“Be aware of a Citation jet practicing instrument approaches, and numerous aircraft flying the Trois-Rivières traffic pattern,” cautioned Montreal Center after issuing our instrument clearance from Quebec back to the States.
Not until reaching the runway did Jean and I fully appreciate the implications. How could we determine when to take the runway with so much traffic chattering in a foreign tongue? We might as well be on another planet!
Every aspect of this flight to French Canada had been impacted by language…
You’d expect a flying carpet to deliver you to enchanted destinations. Well, 2,000 miles and fifteen flight hours from home over French Canada, Jean and I truly felt our steed’s magic. After clearing customs at Windsor, Ontario, we gazed down upon Toronto, Ottawa, and then, Montreal. Each resurrected memories of a long-ago youthful journey.
In 1971, I drove this route on a post-graduation road trip with two Chicago high-school buddies in my 1939 Chevy. After setting up camp in Trois-Rivières, Quebec, we picked up a hitchhiker named Marcel while cruising town. Lacking a common language, we couldn’t determine his destination, so he gestured us to a nearby tavern.
“If you’ll break camp and drive me 15 miles to Champlain,” Marcel offered via the bilingual bartender, “you can stay in the guest cottage behind my parents’ house.” We accepted, and while the others slept, Marcel and I “talked” late into the night via sketch pad and French-English dictionary. The next morning, I was startled awake by the horn blast of an oceangoing freighter. Having arrived in darkness, I never guessed the St. Lawrence Seaway was steps away.
I was recounting this story to Jean for the umpteenth time when Toronto Center issued a frequency change. Bienvenue au Québec! Air traffic control is bilingual in Quebec, so Montreal Center controllers swap seamlessly between French with Québécois pilots, and English with Anglophones like me. The mighty St. Lawrence River materialized off our right wing, and thirty minutes later converged with our course at our destination. Inbound to land at the uncontrolled airport, we heard the following transmission.
“Trafic Trois-Rivières, Cessna Un-Sept-Deux Golf Alpha Bravo Charlie, présentement sur Alpha, je m’aligne Piste Deux Trois pour un décollage immédiat.” Jean and I looked to each another, eyebrows raised. The pilot was obviously in the local traffic pattern, but where? I requested his position in English, but he answered in French. Eventually he managed the word, “takeoff,” but we never spotted the airplane. Clearly, great care would be required to safely operate here.
I was securing the Flying Carpet when two figures rushed from the terminal, arms outstretched. It was Marcel Duval, the very hitchhiker I picked up in 1971, and his captivating wife, Lise Marquis. Who’d have imagined that our chance friendship would endure for decades…