beautiful evening with the promise of summer.

We found the restaurant and sat down at one of the few vacant tables. I checked the buffet, but it was quite meagre, understandable judging from the crowded restaurant. We decided to leave and find something else on the main strip.

“Look, a pub,”  I said, pointing it out to Andy.  “Let’s try that.”

Andy and I miss our “Stammkneipe”. This is a term Andy picked up when he was in Germany. It means a pub where regulars and friends meet.

In Pointe Claire Village, our Stammkneipe was Clydes. We had many warm, pub style meals, celebrations and events, and enjoyed the quirks of being VIP guests , receiving discounted meals on our birthdays. So this was just what we needed.

We parked nearby and entered the half empty pub. Two waitresses stood at the cash register and appeared occupied, so I looked around for an available table and started walking towards it, but one of the waitresses intercepted and said the tables were all reserved.

Reserved tables in a half empty pub? I look around and don’t see “reserved signs” on the tables.

“Nous ne serions pas longs”, I tell her in French. “Nous sommes ici juste pour une collation.”

She shrugged and indicated where we could sit. We had a tasty upscale bistro meal and a couple of Coors. We paid the bill and left to pick up our cat. On the way out, I noticed that the “reserved sections” were still empty. Who were they reserved for?

Today:  I came back from Chibougamau after dropping off the cat at an acquaintance’s house, who will be minding him for the summer.

I stopped at the cabinetmaking shop, as we were preparing for the season’s end BBQ for the students. I chat with one of Andy’s students, and mention that I just came back from Chibougamau. He told me some stories about Chibougamau. When he was a child, he said, he recalled walking with his mother and seeing signs in windows that read “No dogs or Indians.”  This must have been a while back since he had grown children. I am stunned hearing this. Isn’t this Canada?

Then it hit me. At that pub, in Chibougamau, the strangeness of it all. I realize now, what I didn’t realize then, that there were only non-natives at the pub, except for one, Andy, who is Cree.

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4 thoughts on “Does Race have a Face?

  1. All I can say is…wow! Unfortunately, racism is alive and well in Canada. Did I ever tell you about the time I got knocked down and kicked at Center Island here in Toronto because I was wearing a Magen David?

  2. Until I read that the clientel was all non-native, I expected the prejudice to be aimed at you rather than Andy! I wonder…
    would that have been easier to understand and accept? Reminds me of times when I traveled with an East Indian. We were both immigrants with Canadian passports, but he was questioned much more than I was.

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