Influx of newcomers brings diversity to St. Brieux

Over the past five years, manufacturing jobs have transformed the town of St. Brieux, Sask., from a small Francophone village into a much more diverse community.

Town has French roots, but the language is rarely heard now

Northeast of Saskatoon, this farming community has seen a rapid demographic shift thanks to an influx of nearby manufacturing jobs. (CBC)
French used to be what everyone in the town of St. Brieux spoke.

These days you're more likely to hear English or even Tagalog in the school hallways.

The farming community near Melfort has grown to 650 residents. Nearby, agricultural manufacturer Bourgault Industries has expanded. It now employs more than 600 people and has started recruiting employees from around the globe.

"We are bursting at the seams here," said St. Brieux school principal Ray Emde. "We do have some challenges in terms of meeting the needs of some of these new students but we are addressing that with the addition of an English as an additional language teacher."

Population growing

After expanding from 162 students in 2001, to 287 students today, the school recently received provincial money to undergo renovations. 

Alaine Derla and her family moved to St. Brieux five years ago. She now works at her children's school. (CBC)
Families including
AlaineDerla's are part of the surge in population.

"People are very nice," said Derla, whose husband works for Bourgault. The couple and their two children moved to St. Brieux in 2009 from their home in the Phillipines.

"They're very welcoming. They're very warm."

Derla now works as an educational assistant at the school. Officials said St. Brieux and the surrounding area are now home to at least 35 other Filipino families.

"It's perfect for the kids," she said. "Even though they're roaming around, playing around, we feel very safe for them."

French 'gone by the wayside'

With the exception of core French lessons, classes at the school are all conducted in English. Some francophone families tell CBC they wish their children could attend bilingual classes, but that's not an option.

"Before, our community used to be very francophone," said 15-year old Celine Ferré. "But now, almost everyone speaks in English."

She's not alone, according to St. Brieux mayor, Leon Rheaume.

St. Brieux school principal Ray Emde said it's a challenge to find enough space for all the new students. (CBC)
"French has gone by the wayside," Rheaume said. "There's only one or two families that I know of that actually use French predominantly in the house. The rest have all kind of switched to English over the years."

He and other community leaders say French will always be part of St. Brieux's heritage. But as young families move in from Ireland, South Africa and Australia, they say it's important to welcome them.

"The demographics are changing," said Emde. "We are becoming a multicultural community and a multicultural school."