Bilingualism and Biculturalism
After more than a century of dominance in the 1800s, the French language received its first official upset in 1892.
- The Northwest Territories Act of 1891 permitted the use of both French and English in the Legislature, but the territorial government rarely observed this right.
- In 1892 Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories declared by resolution that English was the official language of the Legislature.
- By law, English became the exclusive language of business in the Canadian political and legal arenas.
By the time Alberta was made a province in 1905 use of French in government, the courts and schools was illegal. Non-Francophone Roman Catholics had recently settled in Alberta in growing numbers. With no real legislative support, the French communities feared being swallowed up by an English majority. By the 1960s, French organizations regarded exclusive French-language education as the key to the preservation of their culture. The next decades were marked by some progress, and some controversy.
- 1969, the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism concluded that the smaller Francophone communities outside of Québec were in danger of assimilation.
- The Official Languages Act 1969 proclaimed French and English Canada's two official languages
During this turbulent period, Franco-Albertans could not escape the unrest that surrounded the Quiet Revolution and the rise of separatism in Québec in the 1960s and 1970s.
- Many French-Canadians living in Quebec called for bilingualism, biculturalism, autonomy and equal status in the Canadian Confederation.
- Language rights set in place by the Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, guaranteed Canada as a bilingual nation. But the guarantee was not enforced by the provinces.
Alberta Francophone communities were steadily shrinking in the second-half of the 20th century. When the separatist Parti Quebecois was elected in Québec in 1976, Franco-Albertans faced a new and apparent threat to their survival.
- Québec had a government dedicated to separation from Canada.
- Would a separatist Quebec isolate Franco-Albertans even further?
Many Franco-Albertans opposed the separatist movement a spoke out in favour of a united Canada. Pierre Trudeau had an enormous impact on Franco-Albertans. In 1982 the Canadian Charter, solidified protection of language rights in Canada.
- Franco-Albertans now had the right to access education offered entirely in French.
- Franco-Albertans would have to wait until 1990 for provincial recognition and support of exclusive French education.
Special factors allowed Franco-Albertans to retain their language and culture during the 1970s and 1980.
- Most of the province's French-speaking communities were rural, and the culture was preserved at the community level.
- Roman Catholic Church still played an important part in their social and spiritual lives of many Francophones. It also promoted the preservation of French culture.
The 1990 decision by the Supreme Court of Canada determined that the Alberta provincial government had violated the rights of its French minority population by declining to promote all-French schooling. Franco-Albertans still seek recognition as a distinct community as a founding nation.
Today, French can be heard on the radio, on television, and read in widely distributed French language publications in Alberta. However, despite its official language designation, French will only be found in federal government offices or in agencies, hospitals, schools and clinics that have French speakers on staff.