Written: By Janis Locas and Madeleine Allard
From August 2 to 17, 2013, the City of Sherbrooke hosted the Canada Summer Games and welcomed young athletes from across the country. During the two weeks of festivities, the Eastern Townships city was alive with the sounds of the athletes’ feats and the joy of tourists and spectators—in both official languages. It was the portrait of a successful bilingual event that accumulated awards over the last year.
From the very beginning, the Games’ organizing committee set out to attain a formidable goal: to hold the most bilingual sporting event in Canadian history. Making this happen took a lot of thought, as nothing could be left to chance. "
Planning was the key to our success," explained William Hogg, Manager of Language Services. "
You cannot gloss over language issues when it comes to a sporting event of this size: you have to make them a priority."
To meet its objectives, the organizing committee 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. "
The guide, which includes a checklist, made sure we forgot nothing," said Mr. Hogg. "
We had to think about written and verbal communications, visuals, speeches and reporting. It was quite a challenge!"
Friendly bilingual volunteers
Desjardins Group, a Sherbrooke 2013 Canada Games Grand Partner, was in charge of volunteers. Among other things, Desjardins ensured that all of the volunteers could welcome athletes and visitors in both official languages.
"I would say the Canada Games in Sherbrooke really reflected the linguistic duality that makes Canada unique."
Monique Leroux, President and Chief Executive Officer of Desjardins Group and President of the Games.
According to Hogg, the volunteers and organizers did not all have to be perfectly bilingual. Rather, they had to understand both languages well enough and express themselves clearly enough to communicate with people. "
After all, we wanted the event to reflect Quebec’s unique cultural landscape. Not everyone is completely bilingual here. It was more a matter of openness and being welcoming," he explained.
The Manager of Language Services lost count of the many positive comments made at the Games by the 20,000 or so visitors and athletes who took part in the event. "
Many families who had never been to the Eastern Townships were very surprised to receive such a warm welcome in both official languages. This will definitely have a lasting effect on the region, for tourists and students alike," he observed.
Indisputably successful, the Canada Summer Games in Sherbrooke, with their focus on bilingualism, relationships with the local community, cultural expression and strengthened Anglophone-Francophone ties closer ties with the Anglophone community, have been singled out for some 20 awards and honourable mentions over the past year. In April, the Games were the big winners at the 29th Grands Prix du tourisme des Cantons de l’Est and were named cultural event of the year. In addition, Ms. Leroux, President and Chief Executive Officer of Desjardins Group and President of the Games and Tom Allen, Chair of the Board of Directors and the Executive Committee of the Canada Summer Games – Sherbrooke 2013, were named Personnalités La Presse in August 2013; furthermore, Mr. Allen received the Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award in recognition of his exceptional work as a volunteer.
Several awards also underscored the event’s excellence in such areas as the environment, financial management and, of course, sports!
Lastly, the organization of the Games was mentioned several times by the Commissioner of Official Languages in his 2012–2013 annual report, which was submitted to Parliament in November 2013. The report highlighted the excellent working relationship that was established between the Office of the Commissioner and the Games’ organizing committee from the beginning to ensure linguistic duality.
In other words, the Games were seen as a model of success across the board!
A unifying event
For Hogg, the best part of the Games was that it brought people together and inspired youth, whether they were competing or not. "
Francophones from outside Quebec set up a Canadian Francophonie square. It was a huge success! Young people had a booth there and talked to visitors about life in Francophone communities elsewhere in Canada. It was a great place to discuss and share, and it was highly representative of our vision of Canada." The Eastern Townships and communities across Canada are very likely to remember this cultural and sporting event for a long time to come.