Tuesday, October 12, 2010 |
We thought it could never happen here.
In October 1970, the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ) kidnapped two public officials. They subsequently killed one of them: Pierre Laporte, Quebec's minister of labour at the time.
In response, the Trudeau government invoked the War Measures Act. The Canadian Armed Forces were deployed throughout Quebec and in Ottawa. The country stood still.
The special series Remembering the October Crisis, marking the 40th anniversary of the October Crisis, asked 10 writers to share their memories from that time, on CBC Radio One's C'est la vie and online.
In October 1970, writer and publisher Carolyn Marie Souaid was 11 years old. She was living in St-Lambert on Montreal's south shore, not far from where Pierre Laporte was abducted.
This is her story.
The maples were shutting down for winter, but I don't remember whether it was sunny or cloudy. There might have been one hydrangea still standing in the yard. After it happened, I thought about this: Had I opened my window and listened closely, really listened that morning, I might have heard those whiskered men pawing the streets like Dobermans. Stirring up trouble.
It was hamburger and fries night, Mum searing the meat patties, oven fan going full blast. The house so smoky you could barely make out the brown and orange flowers of the kitchen wallpaper. Bugs Bunny had just ended and my kid brother was whining while I set the table, folding napkins and lining up bottles of mustard and relish. I loved the absolute heat and comfort of the moment, the knowledge that as long as I lived in this house I was protected and loved. A scuffed-up radio tuned to CJAD played a tinny commercial before the airwaves filled with the solemn news: Pierre Laporte had been abducted.
Lots had been going on these days, that much I knew. At 11, you start developing a sixth sense. I'd noted curious changes in my mother. She was different. Not the mum who'd campaigned hard to get the new prime minister elected. Or the bubbly one who welcomed hoards of door-knocking visitors the summer of Expo. Now, ashtrays around the house were filled with her half-smoked cigarettes. She forbade us from playing with kids whose parents called the French "Frenchies."
Earlier in the week, she'd made a bold pilgrimage to a sketchy household to rescue my brother who'd been kidnapped, tied to a basement post, and whipped by a pair of delinquent boys. "It's nice to see them all playing together," the oblivious mother mused, a heap of laundry in her arms. When they got home, Mom ripped into him about his poor sense of judgment, and then collapsed into bed with a hot compress over her head.
We never did sit down to eat together after the special broadcast. The radio got switched off and our house fell silent, except for the charred remains of an onion still sputtering in the pan. It was like the tremendous emptiness after that booming voice of the Emergency Broadcast System during Saturday cartoons, scaring the little hairs straight up off my spine. It always seemed to be "just a test" and now, well ... this was the real thing: Darkness had finally descended on our town.
How could a man get picked off his lawn in plain view, and at gunpoint, I thought. This was St-Lambert; this wasn't Montreal. We were neighbourly. And if it happened to someone's Dad, couldn't it happen to anyone's?
The police could surely use my help. I scribbled down the make and colour of the suspects' vehicle, the plate number, every detail they had read on air. I phoned my friends and we gathered in the October moonlight to stand watch for the kidnappers, every passing car suspect.
But Mum yelled after us, face twisted into an expression I hardly recognized. Tonight, there would be no silliness, none of my half-baked ideas. It would be a quiet night — then straight to bed. Dessert best left for another time.
Check out www.cbc.ca/octobercrisis throughout October to learn about our writers, hear and read their memories and to share your thoughts on a time that has left an indelible mark on our country.