Vancouver en francais? A picture of the French in Vancouver

Maurice Guibord will address the francophone community’s impact on the historical and economical landscape of Vancouver in a lecture titled The Francophone Pioneers of Vancouver: A Little-known History and Legacy.

Guibord is the president of the Société historique francophone de la Colombie-Britannique, a not-for-profit organization that aims to highlight the history and culture of the francophones in British Columbia. He will summarize how the francophone cultural and economic impact in Vancouver’s early history, and how the colonization days has left remnants and permeated into today’s socio-cultural and economic life.

The lecture will take place at the Vancouver Lawn and Tennis Club on Apr. 30.

Francophones’ impact on the early economy

Francophones in greater Vancouver were present in high numbers, [they were] originally [engaged] in the fur trade linked to every post of the Hudson’s Bay Co., and the North West Company, including Fort Langley,” he says, giving an insight into the participation of the francophone community, throughout history, in the diverse aspects of Vancouver’s economy.

Maurice Guibord, president of the Société historique francophone de la Colombie-Britannique.| Photo by Alice Dubot

Guibord highlights the diversity within the francophone community by adding that the community did not solely comprise the French, but also some indigenous communities.

“Not only was this fort built mostly by Francophones, but over 60% of the fur trading work force across the province was composed of Francophones, mostly French-Canadians, but also Francophone Métis and First Nations men,” he says.

He adds that the French and First Nations languages were important as well. “The language of the trade within the [colonial] forts was French, no matter what your origins, he explains. “The trade jargon used when trading with First Nations was mostly Chinook, but that jargon also included numerous terms taken directly from the French language.”

The community, says Guibord, apart from trade and business, also participated and dominated in other domains, such as religious institutions and the financial sectors.

“Many of the male and female [members of religious orders] that came into both the province and the Vancouver region were Francophones, from Quebec, France and Belgium. Several became the first clergy of the main Catholic churches,” he says.

He gives the example of the Crédit Foncier Franco-Canadien building, which he explains was built in 1912 in Vancouver’s financial district to aid in providing loans to the francophone community, members of which were otherwise rejected by other banks for cultural and linguistic reasons.

The francophone community today

In the talk, Guibord intends to address the ways in which the early French-speaking Vancouverites shaped the city’s history. He says that in the 1940s, after the Second World War, the francophone population, settled around the area’s only French language church at the time, the Blessed Sacrament Parish. He adds that the area was named as the ‘French Quarter’ despite the population being French-Canadian and not French.

“When the new Maison de la Francophonie was built on west 7th Ave. in the 1970s, all the organizations relocated there, and most of the Francophone residents melded into the fabric of Vancouver’s population within a few years,” Guibord explains.

He adds to the contributions of the community to the city by listing some French-speaking Vancouverite influential leaders and pioneers, that excelled in various domains.

“Over the decades, there were many business and community leaders, [such as] Dr. Henri Evariste Levraux Langis; hoteliers, Joseph Guichon, R.G. Desautels, Thomas Cyrs and George Fortin, [and] architect Paul Marmette,” says Guibord.

He hopes to address how the Francophone community’s contribution, throughout history, has left remnants in Vancouver’s socio-economical life today. He explains how the French-speaking Vancouverite cultural impact has penetrated into cultural institutions, media outlets and the educational system.

“Vancouver is home to the Maison de la Francophonie, the hub of societal and cultural Francophone activity in the province. Radio-Canada and CFUM-FM provide us with coverage in French. La Source is our paper, so we’re well informed, if we so desire. The Conseil Scolaire Francophone and the immersion schools of every school board provide education in French and cannot keep up with demand,” says Guibord.

The future of the francophone community

Guibord hopes that this talk would increase the amalgamation and interaction between the Francophone community and the other communities in Vancouver.

“I would hope that they would learn something new and that they would be moved to become engaged, from searching out our festivals to becoming sufficiently interested into joining our various boards,” says Guibord.

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