The only thing was: The town didn’t have any immigrants.
The code of conduct spurred a backlash with liberals ridiculing the town as racist, closed-minded or worse. But the town’s many defenders, including social conservatives, said it was merely trying to protect Quebec’s way of life.
The debate was so loud that the province convened a commission on the extent to which Quebec should accommodate minorities. And so it was that I found myself shivering and walking down Hérouxville’s Main Street this week in the frigid March cold, curious to see whether attitudes had shifted.
At first, the reception was equally frosty as local residents glared at me suspiciously. People who eventually talked to me did not want to give their full names.
The message, though, was clear: Even after 10 years, the town was still reeling. One man said the code was the first subject strangers brought up when he said he was from Hérouxville. A woman said the town was tired of the attention.
But another woman defended the code, saying immigrants to Quebec had to conform to local custom.
Across Quebec, on radio shows and on social media, commentators tut-tutted me for going to Hérouxville, suggesting that there were more interesting places. Others accused me of being out of touch with Quebec.
But my road trip suggests otherwise.
More than a decade later, Quebec seems consumed by some of the same questions about identity.
Late last year Quebec introduced Bill 62, a law requiring people to show their faces in order to get public services. The law has upset some Muslims, including women who wear face-covering veils known as niqabs, and say that it stigmatizes them.
This week I also met with members of the Quebec City mosque where six people were killed by a Québécois gunman more than a year ago, leading to soul-searching about the state of Islamophobia in the province. During a chat at the mosque, which is still pocked with bullet holes, its director, Mohamed Labidi, told me that he feared that the far right combined with right-wing radio was fomenting hatred against Muslims and fear of the other.
“The situation for us has gotten worse over the past decade,” he said. “It has taken blood to flow for us to build bridges again.”
As I travel across Quebec, I am constantly reminded how a province with a French-speaking population surrounded by an Anglophone majority in the rest of the country is understandably sensitive when it comes to preserving Quebec’s culture.
Moreover, because Québécois revolted against the strictures of the Roman Catholic Church in the 1960s, secularism is deeply ingrained and outward signs of religion can cause discomfort.
The Volvo is passing snow-covered mountains as we head to Saguenay, a center for the forestry and aluminum industries. There, I want to explore how globalization and factory closings have affected a region that is among the most separatist in the province.
On a different note, I also want to sample the region’s vaunted meat pies, known as tourtières!
Please follow me on my journey on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, as well as on The Times’s Reader Center. I will return with the regular Canada Letter this weekend to let you know how the rest of the trip went.