Last week I wrote that one sign of someone who lives in the Off Island was the probability of an SUV or minivan in the driveway. It made me wonder: What other signs signal that newly-identified demographic, the Off Islander?
Though a term that’s growing with use, it’s still not all that easy to define.
To begin with, the very name itself implies mystery. Because when asked where he or she lives, the Off Islander doesn’t give a definitive answer. “Off Island,” seems to be enough, without further specifics — though the obvious linguistic implication of this statement is that they may live in the water.
Take the term “West Island,” for example. Head west from Montreal and you soon find the land of the West Islanders — it makes sense (though there’s that whole debate about whether you live “on” the West Island or “in” it; but I digress). But an Off Islander seems to be happy leaving you not quite sure where landfall might be once you’ve crossed the mighty waters, and the rusty shaky pylons, of the Ile-aux-Tourtes Bridge.
There are other things to note about the classic Off Islander.
If we truly are what we eat, the Off Islander is more than happy with the dinner from any chain restaurant put before him. Dinner is a happy affair right from the start, actually, as it always begins with the effortless parking of the SUV. Parking is something the Off Island has in abundance. Well, almost. Hudson’s wonderful Sandy Beach has no parking whatsoever. But aside from having absolutely no parking at a public beach, the Off Island is known for the ease of parking your car.
And that leads to another vital characteristic of the Off Islander. Spending more time in their cars than any other Quebecer commuting to the big island for work, jazz fests, and peewee hockey tournaments, car comfort is an ongoing pleasure for the Off Islander. With one hand so often on the wheel, and the other holding a Tim Horton’s coffee cup or a heat-insulated lidded mug that would qualify for a space shuttle liftoff, Off Islanders can also be further identified by their detailed knowledge of every radio show personality. They can also open their mail or a new CD with one hand once they put the coffee down.
To sum up, the Off Islander likes his or her sports, enjoys full year access to water for boating in the summer or fishing in the winter, and is pretty smooth in both official languages (with the odd pocket of English speakers who can’t speak French nearly as well as the Ontarians who live just across the border). And speaking of the border, then there’s the blanket Off Islanders keep in the back of their SUVs for smuggling contraband wine from the LCBO in Hawkesbury and other mainland towns.
So maybe that’s the thing. Maybe the Off Island, that misty grey area bounded by rivers, is actually a gateway. It’s where the western edge of Quebec meets the Canadian mainland, and the last port of call for all the island people who live east of it. Pretty important really.
But don’t ask an Off Islander to elaborate. “Off island” seems to be as far as this tight-lipped individual wants to go.