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Fransaskois are francophones or French Canadians living in the Prairie province of Saskatchewan. The term Franco-saskatchewanian may also be used on occasion, although in practice it is rare due to its length and unwieldiness.
French speakers represent about two per cent of the population of Saskatchewan, and like the province itself natural increase and net emigration nearly balance one another out. Fransaskois and Fransaskoises are chiefly found in large cities such as Regina, Saskatoon, Prince Albert and Moose Jaw. However, they form a plurality or majority in small towns like Gravelbourg, Albertville, Duck Lake, Ponteix, Zenon Park and Bellegarde.
As with other French Canadian minority groups in Canada outside of Quebec, not all Fransaskois are French speakers; due to the pressures toward assimilation that the community faces as a small minority group in a predominantly English-speaking province, a considerable number of people who are ethnically Fransaskois are in fact primarily or exclusively anglophone.
In 1752 Louis de La Corne was appointed commandant poste de l’Ouest. He embarked on an expedition along the northern coast of Lake Superior, through Fort Paskoya (Le Pas, Manitoba) and into what is today the province of Saskatchewan establishing Fort Saint-Louis, or what became known as Fort-à-la-Corne, near the forks of the Saskatchewan River. It is there that the first attempts at wheat cultivation in the west took place. La Corne left in order to return to New France, the lands he left behind were the furthest western laying lands in the French Empire.
French coureurs de bois utilized the territory for over a century in their pursuit of furs to trade with the Hudson Bay Company and the North-West Company. These French fur traders often had local First Nations women as their companions. While the majority of these couples were not formally married, the offspring that they produced often carried the French names of their fathers. Names like Dumont, Cardinal, Breland and Vandal are often associated with the French Métis. After the union of the two trading companies in 1821, p. 3 the French Métis settled along the Red River in Manitoba where they lived peacefully until Rupert’s Land, which had been property of the Hudson’s Bay Company, was sold to the Dominion of Canada in 1870. Events moved quickly as Canada hastily attempted to transfer power to their new western lands. After 1870 many Métis left the Red River to seek out new territories where they might return to their former ways of life. The vast majority landed on the banks of the Saskatchewan River in the area of Batoche and Duck Lake where armed resistance led to the Métis defeat at the battle of Batoche in 1885 when Riel surrendered to General Middleton’s soldiers .
At the end of the nineteenth century the Roman Catholic Church aided the government in bringing new groups of immigrants to the prairies. The resulting immigration saw many arrive from Quebec who began establishing towns, schools, churches and businesses. The Canadian government worked to encourage French immigrants from France and Belgium, achieving some success in 1912 and 1913 as some 3000 French arrived in Canada in those two years. p. 72 At the turn of the century the French-speaking settlers represented about 2.9% of the population. p. 101 Five years after the foundation of the province of Saskatchewan in 1905 the French-speaking population represented 5.2%. p. 101 The population grew from 2600 to 25000 in the first ten years of the twentieth century and they would double their population during next two decades. p. 101
The French Canadians arriving in Saskatchewan were mostly farmers interested in developing the agricultural landscape of the province. Others worked full time to ensure the survival of the Catholic Church and the French language in the province. The first bishops of the west were French Canadians who believed that the survival of the Church was dependent on the survival of the mother tongue. In February 1912, 450 members of the Francophone community of Saskatchewan met at Duck Lake to form a provincial organization called La Sociéte du Parler Français de la Saskatchewan. Invited delegates included Bishop Mathieu of Regina, Bishop Charlebois of Keewatin and the Attorney General Alphonse Turgeon. Later that year the society would go on to form the Association Franco-Canadienne de la Saskatchewan. It was renamed again in 1913, the name Association Catholique Franco-Canadienne (ACFC) was chosen to represent the cultural and religious interests the group represents. The name changed again in 1962 when the word Catholique was changed in favour of the word Culturelle. Finally in 1998 the name was changed to the Association Communautaire Fransaskois. The associations function is to unite Francophones of the province in order to promote their ideas and protecting their rights. The success of the ACF can be attributed to many strong leaders such as Raymond Denis, Dr. Laurent Roy, Order of Canada recipient Irene Chabot, Roland Pinsonneault, Dumont Lepage and Albert Dube. The ACF is still functioning today and celebrations for their one-hundredth anniversary are planned throughout 2012. 2012 has been proclaimed the Year of the Fransaskois Community in Saskatchewan by Minister Donna Harpauer in recognition of the 100th anniversary of the ACF.
The right to a French education was not easily won in Saskatchewan. In 1916 several provincial organizations like the Saskatchewan Grain Growers, the Saskatchewan School Trustees’ Association, the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities resolved to forbid the use of foreign languages in the school’s of Saskatchewan. Premier William Martin drafted an amendment to Section 177 of the School Act which limited French instruction to one hour a day. In response to the loss of the right to teach French in a public school in 1918 Franco-Catholic school trustees formed the Association des commissaries d’écoles franco-canadiens (ACEFC). p. 200 In Gravelbourg, Monsignor Mathieu O.M.I Regina opened the College Mathieu, a private institution offering a classical education opened its doors in 1918. For over 75 year the College Mathieu was the only option for a French education in Saskatchewan. The school was renowned for their competitive sports teams and their dynamic arts programs.
Two French newspapers emerged in Saskatchewan, La Liberté and Le Patriote de l’Ouest and two radio stations CFRG in Gravelbourg and CFNS in Saskatoon each began in 1951 and 1952 respectively. Today, the two papers have been combined into a single publication entitled L’Eau Vive. Radio-Canada has taken a leading role in broadcasting French radio and television across the province; both mediums feature some provincially produced content.
In 1982, Article 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights guarantees minority education rights. A Supreme Court decision (Mahe decision) in 1990 recognizes the Fransaskois’ right to control their children’s education. The province of Saskatchwan adopts bill 39 (Multicultural Act) in 1993 and the following year in the town of Gravelbourg the first French council gains control of their school for the first time in nearly eighty years. The ‘Conseil scolaire Fransaskois de la Vielle’ is the first of eight such school councils to gain such control in the province. The other communities were Prince Albert, the Battlefords, Vonda, Bellevue, Bellegarde, Regina and Saskatoon, while French schools also appeared in Moose Jaw, Ponteix and Zenon Park in the next two years that followed. All the councils were consolidated into the Division Scolaire Fransaskois no.310 in 1999 after an amendment to the Education Act of 1995. Today the French school board is called the Conseil des ecoles Fransaskois, it is operated out of offices in Saskatoon, and there are 13 schools, with 1300 students as of September 2010.
The courts recently recognized French-language educational rights straight through to the end of high school. Though there were few all-French schools in 1969, a number of schools were given permission to teach in French. In 1995, the legal battles ended with Saskatchewan's Francophones winning the right to manage their own schools. The "Division Scolaire Francophone no. 310" operates 12 schools and offers full range of services in French. In 1918, in the southern Saskatchewan town of Gravelbourg, Monseigneur O. E. Mathieu founded a private-Catholic school named Collège Mathieu. Women were allowed to attend Collège Mathieu in 1970. It remained in operation as Western Canada's only residential French language institution until spring 2003. As a result of long political battle with the "Division Scolaire Francophone" and due the declining population of students, College Mathieu joined the D.S.F. and is now known as L'école Sécondaire Collège Mathieu.
Despite their numbers, Fransaskois celebrate their vibrant culture regularly. Folk arts, visual arts, fine arts and performance arts all feature prominently in their festivals.
The most famous Fransaskoise was Jeanne Sauvé, born in Prud'homme. She was a Liberal MP, Cabinet minister, Speaker of the House of Commons and ultimately Governor General of Canada. In the arts, notable Fransaskois include the folk band Hart-Rouge and children's entertainer Carmen Campagne (both from the small town of Willow Bunch) and the band Poly-Esther, who have been present on the Canadian stage.
In terms of theatre, there is a French language professional theatre company called La Troupe du Jour, based in Saskatoon and founded in 1987.
In sports, the most notable Fransaskois is New York Islanders forward Blake Comeau of Meadow Lake. Comeau was a member of the 2004 Memorial Cup champion Kelowna Rockets and a member of two Gold medal winning World Junior Hockey championship teams.
The Fransaskois community is served primarily by the radio and television services of Radio-Canada. Télévision de Radio-Canada's CBKFT and Première Chaîne's CBKF-FM are based in Regina and have rebroadcasters throughout the province, while Regina and Saskatoon receive Espace musique service from rebroadcasters of CKSB-FM in Winnipeg.
Two community radio stations, CFNS in Saskatoon and CFRG in Gravelbourg, previously operated as locally-owned affiliates of Radio-Canada's radio network. Both were directly acquired by the network in 1973, becoming rebroadcasters of CBKF. In 2003, a new community station, CFRG-FM, was launched in Gravelbourg by a new community group which has no ownership affiliation with the original CFRG. A bilingual community radio station, CKZP-FM, also operates in Zenon Park.
A weekly community newspaper, L'Eau vive, is published in Regina. Two community newspapers, Triangle News in Coronach and the Gravelbourg Tribune in Gravelbourg, publish content in both English and French.
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