An Anniversary for Canadian Bilingualism
Perhaps, the most lasting legacy of the era of Pierre Trudeau, is the transformation of Canada through official bilingualism and multiculturalism. These foci of our cultural life have slow seen Canada become richer and a more open culturally diverse society.
When I was young, Canada was really "two solutudes". French was the language spoken largely among citizens of French heritage in Quebec, New Brunswick and smaller regions in other Provinces. It was the language of daily useage while English remained the language of government and business. The relationship culturally was symbolized for me in the designation of Toronto "the Good" and Montreal "the Bad. Toronto was a stuffy ProtestantBritish city in those years and a cultural wasteland. Montreal, on the other hand, was a Catholic French city, culturally richer and diverse. We in English Canada knew little of the cultural life among Francophones and visa versa. Both Societies were dominated by powerful social elites, the Family Compact in English Canada and the Catholic Church in Quebec.
Forty years ago, the proposal to make Canada officially bilingual, was up for discussion. This meant that government federal services would be delivered in French or English, across the country. This was the beginning of a transformation of Canada. These has been much discussion and struggle over this policy and its implementation and inspiration for other aspects of our society within provincial and municipal governments and even within social institutions and business. Many English speaking Canadians embraced this with French education for their children and themselves.
The success of this program can be seen in the recent report that 80% of Canadians support bilingualism and the number of people who speak both official language has doubled to 16%.
Not yet a large percentage but a growing one.
In my own family, my sister's children became bilingual through French emersion education so that today; one lives in Montreal and daily functions in French and another has studied in a French university. My grandchildren attend a public school that teaches in French. They are thoroughly bilingual. By the time they are ready for high school they will be able to choose to continue in French or English. For their mother's Franco-Ontario family they represent the continuation of their French heritage for another generation.
The multicultural aspect of Trudeau's vision developed along side of bilingualism. The influx of immigrants whose mother tongue was neither English or French have embraced the English or French cultures, and often both. At the same time. they have made great cultural contributions to Canadian culture. Toronto has become a culturally rich with very large immigrant communities. Toronto, the Good, has been transformed into a very cosmopolitan city. Similar transformations have happened in other Canadian cities.
Canada has become a more culturally tolerant Society than our southern neighbour as we have come to celebrate the richness of our differences rather than demanding acculturation means "a melting pot". As an example, of this we saw a a young Cree girl, Akina Shirt, for the Saddle Lake First Nation, sing the national anthem in Cree at a National Hockey League game. There have been no negative comments about this and the general impression in the media is that it was a wonderful cultural expression we all enjoyed.