Linguistic harmony is New Brunswick’s legacy

carole_fournier_OPEDBy Carole Fournier

Across New Brunswick, men and women of widely different backgrounds, skills, and attitudes are working in quiet, diverse ways to send a common message of hope, inclusiveness, and harmony to the rest of us.

Some are teachers. Others are community leaders. Still others are lawyers, businesspeople, and administrators. All are dedicated to the proposition that Canada’s only officially bilingual province benefits immeasurably from the multitude of French and English voices that frame our daily lives from Campbellton to Sackville, Moncton to Minto, and Fredericton to Edmundston.

This is not a radical notion, not by any stretch of the imagination. But, too often,  we forget just how rare and precious cultural and linguistic accord is in a world prone to ethnic and sectarian rivalries. Newspapers, broadcast outlets, and the Internet are full of stories about intolerance and indifference. Absent in the media are the tales of productive cooperation, collaboration, and understanding between individuals whose native tongues are not each other’s.

If good news is no news, then it’s time to rewrite the rules.

Consider Alex Fancy, for example. He’s the Nova Scotia-born-and bred former Head of Romance Languages at Mount Allison University in Sackville. “I had only high school French when I came to college,” he says. “I had every intention of studying chemistry. But after six weeks, I realized that it wasn’t for me. So, one day, I sat in on a French class. I fell in love with the sound of it, the rhythm of it. That was the moment I knew there was no going back for me.”

Today, despite a 40-year career and recent retirement from active teaching, Fancy remains as passionate as ever about the power and beauty of his adopted language. These days, he channels most of his energy through Tintamarre, a bilingual theatre company he formed in 1982 and is still going strong with unique, home-spun performances for audiences throughout New Brunswick.

Then there’s Kelly Cain, who grew up in Carleton County, New Brunswick, and is now the Director of Tourism Events for the City of Moncton. “I remember thinking that I would never really need another language,” she says. “After all, everyone I knew spoke English. So, what was the point?”

Times changed, and so did Cain. Today, she is a strong advocate of bilingual imperatives around the province. In her professional capacity in Moncton, she advocates acceptance and conversation. “It’s crucial that people engage in a language they are not entirely comfortable with,” she says. “That’s how meaningful relationships begin.”

And then there’s Rick Myers, an Anglophone professor of political science at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, who is fluent in French, German, Italian and ancient Greek. “I certainly believe in the value of everyone obtaining a second, third, or even fourth language,” he says. “It’s extraordinarily important that people everywhere have life experiences in cultures that are foreign to their own. That’s how international understanding cements itself.”

Anne Soucie couldn’t agree more. She’s a former Edmundston city councillor, Chairperson of the Board of the Atlantic Pilotage Authority, Chairperson of the Board of the Victorian Order of Nurses, Regional Director of the Tree of Hope Campaign, a specialist in medical management, an export development consultant, and the Co-Chairperson of Dialogue New Brunswick between 1999 and 2004. Here’s what she says:

“In this country, and this province, we pride ourselves on our bilingualism. But we all still need to walk the talk. Really, we just have to keep an open mind all the time. As a Canadian, I believe it is my duty to speak both official languages, and to encourage others to do so, and to learn more languages if they can. That’s how we make better societies for the next generation.”

Saint John-based Francophone Beth Kelly Hatt is another who believes that “walking the talk” is crucial to building a more open, just and tolerant society. “You realize that people are just people, and they really do want to work together,” says the founding president of Avantage Saint John Advantage (ASJA). “There is a tremendous economic advantage to bilingualism, and the business community in Saint John has really embraced this. When you get this sort of commitment, it really helps.”

The commitment she speaks of is a partnership among the Saint John Board of Trade, Enterprise Saint John, and the Association Regionale de la Communaute francophone Saint-Jean dedicated to improving the metropolitan area’s business, education, health, and community development sectors.

In reality, though, these dedicated folks represent only the tip of the iceberg. Everywhere in New Brunswick – in towns and cities, in schools and universities, in boardrooms and on factory floors, in community centres and at cultural venues – French and English citizens are working together as never before to support each other, understand each other, and celebrate each other’s distinctiveness even as they cherish their common economic and social interests.

It’s time to shed some light on these noble accomplishments. Our province’s future depends on its people – especially those who have embraced the hard-won, rewarding notions of hope, inclusiveness, and harmony.

Carole Fournier is the Executive Director of Dialogue New Brunswick, an organization that promotes understanding, respect and appreciation between English-speaking and French-speaking New Brunswickers.

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