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  1. The Governor General of Canada
  2. Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette
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Reception for Partners in the Quebec Region

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Reception for Partners in the Quebec Region

La Citadelle, Wednesday, September 15, 2010

It is with great joy that my husband, Jean-Daniel Lafond, and I welcome you to the Citadelle of Québec, a place where decisive pages of our collective history have been written, a place that has inspired some of the most exceptional pages of illustrious writers.

Take Herman Melville, the author of Moby Dick, for example. Herman Melville wrote that the brain of his famous sperm whale was, “hidden away behind its vast outworks, like the innermost citadel within the amplified fortifications of Quebec.”

This metaphor speaks volumes of the enviable reputation that our dear old Citadelle had acquired . . .

For me, and for Jean-Daniel, the Citadelle is, first and foremost a place of hope that—like this imposing view of the river—is itself an essential chapter in the history of this continent.

We can imagine the hope, the dream, that this endless land represented to those who arrived from across the great ocean.

The hope, the dream . . . the greed, as the First Nations people who lived here might say, those who saw Europeans disembark, settle and completely take possession of this place.

And so the story goes, and others followed, led by another hope . . . not of conquest or colonization . . . a hope that is the heart of our modernity and relates to the dream of a better life, to the desire to be a part of a great project that drives us and sometimes tests us: the hope of living together, not despite our differences, but in full recognition of this diversity, which is our greatest treasure and through which many affinities are formed.

That is the beautiful hope that we must cultivate and maintain.

Québec City, which in 2008 celebrated the 400th anniversary of its foundation, brings together important moments in this story. Québec City, which is built at the juncture of two worlds: the Americas and Europe. It stands on the very place where Aboriginal people, who represent our deepest roots, had their decisive meeting with the European explorers who drew alongside their shores.

Québec City, the very heart of Canadian Francophonie, of which Jean-Daniel and I are proud representatives.

Québec City, the city of memory, which UNESCO has recognized as one of humanity’s most precious jewels.

And although it bears the traces of the journey we have taken together with dignity and grace, this city also represents the bonds of solidarity on which modern Canada is built.

Bonds in which togetherness speaks louder than exclusion, which only leads to despair and solitude.

I will never forget the first time I came to this city.

It was in February, 1968, just after I had arrived in Quebec—the place I sent down roots in Canada, and certainly where my heart lives—far from the horrors of the dictatorship that was then ravaging my native Haiti.

It was during the Winter Carnival, when snow takes centre stage, winter is in full force and feet cheerfully freeze, and I felt like I had found a hint of the same energy I had felt at the carnivals of my childhood in Haiti. A certain sense of celebration.

Jean-Daniel could tell you how this riverside city took hold of his imagination and never let him go. For those familiar with film, it is striking to see the extent to which the St. Lawrence River is a constant presence in his life and in his work.

For us, coming to Québec City and Quebec is returning to our roots, and we are here today to thank all those who have supported us over the past five years, and to enliven the exceptional place in which we find ourselves with discussions, exchanges, stories, reflections and accomplishments.

As governor general and commander-in-chief of Canada, I have—if you’ll pardon the expression—used the Citadelle as much as possible to hold the meetings that have had marked my mandate.

Whether it was to honour the remarkable efforts being made by the Royal 22e Régiment in their missions abroad—in Afghanistan and in Haiti—to accept the credentials of ambassadors, to hold State luncheons or meetings with NATO member countries, to award honours, to welcome delegations to the Francophonie Summit, or to open this space to the public as often as possible.

The preparations and festivities surrounding the 400th alone required many meetings here with partners from Quebec and France.

Plans were drawn here to better highlight the unequalled heritage of this site.

With your help, we are proud to have completed the restoration of the Redoubt, one of Canada’s oldest military buildings.

We also wanted to make the Citadelle a space for culture by holding concerts here, and a space for dialogue by organizing an Art Matters forum, a Café philosophique, youth forums and meetings with members of the community.

Our visit to the Citadelle today is a very emotional one.

A new season is upon us. Between the tropical summer we have just experienced and the winter that awaits us, the fall is a beautiful transition, and will soon marvel us with its explosion of colours, invigorating air and limpid light.

I will also soon begin a new job, joining the big United Nations family as a special envoy to UNESCO for the reconstruction of the educational system, and the heritage and cultural infrastructures in Haiti, which was hit so hard in January by a devastating earthquake.

Jean-Daniel and I wanted to bring you together tonight to sincerely thank you, the partners with whom we have protected this historic place—like a treasure—to ensure that our message continues to touch people and bring them together.

As the poet said, we are “people of words.”

Here, before you, I understand the double meaning of this expression: we believe in the power of dialogue between us and we consider our words to be commitments.

And one of the forms this commitment will take will be to continue the work we began over the last five years in the cultural community, and in favour of youth initiatives that work to fight exclusion through great imagination by using all forms of artistic expression as a means of transforming individuals and society as a whole.

I would therefore like to take this opportunity to announce the establishment of the Michaëlle Jean Foundation, which will work to this end.

And you have my word: we will come back to Québec City and we will never stop following with conviction and passion the evolution of this city and this place, which is always in our hearts.

Thank you very much for being here! Thank you too to our entire team of colleagues at Rideau Hall in Ottawa and at the Citadelle in Québec City, who always work so hard to bring together the women, men and young people of great will and merit who reflect the true beauty of this country.