When one thinks of modern francophone populations in Canada,
Newfoundland and Labrador hardly come to mind, or at least such
was the case until quite recently. This is not surprising given
that Newfoundland is the most English of all Canada's provinces,
with the French-speaking population accounting for less than one
per cent of its 547,155 inhabitants (Statistics Canada 1996).
And those who claim only French as their mother tongue do so
despite the fact that they are all more or less bilingual.
Even the province's proximity to three of the last vestiges
of France's presence in North America, namely Québec, Acadia
and the islands of St. Pierre-Miquelon, has not been enough
to keep the French fact in Newfoundland from remaining
French Newfoundland Flag.
Designed by Lily Fortin.
Reproduced by permission of the Fédération des
francophonie de Terre Neuve et du Labrador. ©2000.
French-speaking people can be found throughout
Newfoundland and Labrador, but most are located in the eastern and western
regions of Labrador and on the extreme eastern and western reaches of
the island portion of the province. Although these groups have
the French language in common, historical and economic
factors make them quite distinct from one another.
The majority of western Labrador's present-day francophones
originally came from Québec and settled in towns that did
not even exist 50 years ago. The town of
Labrador City-Wabush is situated near the Québec border,
and throughout the 1950s and the 1960s many Quebecois took
up residence there in order to work in the mining industry.
Successive generations of francophones came to refer to themselves
as Franco-Labradorians instead of Quebecois. Due to its
proximity to Québec and to the number of francophones in
the area, many French-speaking entrepreneurs offer business
services in their mother tongue.
In contrast, the eastern region of Labrador is home to
francophones of a broader background. Most of them work
at the Happy Valley-Goose Bay military base or airport and
therefore do not stay for long periods of time. An overview
of French-speaking Labradorians reveals that most of them
enjoy a high standard of living, are employed on a
full-time basis and are well-paid.
The capital city of St. John's is home to a considerable
number of francophones who come from many parts of the
French-speaking world: Europe, Acadia, Québec, Manitoba,
Ontario, St. Pierre and Miquelon and the west coast of
Newfoundland. They are often professionals who have come
to the area to work in federal and provincial government
offices or to work or study at Memorial University.
Others work in the service industry. For this reason,
St. John's francophones are generally well educated and
enjoy a high standard of living. Like the francophones
of eastern Labrador, they are often transient.
|Franco Fest, 2000.
Murray Premises, St. John's. Each year the Association Francophonie de Saint-Jean hosts
Franco Fest, a festival dedicated to celebrating Francophone culture.
Reproduced by permission of L'Association
Francophonie de Saint-Jean. ©2000.
Yet another concentration of francophones is found along
the west coast of the island. They are the descendants
of settlers who arrived from France and Acadia several
generations ago, and they live, for the most part, in
three villages on the Port-au-Port peninsula: Cape St.
George (Cap-St-Georges), Black Duck Brook and Winterhouses
(L'Anse-à-Canards et Maisons-d'Hiver) and Mainland (La Grand-Terre).
Other pockets of francophones are scattered throughout the west
coast in towns and villages such as Stephenville, Kippens,
Marche's Point (La Pointe-à-Luc) and Three Rock Cove (Trois Cailloux).
The distinctive speech of these areas has evolved from the
French dialects spoken by the Breton fishermen and Acadian
farmers who settled in the area in the 19th century.
The maritime environment and loan words from English, and
even Mi'kmaq, also render their speech distinct from other
French dialects. Their standard of living is lower than
that of francophones living in Labrador and St. John's.
Not only have they had to fight against ever-present
assimilation pressures, they have also had to cope with dismal
socio-economic prospects, as the lack of industry has forced
many to leave the area in search of work. The region was again
struck hard when, in 1992, the government imposed the cod
moratorium, driving the unemployment rate as high as 90%
in some villages in the area.
Assimilation has long been a serious problem for the francophones
of Newfoundland and Labrador, especially those living on the
west coast of the island. With English serving as the language
of education, religion and government services, French lost
ground among many French Newfoundlanders. Over the past 30
years, however, measures have been taken to reverse this trend.
The Official Languages Act of 1969 coincided with a
collective rebirth of interest in French heritage on the
Port-au-Port peninsula. Since then, federal monies have
helped francophone organizations on the peninsula stage
the socio-cultural projects essential to the promotion
of their identity and language.
Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's visit to the area in 1975
kept alive the renewal of interest in the French culture.
Francophone organizations sprang up in other areas of the
province, promoting pride and solidarity by taking advantage
of the federal policies of bilingualism and biculturalism.
As a result, the feeling of inferiority that had long been
associated with speaking French in Newfoundland began to vanish.
The Fédération des francophones de Terre-Neuve et du
Labrador is a non-profit organization that was founded in
Stephenville in 1973. Presently located in St. John's, it
coordinates the activities of the francophone community on
a provincial scale. It oversees the business of four other
organizations: l'Association régionale de la côte ouest
(ARCO), l'Association francophone de Saint-Jean, l'Association
francophone du Labrador and Franco-Jeunes.
L'Association francophone de Saint-Jean plans activities
for the francophone community of the St. John's area and promotes
the French heritage on the Avalon peninsula. It is equipped with
a French library and video collection and conducts guided tours of
the city in French during the summer.
||Francophone School Children, 2000.
Francophone school children perform a play at the Franco Fest.
Reproduced by permission of L'Association
Francophonie de Saint-Jean. ©2000.
The offices of l'Association régionale de la côte ouest are
located in the Centre communautaire et scolaire Sainte-Anne
at Mainland, which also houses the museum, the family resource centre
and the community radio and television stations administered by ARCO.
ARCO also works in the area of economic and tourist development,
organizes regional music festivals and offers literacy courses
Franco-Jeunes is a youth-oriented organization whose mandate
is to protect the French language among francophones aged 13 to 24 years,
by giving them the opportunity to participate with other young
francophones in local, provincial and national activities.
L'Association francophone du Labrador maintains a community
centre where francophones from the west of Labrador, including a
women's group, can meet. The centre also houses Radio-Labrador,
a community radio station whose broadcast content is ninety-five
per cent French. The association also manages the Jeux d'Hiver
labradoriens, a winter sporting event.
|L'Association francophone du Labrador Logo.
Reproduced by permission of L'Association francophone
du Labrador. ©2000.
La Fédération des parents francophones de Terre-Neuve et du
Labrador, besides offering preschool classes and organizing extra-curricular
activities, was a key factor in the establishment in 1997 of the
province's first francophone school board.
Lastly, le Gaboteur is a bi-monthly newspaper that offers French
Newfoundlanders the chance to read about current affairs that are
relevant to them and that they are unable to read elsewhere.
On October 5th, 1986, the Fédération des francophones de Terre-Neuve
et du Labrador officially adopted a flag designed by Lily Fortin
of St. John's and raised it for the first time at Mainland in 1987.
The flag reflects the origins of French Newfoundlanders by
borrowing the red, white and blue from the flag of France and
the yellow of the star of the Acadian flag.
The yellow of the sails also recalls the colour formerly associated with the French
fleur de lis. In addition to symbolizing action and progress,
the sails bring to mind French explorers, as well as the Basque,
Breton and French fishermen who crossed the Atlantic ocean as
early as the sixteenth century to fish the waters off Newfoundland.
A spruce twig on the topsail stands for the mainland portion of the
province, while the pitcher plant of the lower sail represents
the island portion. The diagonal lines separating the red, white
and blue sections of the flag evoke the vitality of Newfoundland's
French-speaking population (Harrington 141-143).
© 1998, Jeff Butt
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