Credit: Matthew Mills
She’s enthusiastic, dynamic, bright-eyed and not shy about her passion for her community. At 26, Megan Felix has returned home to the Port-au-Port peninsula, affectionately called the “Pays du bon Dieu,” on the west coast of the island of Newfoundland and home to one of Newfoundland’s largest Francophone communities.
Five years ago, Felix did what most young Newfoundlanders do: she packed her bags and headed west to find work. Newfoundland and Labrador still has one of the highest unemployment rates in Canada, and the Port-au-Port peninsula is no exception. The effect of the cod moratorium in the 1990s, which resulted in a significant drop in fishing revenues, can still be felt today in the province’s small coastal villages. “I didn’t have a choice in leaving, but I came back because I missed my family,” Felix says. “I feel like I can trust the people in my community. We know each other, and we take care of each other.”
The data from Statistics Canada is alarming. According to the 2006 Census, Newfoundland’s Francophone community has lost 335 members since the 2001 Census. These numbers have a major impact, especially when considering that the Francophone community—2,225 native French-speakers—represents just 0.5% of the province’s population.
Megan Felix is an exception to the rule. Most youth leave and do not return. “We can’t hold it against the young people. Everyone wants more money and a better life. We think that we can make more money somewhere else, but we often forget that the cost of living is higher and that it can be hard to make ends meet,” she explains. As a newly hired youth liaison officer for the Réseau de développement économique et d’employabilité (RDÉE), she hopes to break this vicious cycle that forces people out of the region: “I want to help young people find jobs so they can stay here, to give them a choice that I didn’t have.”
Felix’s initiative is just one example of many in Newfoundland and Labrador. Gaston Létourneau, with his tousled grey hair embodying his lively, enthusiastic spirit, is also passionate about helping this new generation. For the past four years, he has been involved with students at the École des Grands-Vents, the only French-language school in the province’s capital, St. John’s. As a cultural identity officer for Newfoundland and Labrador’s French-language school board, he develops activities and programs to support the advancement of youth in French. “We need to help them realize their potential,” says Létourneau. “If we can give them confidence, they may be more likely to stay.”
Christophe Caron, Director of RDÉE in Newfoundland and Labrador
Christophe Caron, Director of RDÉE in Newfoundland and Labrador, is well aware of the situation. Two years ago, he came from France through the Destination Canada program and joined Newfoundland’s Francophone community. He himself is a product of various attempts to stop the erosion of the Francophone community. Caron hopes that this generation’s future is slightly brighter thanks to projects geared toward French-speaking Newfoundlanders: Journée Orientation & Carrière, Place aux jeunes de Terre-Neuve-et-Labrador, Faut que ça bouge!, and PERCÉ. These programs not only help young Francophones develop leadership skills and find employment opportunities in their area, but also promote recent Francophone graduates among employers. Activities at the Journée Orientation & Carrière and at Place aux jeunes focus on meeting employers. “Young people often aren’t well connected and are not really aware of the opportunities,” says Caron. According to him, the coming retirement wave means that the next generation will be crucial in filling all the vacant positions—both Anglophone and Francophone.
Credit: Archives of Franco-Jeunes de Terre-Neuve-et-Labrador association
Fortunately, some youth are already convinced, and Philippe Enguehard is one of them. For the Newfoundland native whose parents came from Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon, leaving was not an option, even though he had to do his post-secondary studies in English. “I love Newfoundland and Labrador and I’m proud of my Francophone and Newfoundland heritages; I’m not at all interested in leaving the province," he says emphatically. This Director of Franco-Jeunes de Terre-Neuve et du Labrador says that the small, aging community makes the situation more difficult for the younger generation—all the more reason to take action and motivate youth. “If we can’t hold on to our young people, the community will vanish,” says Enguehard. “That’s why the work we do is so important. By seeking out youth and engaging them in events like the Jeux de l’Acadie (in French only) and initiatives like community radio, we ensure that they take ownership of the community and keep it alive.”
Rafale FM, Newfoundland and Labrador’s Francophone community web-radio
Rafale FM (in French only) is the only Francophone community radio station in Newfoundland and Labrador, and it is growing. First started under the name CJRM in the early 1990s by the Francophone community of Labrador City, the station has expanded from local to provincial in the past two years. CJRM has become Rafale FM, and listeners from Labrador City to St. John’s, and even the Port-au-Port peninsula, can tune in. The station was recently made accessible on-line at www.francotnl.ca (in French only).
Place aux jeunes de Terre-Neuve-et-Labrador
In cooperation with Quebec’s Place aux jeunes, Place aux jeunes de Terre-Neuve-et-Labrador (in French only) encourages and helps young professionals return to the Port-au-Port peninsula, and connects young Newfoundlanders living outside the province with employers in their home communities. The success of Newfoundland’s Place aux jeunes has led the RDÉE, which manages the program, to extend the initiative to the province’s other Francophone communities next year.
Journée Orientation & Carrière
The first Journée Orientation & Carrière (in French only) was held on February 24, 2011, and attracted more than 400 students from immersion schools and from the École des Grands-Vents in St. John’s. The event brought together some 70 bilingual professionals as well as representatives from such post-secondary educational institutions as the Collège Acadie of Prince Edward Island, the Collège Boréal in Ontario and the Université Sainte-Anne in Nova Scotia.
PERCÉ is a program that helps post-secondary students in Atlantic Canada find 12-week paid internships, and possibly full-time careers, in their home communities.
Faut que ça bouge!
The Faut que ça bouge! (in French only) program is intended for 14- to 17-year-olds in the four Atlantic provinces. The goal is to help them start community projects with the help of mentors. The program also includes four three-day training sessions that include social and leadership activities.