Cote Saint-Luc artist Michael Litvack paints whimsical scenes and vivid colours to reminisce about life in and around Montreal in the 1940s to today.  Many of Litvack’s pieces depict mid-20th century scenes from famous Montreal stores.  These works include advertising typical in those times – in English.

Michael Litvack's painting of Tupper Grocery caught the evil eye of the OQLF Language Police

Did Michael Litvack’s painting of Tupper Grocery catch the evil eye of the OQLF Language Police?

“I portray situations and areas that people who grew up in Montreal can relate to.  As well,  St. Sophie, St. Agathe, Plage Laval, Lachine and Brooklyn are also represented in a beginner’s naive, colourful style”, Litvack told me this week.

Good enough for the much ridiculed tongue troopers of the Office quebecois de la langue francaise?  One of Litvack’s pieces was removed from the front window of a Sherbrooke St. gallery and banished to a back wall, as a result of the fear gripping many small business owners amid the OQLF’s effort to ‘protect the French language’.

“I have my paintings in galleries and stores all over the area. One such store, Cartes, etc. on Sherbrooke displayed one in their window as part of a street art campaign last fall….until an OQLF inspector paid a visit to the store next door, Contessa.  Apparently they had issues with the name of that store and was giving the shopkeeper a hard time.  A nervous neighbour warned the folks at Cartes, etc. that the OQLF was on the prowl next door and to clear any offences to avoid repercussions.  As the words in the signs in my painting were not in French, and not sure what to do, my painting was removed from the window and moved to an inside wall of the store… no conflict wanted”, Litvack recounted this week, after hearing tales about Pastagate.

“It was a nostalgia painting circa 1960 showing how life was in Montreal”, Litvack said.  The painting depicts the Tupper Grocery store and shows signs indicating “chicken wings” and “bacon” as well as other grocery products.

“Good thing the Mona Lisa didn’t have any English or Italian on it. It would be against the law here”, Litvack quipped.

This is Montreal today.  Business owners operate amid fear of reprisal. Bilingual commercial signs, albeit permitted provided the rule of French predominance prevails, is rarely seen as the laws are complicated, poorly promoted and bilingualism is basically discouraged by government.

As the National Post points out in today’s Full Comment, “Quebec’s language laws are an international embarrassment because they deserve to be”.

Quebecers of all linguistic and political stripes should be outraged by the indecency of the current law. As the editorial aptly indicates, “Make new, better, less ridiculous laws”.

When will the madness end?

Litvack’s exhibit is on display at the Cote Saint-Luc Public Library.  It is entitled “Memories of a non Distant Past”, which will jog memories.  The exhibit is on display until March 31.

See some of Mike’s pieces on Councillor Mike Cohen’s blog.