Les Québécois à Floribec

If you grew up in South Florida, particularly coastal Broward and Palm Beach counties, you’re familiar with seeing these in the wintertime:

Québec license plate

Québec- Je me souviens. Growing up in South Florida, you grew up hearing your parents silently curse the Snowbirds as they drove 15 mph in a 45 mph speed zone during the morning rush hour.

Like clockwork, these Québec license plates start trickling down from the Great White North around Thanksgiving. They graze our streets until the snow melts in Canada… which is sometime around July I hear. Locals call our Northern retiree guests, “Snowbirds.” Along with the thousands of other retirees that spend their winters here from far off places like Ohio, New York, Massachusetts and New Jersey, they form an important part of winter life in South Florida.

If you live in Fort Lauderdale, Deerfield Beach, Pompano Beach or Hollywood, it’s normal to hear French pretty much everywhere you go, and not the Haitian variant which we hear year round, but the kind of French that makes Parisians cringe. The “bonjour, eh!” kind of French. It’s comforting almost. You know Christmas is coming when the Canadians start to arrive and you know it must be close to summer when they leave, because God knows winters in Montréal can last late into Spring. Which makes me wonder, are entire neighborhoods left abandoned in the winter time in parts of Québec? I jest.

Fête nationale du Québec (Saint Jean-Baptiste)

Fête nationale du Québec (Saint Jean-Baptiste)

In Hollywood, the Québécois have a strong presence along the beach, particularly in the small mid-century MiMo motels along A1A. A walk down the Broadwalk around this time of year and you are guaranteed a wonderful breeze and an earful of French. In Deerfield and Pompano, entire RV parks are full of Canadians enjoying the beautiful weather. Publix has signs in French advertising the availability of newspapers from Québec. Want to keep track with the happenings in Montréal? No worries, Publix has La Presse and Le Journal de Montréal for sale. Broward County Library has a large selection of books en français, which helps keep libraries like the Pompano Beach Branch (221 Pompano Beach Blvd) busy, making it one of the busiest libraries in the county. It’s no surprise. The library is surrounded by 1950s-1970s era condo buildings inhabited almost exclusively of Northern retirees.

Winter tourists Palm Beach

Tourists and locals in Florida. (David Wilson, Palm Beach Post, 1994)

Snowbirds are not a new phenomenon. Tourists are an integral part of South Florida life and it’s almost entirely why this great metropolis exists at all. Canadians have made South Florida their home for decades, forming an important part of the urban melting pot since at least the 1960s. In decades past, many Snowbirds spent their time in the Lummus Park area near Downtown Miami, and over time shifted north to Hollywood, then Pompano Beach, and many now choose to vacation elsewhere in the world all together. Vacationing in South Florida is more expensive than it used to be and development on the beach has pushed many Snowbirds out of the region.

Canadians are a significant minority group in South Florida. Unlike other tourists groups though, they are a larger group and stay for much longer periods of time. Aside from seeing their license plates on the roads every day, they remain almost invisible. Most are not American residents, and don’t get involved in local politics. They don’t work here or have children here, so their voices are not heard in the workplace or in schools. And how many locals spend every day at the beach? Unless you live near the beach, you may not know this interesting segment of society even exists.

Thousands of people migrating to and from very far away parts of the continent annually is unique in the global scheme. It may seem commonplace to Floridians and Northerners, as it has always been that way. It is however difficult to think of other places in the world that experience such radical population shifts on such a constant basis. Although, with cheaper global air travel, this may be becoming more common in other parts of the world. The British do vacation in Spain in the wintertime after all. Either way, it is an interesting facet of life in South Florida and one whose future is unclear. Will Quebeckers continue to spend their winters here? And if not, who shall replace them and what will happen to the French heritage left behind?

Further reading:

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