Saskatoon

'Not easy being French in Saskatchewan': Author takes on history of French/English relations in Sask.

Candace Savage's new project exposes "La Génération Perdue," or the lost generation of French speakers in Saskatchewan. Many were discouraged by policy, legislation, and the public, from speaking their first language.

An anti-French meme circulation in Sask. caught the eye of an author focused on province's French history

Author Candace Savage felt an emotional response to hearing Fransaskois artist Zoé Fortier respond to an insensitive meme asking people not to speak French in public. (Matthew Howard/CBC)

There's a long history of linguistic strife between French and English speakers in Saskatchewan, according to Candace Savage. 

The Saskatoon author is delving into a project about the province's little-known French history and the tensions surrounding the language in our province, titled La Génération Perdue or The Lost Generation.

She felt an emotional response to hearing Fransaskois artist Zoé Fortier respond to an insensitive meme asking people not to speak French in public.

She plans to explore it through the eyes of a family, the same family who built the home where Savage lives. They built the house and settled in Saskatoon in 1928.

Klu Klux Klan 'politically effective' in 1920s

Savage recognizes that some might believe the meme outcry was disproportionate for something they see as a "small issue."

, the only concession to any language other than English was that French could be taught for the two years. This was the law.- Candace Savage, author of La Génération Perdue

"It's not easy being French in Saskatchewan," said Savage.

It was harder back in 1928, when the Klu Klux Klan had support in their anti-French, anti-Catholic policies.

The break between French and English goes back to English King Henry VIII, and his decision to split from the Catholic Church in England.

Candace Savage is working on a new book about the history of French Canadians in Saskatchewan. (Submitted by Writers' Trust of Canada)

When the Western plains of Canada were settled hundreds of years later, English Canada "was very determined that the plains were going to be British.

"By the end of WWI, the only concession to any language other than English was that French could be taught for the two years. This was the law," said Savage

"Many communities with French and other languages were creative in getting around it."

Political pressures continued, though, and the Liberal government of the time limited French language instruction to one year in schools. 

Later, in the 1920s, Savage's research shows a bleak picture of French in the province. Laws were passed that made English "the only permissible language" and French was even banned from the playground.

A house with a history

This meme was created by the Instagram account sasky.memes and caused debate about language diversity in the comments (sasky.memes)

Savage sees the history of French people in Saskatchewan through the eyes of the family who built her home.

The impact is hard to ignore.

"They assimilated," she said.

"One of the family's memories is the grandmother refusing to be spoken to in French — even in her home."

Many lost the language — "a big price for people to pay," said Savage.

Canadians, though — and Saskatchewanians by extension — are becoming more accustomed to French Canadians, more welcoming.

People have become used to French on cereal boxes and the KKK has disappeared from public discourse in the country.

Savage believes Francophones are more gentle with their advocacy, though it is still a struggle to keep cultural institutions going in Saskatchewan.

"Things aren't as vile as they were in the late 1920s by any means," said Savage

"But it is still unusual to hear French spoken in public."

With files from CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning

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