It was only after a long struggle that Acadians succeeded in obtaining homogeneous French-language public schools. Currently, the province-wide Acadian school board, called the Conseil scolaire acadien provincial (CSAP), is comprised of 22 schools with a total population of 5,285 students. According to the latest predictions, enrolment is expected to exceed 6,000 students within the next five years. However, there are still major challenges to overcome. Assimilation and lack of socioeconomic infrastructures, including schools, prevent the retention of young people in their communities. They should have access to French-language education and Francophone or bilingual jobs here in Nova Scotia. Otherwise, they will continue to leave the province to live and work in French elsewhere in the country.
How many people are there in the Acadian, Francophone and Francophile community of Halifax? According to the 2016 census, the total population of Halifax Centre was 316,701. The French-English / French-English bilingual population for the same area is 49,590. That represents 15.7% of the total population which includes 12,230 people with French as their mother tongue. This number does not take into account Anglophone Acadians, referred to as rights-holders in section 23 of the Charter. When our study is completed we will be able to estimate the number of rights-holders who live in Halifax who were not identified in the 2016 Census and will add them to the statistics.
The following time line is a historical summary of the long road the Francophone minority of Nova Scotia travelled in order to obtain French-language education in public schools.
1763-1820 – Following the Deportation, most of the Acadians who had been in hiding or who had returned to Nova Scotia or who had been released from prison were illiterate. They were marginalised in society because of their language and their religion.
1820-1865 – Gradually small public schools opened in Acadian villages throughout the province. For a few years in the 1840s, English, French, Gaelic and German were on an equal footing as languages of instruction. After that, English became the official language of the public-school system in Nova Scotia. French was tolerated in Acadian schools as a language of instruction only if it made it easier for children to learn English.
1854 – The Normal College was founded in Truro for teacher training. Young Acadian men and women started attending the Normal College in large numbers by the 1880s. But all the classes were given in English. The first French professor, J. Édouard Comeau was not hired until 1930.
1893-1972 – During this period there were compulsory provincial examinations at the end of Grade 11 and Grade 12. All the exams were in English, putting Acadian students at a disadvantage. In Acadian schools, teachers often taught in French but textbooks were in English or bilingual.
1902 – The Acadian Commission, created by the provincial government, recommended that a) Acadian teachers be given bilingual summer courses; b) that French-language textbooks be available in Grades 1 to 4; c) that Acadian schools have their own school inspector. By 1910, there were 88 Acadian or bilingual schools in Nova Scotia.
1963 – The Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism was created by the federal government and its recommendations published in 1966.
1969 – The Official Languages Act was passed in Ottawa. One of the goals of this law was “to support the development of English and French linguistic minority communities and generally advance the equality of status and use of the English and French languages within Canadian society.”
1970 – The Government of Canada created the Official Languages in Education Program which “provides financial support for minority language education and second-language instruction.”
1970-1980 – With the financial help of the above federal program (which also supported Immersion programs), a French-language curriculum was gradually introduced in Acadian elementary schools.
1974 – A French course (maternal tongue) and an Acadian History course were introduced in Acadian high schools. They were the only two courses taught in French.
1981 – Bill 65 was passed in the Nova Scotia legislature giving the Acadian school a so-called “legal status.”
1982 – The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was enacted. Section 23 of the Charter
pertains to minority language educational rights. It states that parents have the right to have their children receive primary and secondary school instruction in the language of the francophone minority in their province.
1983 – In response to the stipulations of the Charter, the Minister of Education in Nova Scotia published guidelines for the complete introduction of a French-language curriculum at the elementary and secondary level in Acadian schools.
1981-1995 – The introduction of a French-language curriculum from Grades 7 to 12 took place very slowly and with considerable resistance on the part of some parents. Students who wanted to take the English-language curriculum were in the same schools as those who preferred to take the French-language curriculum.
1996 – Bill 39 was passed in the Nova Scotia Legislature on January 8, 1996, that created the Acadian province-wide school board called the Conseil scolaire acadien provincial (CSAP).
1990-2000 – After litigation and various amendments to the Education Act, an entirely French-language curriculum was established at all levels; the schools became homogenous (no longer offering an English-language curriculum); and a number of new schools-community centres were built.
2000-2018 – As a result of the growing demand for French-language education, enrolment in the Acadian schools in HRM has increased considerably. In addition to the elementary school and the secondary school in Dartmouth and in Halifax, there is now an Acadian school in Chezzetcook (Beaux-Marais), in Lower Sackville (École du Grand Portage) and in the Halifax Peninsula (Mer et Monde).
Source: Les écoles acadiennes en Nouvelle-Écosse 1758-2000 by Sally Ross