Courtesy Brian Mlazgar
FransaskoisMany French-speaking families, like the family of Napoléon Pilon above, immigrated to Saskatchewan in the early 1900s.
Three-year-old Nico Butel-Marchildon chatted excitedly in French to his father while walking through Regina’s streets on a summer evening. They were headed to Connaught Library as part of their Tuesday night routine. Upon arrival, Nico ran up the stairs, looking forward to the books, toys, and librarians who were sure to dote on him again. He hoped they would pick up a new Astérix or Les Aventures de Tintin. As soon as they pulled the door open, Nico switched to speaking in English.
This was the first time it hit Francis Marchildon that his son already knew the difference between select French settings and the English province they live in.
“He knew right away it was a public space, we were no longer in our little intimate bubble,” says Marchildon.
Today in Saskatchewan, the French language and culture exist only in these bubbles. Saskatchewan’s Francophones are facing assimilation.
There is no single definition of what it means to be Fransaskois. At the most basic level, the term refers to those in Saskatchewan who identify with the Francophone community. Fransaskois is a language, a culture, and a people—a people who have been fighting a continuous battle against English dominance.
“It’s always been a struggle—it’s never been easy. That’s the minority experience. You have to fight about it. You cannot just stand there and do nothing. If you do that you’ll be crushed, so you have to fight for it and work,” says Frédéric Dupré, who works at the Institut français at the University of Regina.
The assimilation rate of the Fransaskois is 61 per cent. This means only 39 per cent of Francophone parents pass the French language on to their children, according to the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada. The population of the Fransaskois has been in decline for the past 60 years. According to the census, the Francophone population dropped from 36,815 in 1951 to 18,935 in 2011. As if their own declining numbers weren’t enough to drown them in a sea of English, the Anglophone population increased by over 60 per cent in the same time period.
The Fransaskois’s decreasing numbers have been supplemented by other factors. In the census, 46,570 indicated that they can carry a conversation in both French and English. Saskatchewan’s booming economy and increased immigration has brought more French-speaking people into the province. The ever-evolving face of the Fransaskois is now one of diversity and inclusion of all who participate in the French community.
The French language has a deep-rooted presence in Saskatchewan history. Eighteenth-century Métis founded the first Francophone communities in the west. French Canadian settlers established the Francophone village Saint Isidore de Bellevue in 1882. In February of 1912, the Francophone community officially banded together to create their own governing body. Now called the Assemblée communautaire fransaskoise (ACF), its purpose is to promote and defend the language and cultural rights of Francophones in Saskatchewan.
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