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The Franco-Albertan Community in 1966-1967

In 1966-1967, is Canada celebrating one hundred years of Confederation and Montréal is hosting the famous Expo ’67. Both events have put Canada in a celebrating mood. The Franco-Albertan community is sharing in the good spirits since four of its favorite sons and daughters have been chosen to become hosts and hostesses at Expo ‘67’s Canadian Pavilion.

On the home front, Dr Joseph Moreau is the current president of l’Association canadienne-française de l’Alberta (ACFA) and his vice presidents are Roger Motut Ph.D. and Gérard Diamond. The treasurer is Guy Poirier, the general secretary is Jean Patoine and Eugène Trottier is the propagandist. Members of the Executive include Jacques Boucher, Jean-Louis Lebel, Paul Morin, Georges Nobert, Mme Pierre Gariépy and Mme Charles Lefebvre. The Association’s General Council does not only include members from several regions such as  the city of Edmonton, Morinville-Legal, Bonnyville, Saint-Paul, Rivière-la-Paix and Calgary but it also includes representatives from other franco-albertan associations such as the Association des éducateurs bilingues de l’Alberta (AEBA), Radio-Edmonton Limité, the Conseil albertain de la coopération, representatives from CARDA, from Collège Saint-Jean, from  Collège Notre-Dame-de-la-Paix, from le Petit Séminaire de Saint-Paul, l’Académie Assomption, La Survivance, the Conseil de la Vie-française, and from a group called les Visiteurs d’écoles.

As we have just seen, many associations are at work in the francophone community. And in 1966 a new one has added itself to the list, the Conseil albertain de la Coopération which is presided by Fernando Girard and which regroups Alberta’s 11 francophone credit unions and 4 cooperative movements.

But according to Louis Desrochers, a former president of l’ACFA, there are a few problems in the franco-albertan community and Desrochers will take advantage of the ACFA’s annual meeting to list them. There is still a lot of apathy in our community, says Desrochers. More than 80, 000 Albertans are of French origin and how many of them are members of l’ACFA, he asks?

Nous souffrons encore d’apathie…. Je n’oserais pas demander ce soir combien ici sont membres de l’ACFA. Je n’oserais pas demander pareille question ailleurs dans la province. Après tout, nous sommes au-delà de 80,000 Albertains d’origine française et combien de membres y a-t-il dans l’ACFA? (Almanach 1967, pp.4-5)

But once we place Desrochers’ comments in context, it is relatively easy to see that Desrochers is really trying to make a point about the need of adopting a more flexible approach when dealing with the ACFA’s membership. Many of our compatriots who have lost their capacity to speak French are still very sympathetic to our cause, says Desrochers and many of them could help us. The ACFA needs to open up to new realities and to change its perspective on its membership.

Plusieurs de nos compatriotes qui perdent le français nous sont encore très sympathiques, plusieurs de nos compatriotes anglophones se rapprochent de nos vues et ces deux groupes pourraient nous aider énormément…Plusieurs nouveaux Canadiens, et je ne parle pas seulement des Français et des Belges, - pourraient aussi prêter main-forte, mais nous avons été refermés sur nous-mêmes…(Almanach 1967, pp 4-5)

The former president then goes on to say that the regional francophone communities do not get the attention they deserve. But on the other hand, these same communities may not give as much importance to the French fact as they should. Can we say in all honesty that the French fact has been given all the attention it should have in the Peace River region in the Saint Paul region? We are quick to ask for official bilingualism but do we practice what we preach, asks Desrochers.

….pouvons-nous dire, en toute franchise, que notre fait français se fait sentir au maximum dans la région de la Rivière-la-Paix, dans la région de Saint-Paul… Avons-nous monté dans nos régions, des spectacles qui témoignent suffisamment de notre présence… Je constate que nous réclamons le bilinguisme officiel, et nous ne le pratiquons pas nous-mêmes” (Almanach, 1967, p. 7)

Forty years later, however, knowing how these comments and others like them are going to be interpreted and implemented we have a very different view on matters as they stood in 1966. But whatever we may think of Desrochers’ views today, it is important to admit that his comments give us a bird’s eye view of the attitudes at work in the community in 1966.

In the field of Francophone Education, some community leaders are to quick to concentrate on the losses rather than to see the importance of the gains. They believe that too many francophone teachers choose to work in Anglophone schools all the while ignoring the great need of teachers in the Francophone community and too few students are choosing l’École de pédagogie at Saint-Jean.

For others, however, the future is quite promising. Now that both the École de pédagogie and the Saint-Jean Arts program are affiliated to the U of A, Saint-Jean has become a bilingual Junior College, the only one of its kind in the Province. This affiliation with the U of A replaces Saint-Jean’s former affiliation with the University of Ottawa established during the Collège’s early years. As for the amendments to the School Act that the community has been waiting for, the news are promising. Members of the ACFA and of the Department of Education have met on several occasion in order to study the needs of the franco-albertan community. Community officials are hoping that new changes to the School Act will allow for the use of French as a language of instruction. On October 13th 1967, the Minister of Education informs the representatives of the Franco-Albertan community that he will be bringing forth a resolution stating that grades 1 and 2 should be taught completely in French and that grade 3 should be taught in French with the exception of one hour of English. For grades 4 to 12, the Minister is proposing that a maximum of three hours a day be taught in French. The amendment will be adopted in April. Finally, the long-awaited changes in Francophone Education, are becoming a reality.

Unfortunately the news are not so promising in every field. In September 1967, the Francophone bookstore Schola is threatening to close its doors in September 1967; the work on the establishment of a French television station is not progressing as expected and the French newspaper La Survivance is barely scraping by. The community leaders are hoping that the proposed facelift that is planned for the newspaper will give it a new lease on life. As of November 15 1967 La Survivance will be known as Le Franco-Albertain and it is hoped that its new format will make it more attractive to readers

Some of the news coming from outside the province are not very promising either. Quebec’s États-généraux have started in November 1966 and it is quickly becoming evident that for many Québécois French Canada stops at the Quebec border. But for those in need of good news, one should remember that the effects of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism are very positive and seem to promise a whole new outlook on bilingualism in Canada.

However, when you sift through the bad news and the good news of 1966-1967 one fact seem to stand out as being particularly promising. The community’s young people are becoming more and more active. Their presence is being felt everywhere. For example more than 140 young people flocked to the annual ACFA meeting held in Falher in November.  On October 15 1965, the Comité des jeunes du Cercle Edmonton de l’ACFA is established under the presidency of Gabriel Audy. This group will prove to be very pro-active and its successes include the first children’s Cabane à Sucre, the first boîte à chanson and a national convention for young Francophones from the Western provinces held at Banff’s School of Fine Arts in October 1967. The group will also be mandated to organize a provincial youth organization. Members of the new youth group will be invited to become full fledged members of both the General Council and the provincial Executive of the ACFA.

In 1966-1967 numerous young Francophone adults are also very active in the field of theatre and music. For example many new “À coeur joie” choirs are organized all over the province, the “À coeur joie” movement being an off shoot of the national movement of the same name that is sweeping Canada at the time. The movement will be very successful in Alberta.

Also in 1966-1967 two very special music groups are organized: Les Copines, a group of seven young women from l’Académie and Les Mikis, a small instrumental ensemble created by André Roy, the very popular host of CHFA’s “Salut les copain”. As for theatre, two new groups are established during this year: le Rideau Rouge created by France Levasseur and which regroups Saint-Jean students and le Théâtre français d’Edmonton under the direction of Jean Fortier. The TFE’s first and largest success ever is their production of “L’auberge des morts subites” a play by Félix Leclerc. More than 2,000 spectators will attend the various presentations given all over Alberta that year.

In the final analysis, one would be tempted to conclude that in 1966-1967 the gains overcome the losses in the Franco-Albertan community, the contribution of the community’s youth having tipped the balance towards a bright and promising future.

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