Column

Bilingualism in New Brunswick

On June 15, 2010 I wrote a column for Slaw titled “Evolution of Bilingual Judgments in New Brunswick”. The judicial process was only a part of the struggle of New Brunswick francophones against assimilation.

Francophones, speaking French at home, account for about 30% of the New Brunswick population of 730,000.

I was a practicing lawyer in New Brunswick in the 1960s when the court process functioned only in English. A trial in French was not available. The land registry was only in English, you could not file a mortgage in French. Files maintained by lawyers were only in English. Today many lawyers’ files are maintained in French and trails can be in French and most judges are bilingual. A French language law school, with courses in English common law, was founded in 1978 at the Universite de Moncton.

The long Francophone struggle against assimilation was also successful in the area of education. In the 1940s some unilingual Francophone children were often forced to attend English schools. In the book The Rise of French in New Brunswick (1989) by Richard Wilbur at page 164 the author states “J.K. McKee, the Liberal member for Kent …..said figures indicated that 47% of Kent County children never got beyond grade two”. At the time Kent County was mostly francophone.

In the 1960s, the Program for Equal Opportunity provided for the first time provincial funding for all New Brunswick schools. Previously local taxes funded schools which led to the unequal funding of schools.

The English minority in Quebec was treated much better. I was a member of the English minority in Quebec in the 1940s and I attended several English language schools in Montreal.

Today in the English city of Fredericton there are several French language schools for francophone children.

Richard Wilbur concludes at page 271:

“After a 120 year struggle, French New Brunswickers have achieved three basic objectives in their determination to preserve their cultural autonomy. They have their own school system with the all-important university and professional faculties.”

New Brunswick is the only officially bilingual province!

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