On September 9, Gretta Chambers, born Taylor, passed away at the venerable age of 90. I won’t sing the praises of her life story here, since the Globe & Mail has published a well-written, fascinating article on the subject. Instead, I will take the liberty of simply recounting one of our meetings. If I remember well, it was in 2005, when I was still counsel for the federal Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages. I was responsible for a huge study we were undertaking on the entire question of modernizing the Official Languages (Communications with and Services to the Public) Regulations. We had conducted a Canada-wide series of consultations, but we had also had the privilege of meeting with people whose opinion we knew would be critical to our project.
Gretta Chambers was someone you simply could not ignore. She was not only endowed with rare analytical abilities but also capable of comprehending the arguments on both sides of an issue, which made her well-informed opinion especially valuable. I had the good fortune to meet with her at her home. She welcomed me with an elegance worthy of her outstanding reputation. With her wisdom and experience, she could easily have told me quite simply what to do and write, and I would happily have accepted all of her points. However, that was not her approach. Inquisitive and curious, she first wanted to know what our purpose and goals were, and how we were going about achieving them. As a tactician, she was actually much more interested in how we would get there than in what we would write. As a visionary, she had a very thorough understanding of Canadian society, including and especially Quebec society, in all of its complexity. As she was obviously in love with her Quebec, she spoke with the authority of someone who had seen a thing or two and whose wisdom left no doubts. She symbolized harmony between Canada’s two great language communities and had no time for the “two solitudes.”
Since her passing, I have felt as if there is a great void in Canada. It is now up to others to follow her example. Thank you, Ms. Chambers. Your remarkable contribution made Canada and Quebec much better societies. It is hard for me to imagine us without you.
On behalf of the team at the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner, we extend our most sincere condolences to her family, friends and loved ones.