Canada Summer Games in Sherbrooke: Welcoming you in English and French

By Madeleine Allard and Janis Locas

The 2013 Canada Games are being held in Sherbrooke, Quebec, from August 2 to 17. The first Canada Summer Games to be held in Quebec, these Games promise to be memorable. The mission of the Games’ organizing committee is to make this the most bilingual major sporting event in Canadian history. Here’s the story of this linguistic and athletic mission.

At the Canada Games, there are more than 2,400 athletes (ages 15 to 21) competing in 20 different sports. There are also more than 4,000 volunteers and 100 employees working together to create a memorable event for both athletes and spectators.

As a major sporting event in Canada, the Games give young Canadian athletes the chance to push themselves and to prove themselves at a national-level competition. It’s also a unique opportunity for them to immerse themselves in Canada’s linguistic duality, while building friendships that will last a lifetime.

History of bilingualism in Sherbrooke

Sherbrooke is located in the heart of Quebec’s Eastern Townships region, whose history represents the essence of Canada’s cultural and linguistic duality. The Loyalists settled this region in the late 18th century, and it became a sanctuary for American colonists who had remained loyal to Great Britain during the American War of Independence.

Later, in the mid-19th century, the influx of French Canadians from overcrowded seigneuries from other Quebec regions forever changed the region’s cultural and linguistic landscape. This is how an unlikely yet peaceful cohabitation came to be.

Today, the Eastern Townships are now mainly Francophone (90%). Despite this, the English-speaking community continued to thrive and leave its mark, which significantly contributes to the richness of this magnificent region.

Linguistic mission

Although this is Quebec’s first time hosting the Canada Summer Games, the organizing committee promises to make it a landmark event! William Hogg, Manager of Language Services for the Sherbrooke 2013 Canada Games, made it his mission to organize the most bilingual sports event in Canadian history. “I was hired in 2010, right when the Commissioner of Official Languages published his critical report on the Vancouver Olympic Games. I wanted to learn from their mistakes and, most of all, to not repeat them!” he said.

Overcoming the challenges

“The idea was not necessarily to achieve perfection. Providing bilingual service is mainly about making sure that we can communicate with someone who needs help in the language of their choice.”

William Hogg, Manager of Language Services for the Sherbrooke 2013 Canada Games

“We had a few challenges to overcome!” said Hogg about his self-imposed mandate. First, he had to make sure that he was properly versed in the provisions of the Charter of the French Language, which defines language rights in Quebec and sets out the framework for language on signage. He had to find a way to host bilingual games in Quebec while complying with strict French signage rules. “In the end, the Charter allowed for bilingual signage for major events like ours, so it was a lot easier than we thought,” he explained.

The second challenge was to genuinely integrate the two cultural communities and attract bilingual volunteers. “The Sherbrooke region was specifically selected because around 45% of its population is bilingual. This made it a bit easier for us, but we still had to make sure that the English-speaking community would be well-represented,” said Mr. Hogg. To do this, the organizers of the Games established a partnership with the Townshippers’ Association, a community organization that promotes the English-speaking minority community in the Eastern Townships. The Association helped the Games organizers to recruit English-speaking volunteers across Quebec.

Linguistic duality and open-mindedness

To meet his objectives, Hogg turned to the practical guide published by the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages to help organizers of large-scale sporting events in Canada. “I printed the two quick reference pages. They are posted in my office, right beside Canadian Heritage’s Roadmap for Canada’s Linguistic Duality 2008-2013. I checked off each item as I accomplished things!” he said.

Embracing linguistic duality has advantages not only in terms of service, but also in terms of people’s awareness of differences. “I inherited other duties as part of my mandate,” said Hogg. He was responsible for social inclusion and made sure that he reached out to other communities, including Aboriginal peoples and French-speaking Canadians outside of Quebec.

“I am proud of all we’ve accomplished. The event will truly reflect what Canada represents to me. I can’t wait for everyone to see it!”

The Office of the Commissioner’s reports on the Olympic Games:

The Office of the Commissioner’s first report on the Olympic Games exposed some major shortcomings in the preparation phase. The final report, which was an overall review of the event, was more positive.

Published on Tuesday, August 13, 2013

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