Ye Olde Orchard Pub changes to 'Maison publique Orchard' to comply with Quebec language law

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After 27 years of being known as Ye Olde Orchard Pub, the sign outside the Monkland Ave. restaurant and bar changed this week, to Maison publique Orchard.

Owners of the establishment made the changes after a complaint was lodged with the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) last spring. Quebec’s French language watchdog told the owners the sign would have to be altered to include French words that describe its business activities. They were also told more stringent signage rules would be coming into effect in 2025 — but Quebec had not yet disclosed what those rules would be.

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Rather than having to spend thousands of dollars changing their signs twice, the owners of the Orchard Group chain of eight pubs, of which the Monkland location is the flagship operation, came up with a solution they believe will also comply with stricter regulations coming into effect as of June 1, 2025 under the Charter of the French Language as amended by Bill 96.

But they’re not exactly sure.

“We (made the change) based on the guidelines the OQLF gave us when we first reached out,” said Joe Pilotte, co-owner and vice-president of operations for the Orchard Group chain. “According to my understanding of the guidelines, no one understands the guidelines. No one has the answer, and to be honest, no one is very confident with their answers.”

Pilotte said one “incredibly nice lady” from the OQLF did tell them: ‘I don’t know what to tell you, but if they’re giving you warnings now, as of June 1, 2025, it’s only going to get worse.’ So we are doing our best to comply. Obviously we don’t want to get fined, we’re still coming out of COVID, it’s always a hard time for restaurants to survive, you throw in COVID and the threat of fines. …

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“We’re going to do our best to avoid fines and keep everyone happy.”

The OQLF didn’t provide a response to questions before publication. Last spring, spokesperson Chantal Bouchard referred the Montreal Gazette to Quebec’s Regulation Respecting the Language of Commerce and Business.

It says if a business’s sign features a trademark that is not in French, the business must include “a sufficient presence of French.” That can be a description, “generic term” or a slogan, Bouchard said. In Ye Olde Orchard’s case, the descriptor became “Maison publique.”

But as of June 1, 2025, Bill 96 stipulates: “French must appear clearly predominant when a trademark is displayed in public displays visible from outside a premises,” Bouchard said. It was unclear in the case of Ye Olde Orchard if the descriptor would have to be twice as large as the trademark name. To avoid that issue, it appears the pub went with just using the name Orchard, with Maison publique above, in smaller letters. 

Pilotte said the signs outside the other pubs in the chain will be changed to comply. Kellys Orchard in Pointe-Claire can stay the same because it’s using a proper name, he said.

Asked how he felt having to change the name that has marked their establishment since 1996, Pilotte said “I believe we did what was necessary. I believe we are changing with the times.

“We don’t want to get into the French and English debate. We are a proud Québécois company. We’re still running a business and we’re a public house. We’re welcoming to all and we’re not looking (to be) contentious. We do feel that some things are hard on business in general, whether you’re English or French, and we just do our best to comply.”

No matter what the sign on the wall says, the pub remains the same, Pilotte said.

“It’s been up there since 1996 — it goes without saying that it meant a lot to us. But we’re happy with the new sign and it still represents who we are, and our brand is more than just a sign.

“The Olde Orchard provides memories that go way beyond signage.”

The old sign for Ye Olde Orchard sits bubble wrapped against a wall at the pub. Photo by John Kenney /Montreal Gazette

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