Burlington votes to add French to its signs

The city council in Burlington, Vt., has passed a resolution recommending English and French on its signs, in a move designed to acknowledge the area's French heritage, and to draw tourists from Quebec.

The city council in Burlington, Vt., has passed a resolution recommending English and French on its signs, in a move designed to acknowledge the area's French heritage, and to draw tourists from Quebec.

Burlington is about an hour's drive south of the Quebec border, on the east side of Lake Champlain.

Among the shops and restaurants on Church Street in Burlington, it's not unusual to hear French spoken.

On Monday, Hélène Blanchard was visiting the city from Saint-Hyacinthe, Que.

She liked the idea of more French in Burlington, and she thinks it would help attract more Quebecers.

"For me there is no problem [speaking English], but for my brother, for many people, it would be very good," Blanchard said.

The resolution that passed council recommends English and French on everything from highway signs to restaurant menus, and encourages those in the tourism industry to be more bilingual.

But it's just a recommendation, not a rule, and there is no funding to support it.

Mayor Bob Kiss said in many ways it's a symbolic resolution, but he hopes Quebecers appreciate the intent.

"To the extent you can create an atmosphere that's more welcoming, people I think notice," Kiss said.

Norman Blais is the city councillor behind the resolution.

"I know that when I travel to Quebec, and in my halting French or my English, I'm met with a Quebecer who responds to me in English, it makes it a very satisfying experience. We're hoping we can just reciprocate that sort of experience for the visitors here," Blais said.

Blais said Tuesday he expects the Burlington airport to voluntarily add more French to its signs. He also said there have been positive talks with the local high school about putting more emphasis on French in the curriculum.

Blais said in addition to appealing to Quebec tourists, he wants to acknowledge the area's francophone heritage.

Back on Church Street, shop-owner David Glickman said he has mixed feelings about the resolution.

"It's pretty low on the list. But it's nice to have, and not a need," he said.

Glickman said he's more concerned about how city council will deal with issues such as homelessness, rather than language.