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Upper Pontiac frustrated over language barriers, focus group finds

by Camilla Faragalli
Allumettes Island
Feb. 6, 2024
The Connexions Resource Centre hosted the final of five community focus groups at the St-Joseph Family and Seniors Centre on Allumettes Island last Tuesday afternoon, to gather information from residents about the needs, challenges, strengths and opportunities defining their community.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Upper Pontiac residents highlighted barriers created by the province’s language laws as some of the greatest challenges to accessing basic services and opportunities in their communities.
The focus group drew the largest attendance of any of the five meetings held during the series, and was notably the only session to be attended exclusively by women.
“The suppression of English-speaking Quebecers is just glaringly obvious,” Nancy McGuire, a resident of . . .

St-Joseph’s who attended the session, told THE EQUITY.
“Canada is noted to have two official languages – English and French. That’s not the case in Quebec right now,” she said.
It is a challenge that Connexions, an organization working to connect English-speaking communities of the Outaouais with a variety of health and social services, is particularly concerned with.
Darlene Pashak, a now-retired resident of Allumettes Island, said she was able to find “lots of workarounds” with the local municipalities without fluent French, but found language requirements limited where she was able to find employment.
“I’m very well-educated, I’ve got lots of experience, and at one time I would have loved to work in my field in the Pontiac,” Pachak said, explaining she holds master’s degrees in both social work and public administration.
“It’s just not possible without having French.”
The meeting’s ardent attendees also discussed how these language barriers make the region’s seniors more vulnerable when trying to access healthcare and government services in French.

Pashak, who is a volunteer driver for TransporAction, said that she hears a lot of her passengers’ concerns during their drives.
“People are fearful. When you see tiny little things happening, maybe not with your healthcare provider but with the cafeteria assistant who refuses to speak English, there’s that nervousness going into the hospital of, ‘am I going to be able to navigate or not’,” she said.
Other issues identified at the meeting included the lack of cellphone reception in the Upper Pontiac area, lack of both childcare options and retirement residences, and the area’s relative isolation from the rest of the region.
“I think this area has become pretty independent. It’s like, if we’re going to have something, we’re going to be doing it ourselves. So there’s a lot of resilience,” Pachak told THE EQUITY.
“Some of the other areas probably haven’t had to fight for that in the same way, especially if they’re more French, or more central, or have more services around,” she added.
“It’s a strength of the area, but it’s also a reaction to what we don’t have.”
Regional takeaways
Shelley Heaphy, Connexions community outreach coordinator for the MRC Pontiac region, said the information gathered during the sessions will be used to update a series of “community portraits” first created in 2018.
These updated portraits will help the organization target its services according to the information gathered, as well as advocate to community partners and apply for relevant funding.
Heaphy told THE EQUITY that the issue of access to services in English was a common theme across all five Connexions-organized focus groups.
Other recurring issues included access to healthcare, particularly a lack of family doctors and long wait times to see specialists, lack of communication about local events and services to residents and newcomers both at the municipal and inter-municipal level, and a lack of public transportation.
“Everyone is so grateful for TransporAction, but are also looking for a way to get around the Pontiac for other [non healthcare-related] reasons,” Heaphy said.
“To support local, to be able to attend events and programs and activities within the community, that’s definitely something that’s come out in all of the focus groups.”
Heaphy also said the issue of dwindling numbers of volunteers had come up consistently throughout the various sessions.
“All of our small communities rely heavily on our volunteer organizations [and] non-profit organizations,” she said.
“Every community has felt lucky to have what they have, but the underlying issue is that most volunteers are an ageing population, and that’s a concern.”
Pontiac’s waning youth population was also identified as a concern for residents across the region, specifically the phenomenon of “brain drain” – educated or specialized people leaving the area and not returning.
“The population is bleeding away,” said Paul Brown, Connexions community outreach coordinator for the MRC des Collines-de-l’Outaouais who assisted Heaphy in running all five MRC Pontiac focus groups.
“The older population is staying and the younger population is going away to school and they’re never returning,” he explained.
Despite evident issues prevalent across the region, Heaphy and Brown said they remain optimistic.
“People are so passionate about the Pontiac. [They] feel like we are all very lucky to have this area and live here,” Heaphy said.
“There are areas in which we hopefully will be able to help, [by] bringing awareness to these common worries and issues.”
“In terms of filling gaps, specifically, I don’t know if we [Connexions] can do that necessarily on our own, but we can work with the communities to help them,” Brown said.
Heaphy said a presentation of the updated community portraits can be expected in the coming months.

Connexions Resource Centre held the final of five community focus groups last Tuesday on Allumettes Island. Among those present at the session were, from back left, Gene O’Brien, Donna Gagnon, Nancy McGuire, Paul Brown, Shelley Heaphy, Darlene Pashak, Natalie Gaudette, Mariette Sallafranque, Marie Sallafranque, and Sharon Picard.