I’m from the Ottawa Valley, eh

The rural area where I grew up is in the news.

CBC news reports that a University of Toronto linguistics professor is spending time in Ottawa Valley towns listening to people talk. We speak differently from everyone else, you see. You could call us a linguistic enclave.”

When I left the Ottawa Valley decades ago to attend university in southern Ontario, my accent—my Ottawa Valley twang—was the source of much frivolity for my classmates. I called potatoes “pu-da-duhs”, and  they found it quite amusing. The word “bank” in my hometown comes out more like baw-ink. They laughed at that, too.

Some of the quirks of the twang defy explanation. For example, if someone dies and needs to buried, we pronounce the word “buried” just like it’s written, while others say “berried.” On the other hand, if we want to eat berries, we call them “burries.” Similarly, a carrot in the Ottawa Valley sounds like “car-ott,” while a car we drive sounds more like “caare.” The list of unique expressions and unusual pronunciations seems endless. A former high school teacher of mine started a list: http://ogradys.ca/opeongo/ov_expressions.html

When I landed at the University of Windsor 31 years ago, in order to fit in, I changed my accent. I bought into the idea that the way they talked was “better than” the way I talked. I had an accent from a rural area, and I bought into the myth that urban is better than rural.

I don’t believe that now, anymore than I believe any of the other “better than” myths: black is better than white, or vice versa; straight is better than gay; tall is better than short.

I’ve been gone from the Ottawa Valley for 31 years, but the Ottawa Valley is not gone from me.

I spent my formative years in an area where we dug in the dirt; where we grew our own food and food for others; where we treasured manure instead of shunning it; where neighbours were far apart physically but close together emotionally; where we ran free in fields in our bare feet; where we had “play” clothes and “good” clothes, but the good clothes rarely got used; where pick-up hockey took place on a frozen stream; where road hockey games could go on forever without having to shout “Car!”; and where we honoured the cycle of life by welcoming every mewling kitten and mourning every lost cow without denying that it be so.

If there’s anything “better than” that, I can’t think of it.


4 thoughts on “I’m from the Ottawa Valley, eh

  1. Lorna Lynn

    I grew up on the Quebec side of the Ottawa Valley which seemed magically insulated from the outside world. Traveling to the actual city was like visiting another country. Today with good roads and television and the internet our heritage is being lost at a greater and greater rate. Although I still live in the “valley” I feel I have lost much of my accent. Only when talking to an elderly person does it seem to resurge.

    1. Arlene Somerton Smith Post author

      Yes, it is becoming less common and less noticeable with all the changes in society. In some ways, it’s a little sad, but in other ways, not so much. Some aspects of the accent don’t sound very charming.

  2. Brenda

    My mother was born in Ottawa in 1913, and I talk a lot like her. They have told me that I have the Ottawa Valley Twang. Sometimes I have been teased about it when we went overseas by other Canadians. However, as I get older it does bother me as much as it used too. Thank you for your story. I do not feel so alone anymore.


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