Nova Scotia

Halifax filmmaker turns camera on his own family's language struggle

Fabien Melanson's documentary follows his family as they face up to the reality they must make more of an effort to speak French if they want to preserve their Acadian heritage.

'When my kids respond to me in English, I feel like I've failed in my duty to pass on our heritage'

Will the Melanson kids sing 'Happy Birthday' or 'Bonne fête à toi?' In his documentary, Fabien Melanson explores the struggle of keeping his family's francophone heritage alive in an anglophone city. (Fabien Melanson)

In his documentary, filmmaker Fabien Melanson turns the camera on his own family to explore the challenges facing minority French speakers in Halifax, where only four per cent of the population identifies as francophone.

In French, S'il Vous Plaît follows Fabien, his wife Christine and their two young sons Matéo and Malec who are most comfortable speaking English or "chiac," a combination of both languages.

Both Fabien and Christine are from Acadian families, but he grew up speaking French at home in Cap-Pelé, N.B., while she grew up speaking mostly English in Riverview, N.B.

The Melanson family visit the Grand-Pré National Historic Site. (Fabien Melanson)
Even our adopted dog Honey is an Anglophone.- Fabien  Melanson

Fabien says that he and his wife have made decisions that have not supported their culture.

The biggest one was moving from New Brunswick, where French is protected as an official language, to Halifax where it is not. 

​When their eldest son Matéo is admitted to kindergarten at a francophone school run by the province's Acadian school board, both parents realize they're going to have to step up efforts to speak French in order to support his education.

"When my kids respond to me in English, I feel like I've failed in my duty to pass on our heritage," Fabien says. 

He tries making lists of French-language rules for the family to follow. He buys the children French-language video games and stores the English-language children's books in the basement while the family attempts to make the linguistic shift.

The 1755 Grand-Pré registry with the Melanson family name.

As well as helping Matéo with his French homework, the parents must do some homework of their own.

Both parents take a grammar test and discover their own French is contaminated with English. Later, Fabien has to remind his francophone parents to speak French, not English, to their grandsons on Skype.

As well as changing certain practices inside their home, Fabien and Christine must also make an effort outside — checking out French-language books from the library and searching for French-language sports leagues, concerts, government services and events.

The documentary concludes at a visit to Grand-Pré National Historic Site. Fabien is as surprised as the rest of his family to discover that his ancestors were one of the founding Acadian families.

With 13 generations of French-speaking Melansons behind him, he is newly inspired to keep trying to live en français.

The Absolutely Maritimes documentary In French, S'il Vous Plaît airs on CBC TV on Saturday, August 18 at 8 p.m. AT.

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