The City of Sault Ste. Marie took another step to repairing its relationship with its Francophone community Monday night.
Council approved a motion to make French a living language in city services.
Going forward, Francophones will be able to navigate city services in their native language.
The council chambers, almost full with about 40 citizens on hand to support the resolution, erupted in cheers when it passed unanimously.
The infamous “English-only” resolution of January 29, 1990, said Mayor Matthew Shoemaker was a mistake with lasting consequences. Council’s resolution created a “day of mourning” for the Francophone community.
“City Council made a mistake in 1990,” Shoemaker told council and the packed chambers gallery. “We forgot our history. And we created conflict between francophone residents in the community at large. It was a mistake that has had lasting impacts on our city as it relates to federal and provincial services which moved down the highway to Sudbury or other communities further afield.”
Shoemaker said there is no doubt a 2010 apology from then-Mayor John Rowswell was appreciated by the local Francophone community. He added local Francophones also appreciated the raising of the Franco-Ontarian flag at City Hall for the first time, in 2015, under then-Mayor Christian Provenzano. Still, Shoemaker said, there was unfinished work to be done toward making things right with the Sault’s Francophones.
“It is my hope, and I believe to be the hope of council, that the resolution before us today will be the start of a new chapter in a positive impact that Francophones have and continue to play in our community,” said Shoemaker.
Ward 2 Councillor Luc Dufour, who moved the motion, told council both of his parental grandparents were Francophones. He said his father’s first language was French but said in the ‘80s, there were few opportunities for French as a living language in the Sault. As a result, said Dufour, he doesn’t possess the same French language skills as his grandparents and his father’s side of the family.
Dufour says he’s proud his children are enrolled in French Immersion and proud to move the resolution.
“I’m looking forward to the provision of living French services in our community and City Hall.”
Ward 5 Coun. Corey Gardi told council he was 10-year-old when council passed the resolution exactly 30 years ago. His grandfather was an alderman on council then and several years later, told his grandson the resolution was a mistake.
“Several years later, having reflected on it, about a year prior to his death in 1995 he admitted to me, what a mistake it was. So I’m happy, I wanted to make some amends for him and I’m glad we’re making amends for the community at large.
It was undoubtedly an unnecessary mistake and I’m glad you brought it forward.”
In his opening remarks to council, Shoemaker noted a rich history of Francophones in the Sault area dates back 400 years, and that the city’s name is French.
The Francophone community today comprises 10 per cent of the city’s population.