CPF National Network

In 1977, Canada’s first ever Commissioner of Official Languages met with parents across Canada who wanted their children to learn French as a second language.

The Commissioner’s Solutions

Commissioner Keith Spicer first brought 28 passionate parents together in Ottawa from across the country.  The “Parents’ Conference on French Language and Exchange Opportunities” was held in March 1977.

Canadian Parents for French was then formed as a volunteer-based advocacy group made up of parents who wanted to ensure that children would have the opportunity to become bilingual through public school education.

Conference Achievements

  • The group outlined its mandate and goals
  • Parents elected a National Board of Directors and President, Pat Webster of Ontario.
  • CPF’s founding board members were:
    • Judith Madley (British Columbia), David Saunders (Prairie Region), Elizabeth Annesley (Quebec), and Mary Lou Morrison (Atlantic Region).

Since 1977, CPF has grown from a group of 28 concerned parents into a a proactive national network made up of thousands of passionate voluteers, 11 provincial Branch offices and over 150 Chapters in communities from coast to coast to coast.

CPF BC & Yukon and French Immersion

French immersion was introduced in 1968 in St. Lambert, QC after a few anglophone parents decided that their children would be better off knowing both French and English. The unprecedented idea was met with resistance but ultimately, Canada’s most popular program of choice was born.

Ten years later, CPF BC & Yukon formed when immersion programs were introduced to BC. Judy Madley, a parent from the original conference in 1977, was named president. With no office and no staff, Madley and fellow volunteers worked tirelessly to fuel the program’s growth. CPF BC & Yukon’s first office opened in 1985 in downtown Vancouver.

CPF and FI Expand

CPF memberships were free at first, with only a few hundred students enrolled in immersion programs around BC. With increased demand for advocacy help and resources, a nominal $5 fee was introduced. Today, annual memberships are $25. Out of that amount, $20 is returned to the member’s local chapter to help put on events that enhance the French learning experience.

Early on, the biggest challenge faced by parents was opposition from school boards. One district even had trustees quit rather than be associated with French immersion. In their eyes, the implementation of a French immersion program could be seen as pandering to Québécois. In spite of these early hardships, the branch and its parent volunteers soldiered on undaunted and the program grew steadily.

Fast forward to the late 1990s and suddenly growth in French immersion started to take off in BC. In 1999, there were 29,979 students enrolled in the province. Almost 20 years later, there are over 50,000 immersion students in BC and over 700 in Yukon.

French immersion programs are thriving in Victoria and Vancouver, Nelson and Prince Rupert, Mill Bay and Campbell River, 100 Mile House and Golden, and in dozens of other communities as well.

Supporting those students are our 40+ chapters who put on extra-curricular events, provide awards and scholarships to students, encourage them to continue studying French after graduation and promote French-second-language programs to ensure there is always interest because—let’s not forget—these are programs of choice that wouldn’t exist unless parents demanded them.

CPF has always advocated for the removal of enrolment barriers so that French-second-language learning is accessible to more students than ever. The intangible benefits of second-language acquisition can sometimes have a huge impact in individual communities.

Community Case Studies

Consider the case of Cranbrook. In recent years, two companies based in Quebec, Tembec and Abitibi, have come to this forest community, becoming major employers. There are now industrial workers and skilled labourers who are learning French to progress in their respective companies and to communicate with fellow employees across the country and the world. Even 10 years ago, it would have been difficult to imagine that learning French would bear any relation to the work being done at the mill in Cranbrook. Now for some workers, it is a necessary part of their livelihood.

Hazelton—total population of 6,000—is home to a unique Indigenous-language and French immersion program. The program began when parents of Indigenous children were willing to consider enrolling them in French immersion, provided that they could also continue to learn their own language, Gitxsanimaax. Now, every student in the school, regardless of heritage, learns 90 minutes of Gitxsanimaax every week. What an inspiring model for the entire country!

Immersion Model Copied around the World

Language education programs in the United States, Finland, Spain, Australia, Germany, Hong Kong and Singapore, New Zealand and elsewhere all offer similar language instruction programs based off of Canada’s successful immersion model.

CPF in the News

Remember the “Camping out for French” headline from 2003? Parents in New Westminster camped outside schools to ensure that their kids got spots in French immersion kindergarten. Now, SD 40 allows parents to register their children for kindergarten at birth.

“Time for Cherry to go” in 2004 was another story that brought Canadian bilingualism to the forefront. This campaign opposed the anti-French rants made by Hockey Night in Canada‘s Don Cherry. While it attracted a lot of support, die-hard hockey fans were rankled. On a more positive note, “Students Flocking to French in Record Numbers” has dominated the headlines for nearly a decade, demonstrating the overwhelming popularity of French second language programs.

In 2008, the big news story concerned the cancellation of early French immersion in New Brunswick. The plan was to drop the program in September. Once again though, CPF and its partners from coast to coast were successful in convincing the New Brunswick government to hold off on the decision, so that further public consultation could take place. On August 5, 2008, the New Brunswick Department of Education reversed its decision and ruled on allowing early French immersion to continue. However, the program now starts in Grade 3 rather than kindergarten or Grade 1.

CPF Today

There are approximately 285,000 students learning French as a second language in British Columbia. This number includes the 53,000 in French immersion and Intensive French, and 180,000 in Core French. Another 5,000 BC students are enrolled in francophone programs. Another 700+ students in Yukon are in French immersion.

CPF thanks dedicated partners like Canadian Heritage, the BC Ministry of Education, amazingly supportive school districts and teachers, the community at large, and of course, the dedicated parents and students.

There are more challenges ahead for the French language education in BC and Yukon. There is a critical teacher shortage resulting from teachers retiring and not being replaced by a sufficient number of new teachers. Additionally, there still isn’t guaranteed access to French programs in all regions.

Students who speak neither English nor French when they enter public school are discouraged from enrolling in French immersion and there is an inequity of resources available to students with learning difficulties. In many districts, parents are still not included in medium and long-range planning for French programs. As an organization, we are working on all these issues on a daily basis.

CPF Tomorrow

The demand for more French immersion classes and for more qualified French teachers will continue unabated. We will see more and more new Canadians who will want their children to learn both of Canada’s official languages. We will continue to work closer with BC and Yukon’s francophone communities.

The one thing that will not change with CPF is the belief that knowing French and English opens up a world of opportunities for our youth. After learning both of Canada’s official languages, not only are youth more culturally sensitive, but they also develop an ease for travelling anywhere in Canada or around the world and become more open to learning additional languages. CPF BC & Yukon intends to be there every step of the way to help them achieve their bilingual dreams.

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