On February 29th, The Assemblée communautaire fransaskoise (ACF) celebrated its 100th anniversary. For a century, this organisation has defended the rights of Saskatechewan Francophones and has acted as spokesperson for the Fransaskois community. But who are the Fransaskois? I asked the question to Denis Simard, director general of the organization, who will inform us about the status of the French language in this Canadian prairies province.
To define the term "Fransaskois" Mr. Simard refers us to the official definition found in the Report of The Commission on Inclusion of the Fransaskois community:
“A Fransaskois is someone who identifies him- or herself with the Saskatchewan Francophone community, today or in the past, whether through birth, marriage or adoption or by identifying with the Fransaskois community, who contributes to the vitality of the French language as well as the growth and development of the French-speaking communities in Saskatchewan, while acknowledging that there are many ways to make a contribution.”
Saskatchewan's Francophone community is composed of approximately 52,000 people, of which 17,000 are French first language speakers. However, Francophiles are also included in this community. "This is an inclusive community,” says Mr. Simard. “This is a community that is friendly and welcoming, for those, whose first language is French as well as for the new generation of Francophones, such as immigrants and those migrating from other parts of Canada."
By defending political rights and policies and by providing employment, immigration and community development services, the ACF is the governing body of the province's Francophone community. "We want to ensure that there are always jobs for Francophones and, with regards to immigration, we seek to increase and culturally diversify our population," says its director.
To mark its 100th anniversary, the ACF decided to partner with the Town of Duck Lake, which is also celebrating a century of existence. "We visited the town which in 1912, hosted the meeting that led to the founding of the first Fransaskois community organisation,” says Mr. Simard. “At the time, 450 Francophones had come together in this town to create an organization in their image."
Denis Poirrier, mayor of the Town of Duck Lake, Wayne Elhard, provincial secretary and Heppelle Paul, president of the ACF.
Although Saskatchewan's Francophone community is dynamic, the fact remains that it is facing significant challenges, particularly in regards to the aging population. "55% of the Francophone population is aged 55 and over,” says Mr. Simard. “We have an aging population which means that many of our towns are vulnerable because the population is not replaced by the next generation of young Francophones."
Still, Mr. Simard is optimistic about the survival of French in Saskatchewan. He believes that the economic recovery and immigration will bring new energy to the province's Francophone community. "We are anxiously awaiting the next census statistics. Our community should see an increase due to immigration," he hopes.
Happy anniversary to the ACF! Cheers to another 100 years!