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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 19, Number 3, Nov./Dec. 2006

What exactly is a Francophone school?

by Daniel Bouchard

You teach for the Francophone district? Is that one of those private schools? My child is in French Immersion, is that the same thing?

These are some of the questions I am asked by teachers at English workshops or even by the general public and I answer as best I can.

I tell them that I am a native Franco-Columbian still living in Maillardville and that I teach in my public community school, l’École des Pionniers de Maillardville, with students whose background is connected to our French heritage in Canada and across the world.

Let me start from the beginning and recount the story of French education in British Columbia.

In the early 1900s, Fraser Mills, the largest mill in the world at the time, was in dire need of good workers specializing in the wood industry. They had a fairly large group of experienced Québécois brought by train to Coquitlam, promising them a church and school in order to preserve their culture and language. These pioneers founded Maillardville, which they named, not after the well-known duck, but after their first parish priest, Father Maillard. As well, Québécois nuns were brought in to deliver the best quality French education possible to the often very large families, some of them my relatives. After the Second World War they built a second French church and private school to accommodate the migration of French Canadians from the prairies.

I went to this second private school, belonged to the French community all my life, and even taught there for a few years. As there was no public French school, my father paid to have his seven children go to six different private schools (elementary schools, boys’ French boarding high schools in Edmonton, and my sister in Maillardville) while still paying public property taxes to support the public schools. He was double-taxed at the time, but still managed to make ends meet. He would just jokingly tell us to put more water in the soup and it would last longer.

Prime Minister Trudeau opened our eyes to the fact that one-third of Canadians were Francophone and had the right to have their children educated in French anywhere in Canada. From then on, Francophone parents endeavoured to have a Francophone education for their children in British Columbia.

In my teens, I witnessed the first fiery public meetings for French public schools in BC and my baby sister was in the first public Francophone class in Maillardville. Francophone parents fought to ensure their children’s rights and more than once engaged the province in the possibility of involvement with the court system.

Nearly 10 years ago, thanks to our Charter of Rights and to these parents, we got the right, not just to have our French schools, but to manage them.

When the Francophone Education Authority or le Conseil scolaire francophone was instituted in 1996, I was teaching in one of the Francophone schools. We had Francophone programs before that but were isolated and governed by the various school districts within which we taught. We had to make many of our own resources and were pretty much on our own.

The Conseil scolaire francophone is one of the few regional school districts in Canada spanning an entire province with 39 sites. We are a small group of nearly 300 Francophone teachers educating almost 4,000 students and we now have our own school board, administrators, consultants, etc.

Finally we can govern our own schools, and even have the right to acquire land and have schools built. Surprisingly, the bulk of our incoming money is generated per student head, about the same amount as our English counterparts, and like you, we have found ourselves in the same deficit situation for the past number of years. We are not elitist; we have roughly the same proportion of children with learning challenges and have our share of children with special needs, too.

Why do I teach for the Francophone district? Why did my ancestors and I sacrifice so much for so long to keep our Francophone children educated in our mother tongue? The answer is simple. Without passing on our language, we cannot transmit our culture, our historical identity, our uniqueness. Without our schools, we could easily slip into the mainstream culture as have so many of us.

I say, let’s celebrate our diversity, our uniqueness, our differences, and the fact that Canada is a success story that accomplished what our European counterparts never could. We have French Immersion, but we also can be proud to have our Francophone schools in every province in Canada!

So what is a Francophone school? It is the heart of our community, that which promulgates and preserves our culture, that which binds us and lets us continue to pass on our unique Canadian identity to our children. It is not a French immersion school since only children who are under the Charter of Rights can attend.

To all British Columbians, mille mercis! It worked for me, a 53-year-old native French BC Canadian, a product of the Francophone system, and I truly believe that it is working for our children of French heritage in our Francophone public system.

Thank you also British Columbians for your respect of our needs and for allowing us to make it happen.

It is quite something to conceive that Francophone education is nearing the 100-year mark in BC.

Joyeux 20e anniversaire à l’École des Pionniers de Maillardville!

Joyeux 10e anniversaire au Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique

La voici mon histoire, mon vécu, ma passion et j’en suis extrêmement fier!

Daniel Bouchard is vice-president of the Francophone Teachers’ Union.

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