Op-Ed: What International Francophonie Day means to me

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I often reflect on how little people appreciate the Francophone culture not only in New Brunswick but across Canada. Today, on International Francophonie Day, I want to tell you about my experience as an Acadien in a predominantly Anglophone community and why I’m actively making the decision to share my family’s culture on a daily basis.

Emily Wheaton/Submitted

Background

The International Francophonie Day was created by the Agency for Cultural and Technical Cooperation (ACCT) on March 20, 1970, in Niamey, Niger. It was the first step in the creation of what would become the International Organisation of La Francophonie.

La Francophonie exists across the world formally in 29 countries and within the 77 member states of the International Organisation of La Francophonie. French language and culture are specifically conducive to solidarity and mutual understanding. Therefore, creating space for french cultural and linguistic tradition is itself an act of solidarity.

Union of National Employees/Website

La Francophonie manifests itself differently not only across nations but in Canada as well and it is important to remember that La francophonie is more than an organization of member states. La francophonie is a concept, a way of thinking and being that is first and foremost, francophone.

La Francophonie in Canada 

The majority of French Canadians are located in Québec as it is the only province in which French is the sole official language. Around one million native Francophones live outside of Québec. A large percentage of them can be found here, in New Brunswick.

Francophones make up around a third of the New Brunswick population. Moreover, around 41 percent of New Brunswick’s are French speakers.

New Brunswick is the only official bilingual province of Canada which is enshrined in the Canadian constitution. On a federal level, the Official Languages Act of 1969 recognizes both French and English as the official languages of Canada, and both languages are granted equal status by the Canadian government. This means all services provided by the federal government are provided and operated in both languages.

In Ontario and Manitoba, provincial services in French are required where the provision is justified in accordance with Francophone numbers.

Acadien culture in NB 

French colonists settled in the Maritimes and brought with them the French language. Acadie (commonly known as Acadia in English) was an ethnic group of Francophones that created a community and way of living across the Maritimes.

In 1755, the British forcibly removed Acadiens from the Maritimes in masses. The expulsions of Acadiens continued on until 1764. Men, women, and children were forcibly removed from their land as the British burned their homes and rewarded loyal Englishmen their land.

Acadiens were sent on boats to British North American colonies, Britain and France, and Spanish Louisiana. Some were imprisoned by the British as well.

Fernande Devost/Radio-Canada

Over 14,000 Acadiens were deported, and at least 5,000 Acadiens died of disease and drowning. The event is widely regarded as a crime against humanity by present-day historians.

The expulsion of Acadiens has never been forgotten. I learned about it at a young age through the famous poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Evangeline, which can be found here. An English translation can be found here. 

Acadien Day in New Brunswick is observed on August 15 every year, or as most Acadiens know it “quinze août.” Acadien French, known as Chiac, dubbed the day “quinze zou des fous” or simply “quinze zou”.

Ville de Baie Sainte-Marie/Website

The day is a time to celebrate the culture that the Acadien people of New Brunswick reclaimed. It is a day to be proud of the obstacles Acadiens have faced and continue to face. I grew up celebrating it by the beach with family, great Acadien music, and classic Acadien dishes such as poutine rappée (not to be confused with poutine Québecois) and coques frites (fried clams).

Growing up Acadien 

I grew up in Moncton, which is what I would say is an even split between Francophones and Anglophones. My mother is Anglophone, and my father is Francophone, which always left me feeling like I was not French enough, but also not English enough.

Visiting my cousin Laurence in Quebec City in 2017 (Emily Wheaton/Submitted).

My father grew up with the very Anglophone last name of “Wheaton,” and his friends always used to joke with him because his first name was “Mark,” as opposed to the French spelling “Marc.” But his whole education was in French, and he studied at the Francophone Université de Moncton.

On the other hand, my mother was a product of late French immersion, and while she could hold a generic conversation in French, she was not as fluent as my father.

I was sent to an English school in the French immersion program, and I thoroughly enjoyed it because I could spend half of my time in French and the other half in English. I enjoyed my childhood because I really got to take advantage of my bilingual roots.

I spent my childhood summers in Francophone New Brunswick in villages like Saint Antoine, Memramcook, and Bouctouche on the piers watching my dad bargain for lobster and clams. I loved every minute of it. I immersed myself in Acadien culture throughout the summers of my childhood, eating traditional food, speaking French the majority of my time, and reading Acadien literature like La Sagouine by Antoine Maillet. I also visited the iconic Acadien spot Le Pays de la Sagouine.

Moving from Francophone NB 

When I moved to Saint John for my university education, I quickly realized that as I moved further from Moncton, I was moving further away from La Francophonie.

Saint John is a predominantly Anglophone-speaking community, and as I have lived here longer, I miss the Acadien community. I’ve feared losing my French as I spend further time away from it, but I’ve chosen to actively spend time with French every day, whether it be through taking French courses in university or consuming French media.

The beach I spent my childhood summers at near Grande-Digue NB (Emily Wheaton/Submitted).

International Francophonie Day means a lot to me. Firstly, it represents the Francophonie community globally and shows how one language can unite a large group of people, no matter their individual backgrounds. Secondly, it represents the reclamation of Acadien culture throughout the Maritimes and reminds me, as a Franco-Canadian to continue to show Acadien culture in Anglophone parts of the country. And lastly, it reminds me of my amazing childhood and the lasting memories I hold growing up in a bilingual household connected to a beautiful and harmonious culture.

Emily is in her fourth year of Political Science. She loves studying and academics which follows into her research work. She's a stern black coffee drinker and is a proud Acadienne. When she's not working or doing school work, you can find Emily listening to 70s music on vinyl and watching Parks and Recreation. If you ask her about parliamentary institutions, she won't stop talking.