Archived - Vitality Indicators for Official Language Minority Communities 3: Three Francophone Communities in Western Canada

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The Consortia Development Group conducted this study. Research, drafting and consultation with the communities were carried out from October 2008 to June 2009.

Consulting Team

  • Michel Desjardins, President, Consortia Development Group – project manager and senior researcher
  • Agathe Gaulin, consultant, Activa Solutions – senior researcher
  • Paule Doucet, President, Doucet Associates Inc. – senior researcher
  • Marc Johnson, President, SOCIUS Research and Consulting – consultant

The research team would like to thank all those who generously agreed to participate in this study. We would like to especially thank the members of the three steering committees:

Steering Committees

British Columbia

  • Réal Roy, geography professor, University of Victoria, and President of the Fédération des francophones de la Colombie-Britannique
  • Stéphane Audet, outgoing Executive Director, Fédération des francophones de la Colombie-Britannique
  • Yves Trudel, Executive Director, Fédération des francophones de la Colombie-Britannique
  • Christine Sotteau, Government Relations and Research Coordinator, Fédération des francophones de la Colombie-Britannique
  • France-Emmanuelle Joly, Director, Réseau-Femmes Colombie-Britannique


  • François Giroux, Government Liaison Officer, Association canadienne-française de l'Alberta
  • Yvonne Hébert, Professor, Faculty of Education, University of Calgary
  • Jean-Claude Jassak, Councillor, Canadian Minority Alberta Council


  • Denis Desgagné, Executive Director, Assemblée communautaire fransaskoise
  • Joanne Perreault, Associate Director, Assemblée communautaire fransaskoise
  • Josée Bourgoin, Coordinator, Terroir Interpretation and Development, Assemblée communautaire fransaskoise
  • Éric Lefol, Research Professional, Institut français, University of Regina


Since 2005, Canada's Official Languages Act has set out increased responsibilities for federal institutions in terms of supporting the vitality of official language communities. Pursuant to the amendments to Part VII of the Act, these institutions have, since then, had to implement positive measures that concretely contribute to the development of communities and the promotion of linguistic duality.

The strengthening of the Act led the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages to more closely study the vitality of official language communities. What are the main factors for this vitality? How can communities act on these factors and assess the changes these measures have had? How can federal institutions contribute to the vitality of official language communities and thus fulfil their obligations under Part VII of the Act? Why is it important for federal institutions to support community assessment of vitality? In short, these are the issues that the Office of the Commissioner wanted to examine.

In a 2006 study entitled A Sharper View: Evaluating the Vitality of Official Language Minority Communities,Footnote 1 the Office of the Commissioner noted that knowledge regarding vitality and how it can be evaluated varied. This study highlighted the many issues faced by community development stakeholders regarding research on vitality.

To follow up on these observations and recommendations, the Office of the Commissioner launched a multi-year action-research project aimed at better understanding the practical aspects of assessing community vitality. In 2006, it carried out the first phase by studying the vitality of three Francophone communities in urban settings: Winnipeg, Sudbury and Halifax. The following year, it examined three English-speaking communities in Quebec: Québec City, the Eastern Townships and the Lower North Shore.

The third phase of the action-research project, of which this is the summary presentation, consisted of carrying out a study on the vitality of Francophone communities in Western Canada: Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. This third phase took place at a time when official language communities and public institutions were better informed and more experienced regarding community development and vitality issues and opportunities.

Nevertheless, even though the concept of community vitality has received considerable attention since 2005, its meaning and uses are still rather vague.Footnote 2 In his 2006–2007 annual report, the Commissioner of Official Languages announced some principles to guide federal institutions' efforts to contribute to community vitality and promote linguistic duality within Canadian society. Some of these principles are the following: the need to adopt a proactive, systematic approach and targeted treatment; active participation by citizens; and the implementation of an ongoing process for enhancing the programs and policies according to Part VII. However, nearly five years after the amendments to Part VII of the Act, some federal institutions are still not clear on the definition of community vitality or on the positive measures to adopt in order to contribute to the vitality of official language communities.

1. Objectives

The objectives of the third phase of the action-research project were essentially the same as those for the two previous phases, that is:

  • Identify success factors and best practices in terms of vitality in the selected communities;
  • Express, using a logic model, the aspirations and goals of the communities in the sectors of community activity being studied;
  • Identify, from an evaluative standpoint, quantitative and qualitative indicators that could help assess the vitality of official language communities based on their own priorities;
  • Provide vitality evaluation tools to official language communities so that they can better plan their activities and development strategies;
  • Prepare, for each community studied, a summary report of the assets and needs in the sectors of activity being studied;
  • Educate communities and governments about the benefits of evaluating the vitality of official language communities by using recognized indicators.

2. Approach and methodology

The Office of the Commissioner wanted to carry out this study in a spirit of collaboration and active participation. For this reason, it consulted representative community associations from the three Western Canadian Francophone communities even before the study began. The associations therefore had the opportunity to learn about the direction and methods of the research project and to comment on them.

2.1. Steering committees

With the support of representative community associations, the Office of the Commissioner set up a steering committee in each province at the beginning of the study. These committees, comprised of association leaders, were responsible for guiding and supporting the consultants' work. First, they were asked to select the communities on which the study would focus. They then identified priority community development sectors.

The formation of three steering committees and the scope of their responsibilities are among the unique characteristics of this phase of the action-research project. By choosing such an approach, the Office of the Commissioner wanted to recognize the specificity of the communities and to give them greater flexibility when conducting practical research on vitality.

2.2. Communities and priority sectors studied

Although there are Francophones throughout British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan, they only represent a small proportion of the population. Each Francophone community in this vast territory must also deal with its own particular issues.Footnote 3 It was therefore not surprising to note some differences in how the steering committees chose to orient the project in their respective province.

2.2.1. British Columbia

In British Columbia, in order to represent the various small Francophone communities throughout the province, the steering committee chose to focus on British Columbia's Francophone community as a whole. In 2006, approximately 53,060 people in the province (1.4% of the population) identified French as their first official language spoken.

In this province, the priority sectors of activity chosen for this study were the following: community governance, immigration and migration, participation and community belonging.

2.2.2. Alberta

In Alberta, the steering committee chose Calgary's Francophone community for the study. In this urban community, 16,235 people, or 1.5% of Calgary's total population, identified French as their first official language spoken in 2006.

The priority sectors of activity chosen for the Calgary area were the following: community governance, visibility and diversity, communication and government services.

2.2.3. Saskatchewan

In Saskatchewan, it was decided that the research project would focus on a rural area: the large region encompassing Duck Lake, St. Louis, Domremy, Hoey and St. Isidore-de-Bellevue. In this region in 2006, approximately 550 people, or 21% of the total population, declared French as their mother tongue.

A comprehensive development initiative entitled Projet du terroir is currently being carried out in the region. In order to tailor the Office of the Commissioner's study as much as possible to the rural reality in Saskatchewan, the steering committee chose to integrate this research into the Projet du terroir. Although it did not establish any priority sectors per se, the discussion in Saskatchewan revolved around four main themes: a collaborative economy, identity and a sense of belonging, demographics and migration, and intercultural dialogue.

2.3. Task forces

In collaboration with members of the steering committees, a task force of 15 to 25 community leaders and key stakeholders was formed in each of the three communities. The task force participants were chosen for their expertise and knowledge in one or more priority sectors, and their work helped inform the content of the study reports.

The task force met twice during the winter of 2009. During the first meeting, participants were introduced to the project and asked to meet in workshops to determine targeted results for each sector. They then worked on a preliminary logic model and were asked to give their opinions on best practices in their community.

During the second meeting, participants first reviewed and refined the logic models. They then chose appropriate indicators to measure the achievement of results and proposed opportunities to integrate these models into community development.

3. Findings and conclusions

This study aimed to systematically collect information on three communities that differ in their reach and in the issues that confront them. Despite these differences, it is possible to draw some general conclusions about the experience of Western Canadian Francophone communities.

3.1. Study process

Firstly, the study served to mobilize communities around their own particular concerns or themes. In each case, the meetings allowed participants to better know one another, and to reflect and agree on the targeted results that would lead to increased community vitality.

The study also helped develop a profile of priorities and activities that communities would like to put in place in order to achieve concrete results. However, it is up to each community to implement its development plan and to periodically review the priorities set in this report based on time and circumstance. That said, the methodology and tools used in the context of the study may also be useful once it is time to evaluate the achievement of targeted results, and to adjust priorities as required.

The conceptual framework for the study, based on results-based management, proved to be a strong, effective theoretical context for gathering and organizing relevant information, and for giving meaning to the exercise.

Western Canadian Francophone communities understood and accepted the proposed conceptual framework right away. This was undoubtedly one of the factors that contributed to the project's success.

The study also identified quantitative and qualitative indicators for the communities. Thus, each community can access basic tools to evaluate its vitality according to the desired results, and to meet its partners' reporting requirements. That being the case, the communities will no doubt need support in order to strengthen their evaluative capacities, in terms of financing as well as human and material resources.

3.2. Common points

The study highlighted at least three common realities or sources of concern for the Western Canadian Francophone communities in the study.

3.2.1. Mobility

The first issue has to do with mobility. In the case of Francophone communities in British Columbia and Calgary, the issue mainly concerns the arrival of new Francophones and their integration into existing communities. In these communities, community organizations are concerned with the issue of diversity and the importance of promoting French as a common source of cultural heritage. They are also working to develop their capacities and increase collaboration among organizations in order to welcome, integrate and retain Francophone newcomers. In the case of rural Saskatchewan, efforts are mostly geared toward slowing down, if not reversing, the exodus. In that province, the community specifically reflected on ways of encouraging youth to remain in the region and of increasing the influx of new Francophone families and individuals.

3.2.2. Communications

Secondly, each discussion group emphasized the importance of communications. Although the term varied—there was talk about promotion, visibility, marketing and appeal—Western Canadian Francophone communities were concerned about their image. They want to be known and recognized by the entire population—more specifically, the Anglophone majority and, in some cases, Aboriginal communities. They also want to increase their visibility among federal, provincial and municipal institutions by raising awareness among public decision makers about their particular challenges and realities. Furthermore, they deem internal communications very important for increasing exchanges between Francophones in the community, thereby contributing to the creation of a common Francophone space.

3.2.3. Governance

Lastly, the governance theme was approached from various angles. Each community hopes that its members will have a common understanding of the major community objectives. For this to happen, each community believes that it is important to set up dialogue and coordination mechanisms to promote greater collaboration among the various stakeholders and groups in the Francophone community. According to the stakeholders of the communities being studied, maintenance and strengthening of governance structures—be it through the recruitment and retention of qualified individuals, training activities, knowledge transfer or increased representation of the diverse composition of these communities—will lead to increased community cohesion.

3.3. Other study highlights

The study also highlighted other points that should be discussed.

3.3.1. Spaces where people can live in French

For the Francophone communities in British Columbia and Calgary, community vitality inevitably requires an increased number of spaces where people can live in French. Because Francophones are so few in number and are scattered over a vast territory, they use all available means in trying to create common spaces to facilitate physical proximity and community cohesion. These communities are in favour of creating multi-functional centres to house Francophone agencies, organizations and employees, and to welcome newcomers and offer one-stop services.

3.3.2. The political legitimacy and recognition of language rights as determining factors for community vitality

Western Canadian Francophone communities, particularly in Alberta and Saskatchewan, are seeing progress in terms of the political legitimacy and recognition of language rights as determining factors for community vitality. This certainly explains the communities' support for the Gilles Caron case in Alberta. The objective of this case is to show that the language rights guaranteed to Rupert's Land residents gained constitutional status prior to the territory joining the Canadian confederation, and that these rights are still in force and must be respected. The case could therefore change the way history is interpreted in Alberta and Saskatchewan. It could confirm the constitutional nature of the status and use of French in these provinces and result in a series of measures aimed at enhancing the vitality of Francophone communities.

3.3.3. Unique challenges for a rural francophone community

Finally, the study highlighted the particular issues and challenges faced by a Francophone community in a rural setting. Francophones living in rural settings in Saskatchewan are grappling with the exodus toward urban centres, the ageing population and the decreasing number of small agricultural producers and processors. In response, the community chose to focus on its terroir,Footnote 4 that is, its distinctive cultural traits and its unique know-how and products such as bison products, Gravelbourg mustard, peas from Bellevue, Red Fife wheat, Saskatoon berries, wild rice from northern Saskatchewan and more. As a result, for Saskatchewan's rural Francophone community, community vitality and identity-building are inextricably linked. Culture and heritage are, for this community, the be-all and the end-all of vitality.

3.4. Future action

3.4.1. Communities

For official language communities in Western Canada that wish to pursue the vitality evaluation process according to the priorities they identified, the next step involves developing an action plan to implement the logic models. In this step, each output is reviewed and the implementation methods (i.e. areas of responsibility, timelines and necessary resources) are defined.

The following table is a partial template of such an action plan.

Table 1: Partial template of an action plan
Product or service Body responsible Timeline Resources
Output 1 Organization, committee, individual Date
  • Financial
  • Human
  • Material
Output 2 Organization, committee, individual Date
  • Financial
  • Human
  • Material

Communities would also benefit from preparing an evaluation plan that would help determine the necessary tools and processes to smeasure the progress toward increased community vitality. It is important to remember that community studies established the desired results, quantitative and qualitative indicators, and possible sources of data. It is now necessary to decide who will collect these data, how frequently, and who will analyze them. In short, this is the content of the evaluation plan.

Evaluation will be a crucial step for communities. It must be designed to provide information to both community leaders and public institutions that approve contributions and grants for community organizations. This step could support accountability and help show how public investments contribute to community progress toward increased vitality.

As previously stated, the communities will no doubt require technical support during the next steps. Although they have some knowledge related to evaluation, the communities generally lack resources where community research is concerned.

The keen interest shown by community leaders and key stakeholders throughout the research project leads us to believe that they see the assessment of community vitality as one possible way to strengthen their position with respect to funding organizations.

3.4.2. Federal institutions

For federal institutions, which are required to take positive measures to support the development of official language communities, this study increases knowledge about vitality. It educates us about the complex reality of Western Canadian Francophone communities and shows the extent to which these communities, while sharing some similarities, are very different from one another. In this context, taking positive measures therefore means taking into account the particular characteristics of each community and adopting customized solutions according to the identified needs.

This study also reaffirmed the idea that community vitality depends on several factors: economic, social, legal, cultural to name a few. To act coherently in such a complex framework, federal institutions must cooperate. Rather than working in silos, there should be increased interdepartmental collaboration, as well as fruitful and ongoing collaboration with communities.

Lastly, the methodology and tools developed under this study provide federal institutions with valuable insight with regards to accountability. Institutions will be able to better interpret the impact of funds allocated to communities and to more objectively track developments. They will also be able to use these tools to work with communities on identifying and using accountability indicators and mechanisms that are understood and accepted by all parties.


Footnote 1

Marc L. Johnson and Paule Doucet, A Sharper View: Evaluating the Vitality of Official Language Minority Communities, Ottawa, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, 2006, on-line version consulted October 30, 2009.

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Footnote 2

Marc L. Johnson, “The Evasive Vitality of Francophone Minority Communities,” Canadian Issues / Thèmes canadiens, Spring 2008, p. 21-24.

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Footnote 3

To learn more about Western Canadian Francophone communities, see the Francophone and Acadian Community Profiles of Canada, prepared by the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne, available on its website.

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Footnote 4

The following definition of “terroir” is the product of a collaboration by the Institut national de la recherche agronomique and the Institut National des appellations d'origine (re-named Institut national de l'origine et de la qualité in 2007). This definition was presented during UNESCO's “Planète Terroirs” international meeting in Paris in 2005: “A Terroir is a determined geographical area, defined by a human community, which generates and accumulates along its history a set of distinctive cultural traits, knowledge and practices based on a system of interactions between the natural environment and human factors. The know-how involved carries originality, confers its typical nature, and enables recognition of the goods and services originating from this specific geographical area and thus of the people living within it. These areas are living and innovative spaces which are more than just about tradition.” (UNESCO, A Project for the Terroirs Around the World. Information materials for the UNESCO 34th General Conference, October 16-November 3, 2007.)

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