Archived - Notes for an address at the Assemblée communautaire fransaskoise centennial commemorative evening
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Duck Lake, February 25, 2012
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
Ladies and gentlemen, good evening!
It is my pleasure to be with you today in Duck Lake to celebrate the 100th anniversary of an organized Francophonie in Saskatchewan. As the Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada, I want to take this opportunity to congratulate the province of Saskatchewan for declaring 2012 the Year of the Fransaskois!
This year you celebrate the 100th anniversary of your organization, but also 100 years of community action and mobilization. It all started in 1912, when Saskatchewan’s Francophones established an organizational structure to ensure the survival of the French presence in Saskatchewan and the development of the Fransaskois community. In 2012, Saskatchewan’s Francophones and others have reason to celebrate!
This centennial anniversary is indeed a chance for everyone to see how far your community has come and to celebrate your successes, as well as an opportunity for you to take on new challenges as a linguistic community.
In addition to being a community celebration, this centennial is an opportunity to promote the Fransaskois community among the Anglophone majority and other Francophone communities across Canada and—why not?—around the world. It is also a valuable opportunity to cultivate the sense of belonging and pride of Saskatchewan’s Francophones and of all Saskatchewanians with a Francophone heritage or who are touched by the French language—whether they are from here or elsewhere, and whether or not they speak French.
The French presence in Saskatchewan is of interest to all Francophones. Quebec novelist Jacques Poulin used the fictional tale of a future National Hockey League star to tell the story of the strength and perseverance of Saskatchewan’s Francophones in defending their history, their rights and their language.
I absolutely have to keep thinking like the hockey player. I can’t quite seem to anymore. Sometimes I’m him; sometimes I’m myself again. I’m not sure that I’m using the proper tone.
The military leader spent four days looking for Riel, but it was all in vain. He heard that his friend was on his way to surrender to the English general. His goal: to get the enemy to focus their anger on him and become a martyr to ensure the future of the Western Canadian Métis.Footnote 1[translation]
Saskatchewan’s Francophones have come a long way in defending their culture and language. Today, by celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Assemblée communautaire fransaskoise (ACF), we celebrate not only 100 years of survival for Saskatchewan’s Francophone community, but also the community’s rich history.
The first Francophonie community in Western Canada was the Métis. The Francophone Métis migrated to the plains of Saskatchewan in the 18th century to escape the harsh constraints imposed by the Anglo-Canadian Protestants then in power.
All across the West, since the Métis Resistance of 1885, relations between Francophones and the Métis have sometimes been strained. The two groups did not always see eye to eye on the direction to take in the wake of the Resistance.
Today, Saskatchewan’s Francophonie has turned the page. The Métis and the Fransaskois have used their common heritage to open a dialogue. On January 28 of this year, as part of the Tables rondes franco-métisses hosted by the University of Regina’s Institut français, the President of the Métis Nation–Saskatchewan, Robert Doucette, and the President of the ACF, Paul Heppelle, signed a pact of solidarity.
I want to congratulate the University of Regina’s Institut français for initiating these Franco-Métis round tables, which helped open an intercultural dialogue between Saskatchewan’s Francophones and the Métis. By signing this pact, the two groups publicly confirmed their intention to pursue the dialogue and support one another. It is also good news for all Canadians: this pact of solidarity is a symbolic gesture of openness and cooperation that can serve as an example to other Canadian communities.
But let’s get back to our historical overview. An important migratory shift toward the Prairies began in the latter half of the 19th century and continued until the early 20th century. Francophones of various origins settled in Saskatchewan. They were mostly from Quebec, but there were also Acadians (some of whom initially settled in the United States), French, Belgians, Swiss and even French-speaking Germans from Alsace and Lorraine. All of these Francophones came together to establish the institutions they needed to grow.
And then the railroad came to Saskatchewan and changed everything. The arrival en masse of other immigrants quickly made the Francophones a minority.
In 1910, Saskatchewan had 23,000 Francophones scattered across three large areas of the province and in some one hundred small towns. That same year, here in Duck Lake, the newspaper Le Patriote de l’Ouest published its first issue. Its goals were to
- serve Francophones in the West,
- defend Francophones’ interests,
- protect the French language, and
- increase the number of French speakers in Western Canada.
Thanks to that newspaper, Saskatchewan’s Francophones were able to unite and help one another.
Together, Saskatchewan’s French-Canadians proved that, even dispersed, they were united in spirit and in their hearts, and they were ready to band together to defend their rights.
One hundred years ago, in February 1912, more than 450 people attended a meeting here in Duck Lake. At that meeting, a number of speeches were delivered on issues that were of great importance to French-Canadians, and still are today:
- the legal status of the French language in Saskatchewan,
- the difficulties encountered in teaching French,
- the need to strengthen French-Canadian groups through colonization/immigration,
- the establishment of an organization to attract Francophones to Saskatchewan, and
- the future of the French language in the West.
At the Duck Lake conference, participants unanimously approved the founding of a French-Canadian organization for Saskatchewan. There began the adventure that later gave birth to the ACF, the organization that today turns 100.
A lot has happened in the 100 years of its existence in Francophone Saskatchewan.
As you know, in the early 1960s, the political scene in Canada was troubled: the rise of Quebec nationalism forced governments to listen to the demands of Francophones, and laymen took command of major national umbrella organizations. The Association catholique franco-canadienne de la Saskatchewan changed its name in 1964 to Association culturelle franco-canadienne de la Saskatchewan (ACFC). Until then, the association had served as a kind of “department of French-language education.” Now it could devote itself to sociocultural activities and the development of a non-religious leadership.
Between 1968 and 1975, the ACFC focused on supporting citizens within the province’s Francophone communities. They created social event programs, established cultural centres, fostered the promotion of culture, and offered activities for young Saskatchewan Francophones.
At the same time, at the federal level, the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism concluded in 1967 that Francophones did not occupy the place their numbers warranted in the country’s public service. It also concluded that Francophone minorities were not treated the same as the Anglophone minority in Quebec. As a result, the federal government adopted the Official Languages Act in 1969 and created the position of Commissioner of Official Languages. The Act states that English and French have “equality of status and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all institutions of the Parliament and government of Canada.”
That board of inquiry, known as the Laurendeau-Dunton Commission, triggered in all of Canada’s Francophones—but especially among the Fransaskois—a profound desire to assert themselves.
In the 1970s, the Francophones’ struggle intensified, particularly in favour of education. New, specialized organizations were created and given mandates to serve target clienteles. But despite that and a few changes in Saskatchewan’s school law in 1969, the French teaching situation in the province still left much to be desired.
In the 1980s, thanks to steps taken by the ACFC’s leaders, the provincial government established the Bureau de la minorité de langue française, which became the French Education Branch, making it responsible for French education in Saskatchewan. Its mission was to develop, test, implement and update courses of study in French, including intensive French programs for immersion and French-language schools. Today, this branch still plays an important role, and the future of Saskatchewan’s Francophonie partly depends on it. Education in French remains a major issue in Western Canada.
The results of all of these actions—your actions—can be seen and heard. In 1984, I covered President Mitterrand’s trip to Regina, where a banquet had been organized in his honour. The Francophone community was proud to be there. Yet it remained fragile.
Then, early in the 1980s, a great event came to the rescue of Saskatchewan’s Francophones. In 1982, the federal government adopted the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees access to French-language education. Since then, the ACFC—renamed the Assemblée communautaire fransaskoise in 1999—has not stopped growing, and new organizations, such as the Association des juristes d’expression française de la Saskatchewan, have appeared. The French language is stronger now than it was 30 years ago, a feat that could be achieved only thanks to your hard work.
Today, the ACF carries on its mission to protect the rights of Saskatchewan’s Francophone community by
- enforcing the rights acquired in 1982 under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,
- seeing to the sound governance of all Fransaskois structures, and
- helping define the Fransaskois presence for future generations of Saskatchewan Francophones.
Today, we enter a new phase in the history of Saskatchewan’s Francophones, and all signs point to a bright future. The Rendez-vous fransaskois and Francofièvre, two important celebrations of French life in Saskatchewan, are great successes. The province’s Anglophone population has responded to these demonstrations of vitality with curiosity and interest.
But official language communities are changing dramatically, and the organizations that support their development must follow suit. That is what the ACF is doing. Governments—and federal institutions in particular—must remain sensitive to the community’s priorities if they want to meet its needs and contribute to its development. Two years ago my office published a study on the vitality of the Fransaskois community, which mentioned how local products can help rural communities to flourish. Rest assured that, as Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada, I am committed to working to support your community’s development.
For more than a century, your community—generations of Francophone immigrants and pioneers—has not only survived, but has grown into a dynamic people. Saskatchewan’s Francophones hold an important place in Canada’s history. You contributed to forging the identity of your province, in addition to fostering linguistic duality across Canada.
Saskatchewan’s Francophones are strong and proud, and rightfully so.
These celebrations for the ACF’s 100th anniversary mark a new chapter full of promise in the history of the Fransaskois community. I hope you enjoy the celebrations. Long live Saskatchewan’s Francophone community!
- Footnote 1
Jacques Poulin, L’homme de la Saskatchewan, Leméac/Actes sud, 2011, p. 63.