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'You Can't Have it All French, All at Once': French Language Rights, Bilingualism, and Political Community in Saskatchewan, 1870-1990

Date

2016-07-14

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Thesis

Degree Level

Doctoral

Abstract

This study is about the place of French and French speakers in the Saskatchewan political community. Beginning with the political foundations of western Canada in 1870, it argues that exclusion of the French language and francophone culture became central to how Saskatchewan understood itself politically. Saskatchewan was to be part of a new British-Canadian nation which left behind the problems of language, religion, and culture plaguing central Canada. English would be the province's only official language. Over the next century this understanding of the Saskatchewan political community was reinforced during key moments of provincial history. Whenever there was a crisis of state legitimacy or a threat to the cultural definition of the region -- the founding of Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan (1870 and 1905 respectively), the First World War and the interwar years (1914 to 1931), and the rise of the new West (1968 to 1990), the English-speaking character of Western Canada was reinforced by successive provincial governments and their citizens, while the French language and francophone culture were cast as alien to the region's cultural character. From the beginning, however, this vision of Saskatchewan was threatened by proponents of a bilingual and bicultural Canada. These political leaders and activists believed equality of francophones and anglophones to be part of western Canadian history and an important value for the Saskatchewan political community. The battle over official bilingualism and language rights between 1968 and 1990 provides new insights into how Saskatchewan understood itself and its history. Although after 1968 it was no longer fashionable for Canada to define itself as principally British, bilingualism remained a problematic notion for the provincial political community. New provincial cultural policies after 1968 led to a pitched battle involving politics of memory. Saskatchewan francophones insisted that Saskatchewan declare itself bilingual because the Fransaskois had opened and helped found western Canada, while Saskatchewan governments insisted that multiculturalism was the real (hi)story of the West. Faced with increasing Fransaskois activism and the choice of making French an official language in the province during these years, both New Democratic Party and Progressive Conservative governments chose not to do so, arguing that such a move had no historical, political, or demographic justification. By 1990 the battle over bilingualism was largely over. The Fransaskois left their mark on the modern Saskatchewan political community by scoring key victories in certain areas, but also by surviving bitter defeats in others.

Description

Keywords

Official Bilingualism, Saskatchewan, Fransaskois, French language, Language rights, Anglo-conformity, Assimilation, Politics of Saskatchewan, History of Saskatchewan

Citation

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Department

History

Program

History

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