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Faculté Saint-Jean: A New Faculty But An Old Institution


Saint-Jean was founded in 1908, the same year as the inauguration of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences of the University of Alberta. In order to continue the missionary tradition of Father Albert Lacombe OMI, Father Henri Grandin, Vicar of the Oblate Mission of Alberta-Saskatchewan, decided to found a Juniorate of the Oblate Order. His express goal was the formation of "une élite bilingue et cultivée, à tous les niveaux de la société". ¹

The first professor, Father Daridon, and two students began classes in the presbytery of the Parish at Pincher Creek. However, this was found to be too isolated and shortly thereafter the seminary was moved to Edmonton. The year 1910 was one of transition for Saint-Jean. Established in a house overlooking the river in St. Joachim Parish, eleven students continued their studies with three instructors. The same year, the site for a new campus was chosen on Strathcona Hill, one of the highest in Edmonton. At the time of the construction of the original three-storey red brick building, only St. Stephen's College (then Alberta College South) existed on the main university campus.

Father P.-E. Breton, writing some time later, had this to say about the new site: "Le nouvel emplacement choisi pour la jeune institution était magnifique. Situé à Strathcona (Edmonton Sud), il dominait toute la vallée de la Saskatchewan, et les terrains étaient assez vastes pour répondre à tous les développements futurs. Bientot on vit sortir de terre comme par enchantement un superbe édifice à trois étages, en briques rouges. Tout fut prêt et aménagé pour la rentrée de septembre 1911".

In 1911 classes began in the new building. Four Oblate fathers, two Oblate brothers, and twenty-nine juniorists studied religious and academic subjects. Also beginning in 1911 and continuing until 1968, the congregation of Les Soeurs de la charité d'Evron became responsible for the cooking, the upkeep and the infirmary of the new institution.

It was during the 1913 to 1918 period that Mgr. Henri Routhier, who was to become Alberta's first native-born bishop, undertook his studies at the Juniorate Saint-Jean. The increase in enrolment at this time was such that by 1921 the original building had to be tripled in size. Examining the west façade of the old building, one can still distinguish the 1910 date of the original building and 1921 date of the addition.

Although the courses of studies were based closely on the classical college system of Quebec, Saint-Jean had for some years followed the curriculum of the University of Ottawa. In 1928 this affiliation was officialized. The first major turning point in the history of the institution occurred in 1943 when the Oblate fathers accepted students for secondary and post-secondary studies of a classical nature. To reflect this change, the name Collège Saint-Jean was adopted. This action had become necessary because of the closing of the Jesuit College of Edmonton in 1941 which had until that time assumed the responsibility for the education of francophone students of Western Canada.

The 1950's and early 1960's were a period of expansion for the institution. In 1955, the affiliation with the University of Ottawa was renewed and, in 1961, a "collège d'éducation" was founded by Rector Father Arthur Lacerte with help from Université Laval. In 1963, it became affiliated with The University of Alberta. The year 1961 was also a signal year in that women were admitted for the first time, but only to the university-level programs. During the same period a great deal of construction had taken place beside the original building. A secondary school had been built complete with dormitory, gymnasium, lounge and cafeteria.

However, during the 1960's inflation was accomplishing what assimilation could not. The Oblate fathers, on whom the greatest part of the financial burden of supporting the Collège had rested, were increasingly unable to bear the strain. Discussions with the University and with various levels of Government led to some significant changes. In 1970 limited integration with The University of Alberta took place leading to another change of name, but Collège universitaire Saint-Jean continued to offer university and high school level programs in French. In 1972, the secondary school of Collège Saint-Jean was transferred to the jurisdiction of the Edmonton Separate School Board and housed in the new bilingual high school J.H. Picard. In 1975, after a study of the situation, Dr. A.G. McCalla, former Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research, recommended that Collège universitaire Saint-Jean be granted Faculty status. The following year marked the end of the Oblate fathers' direct supervision of the institution that they had tended and nurtured since 1908. The institution was purchased by the provincial government, with the help of federal funding, for transfer to the University of Alberta.

Faculty status was acquired in September of 1977 when the Board of Governors decided to adopt the recommendations of the McCalla report. In September of 1978, to reflect the change in status which had taken place, the name was changed to Faculté Saint-Jean. In order to mark this change of name, an honorary degree ceremony took place the following spring. The Chancellor of the University of Alberta, Mrs. Jean Forest, awarded honorary Doctor of Law degrees to Father Arthur Lacerte, the former rector who established the collège d'éducation, and Madame Antonine Maillet, an Acadian writer whose literature reflects the constant struggle for survival of the French-speaking minority everywhere in Canada.

1. "... an educated bilingual elite, in all walks of life."

2. "The site chosen for the building institution was magnificent. Located in Strathcona (South Edmonton), this site overlooked the Saskatchewan valley and there was enough land for any future development. Soon, as if by magic, a superb three-storey brick building rose from the earth. All was ready in preparation for the beginning of the 1911 school year."

Recent Developments

As integration with the University is slowly completed, evidence of change is manifest at the Faculté. Zoned parking, complete with tickets for infractions, made its appearance at what had previously been a free-for-all. The only question is whether these tickets must be paid if they are printed in English only (where are you Georges Forest?!).

A free mini-bus service now shuttles students between both campuses allowing for an integrated timetable. Students generally have forty minutes to move from a class on one campus to a class on another. Although services on both campuses are generally available to all students, accommodation at the residence of Faculté Saint-Jean is allotted with priority to students of the Faculté. The residence, which is located in the historic original building, is distinguishable from Lister Hall in that no two rooms or pieces of furniture are the same. Where some students live in the former library, others have gothic arch-shaped windows. Still presiding over the residence and grounds is the statue of Saint-Jean. Slated for removal when the campus was purchased for the University, the students of the Faculté petitioned Housing and Food Services to leave it in place.

Another addition to the Faculté has been the Centre de documentation pédagogique, a teaching materials centre or French-language curriculum lab. Unique in the province, this multi-media depository of teaching material for use in bilingual and French immersion classes has existed since August 1977. It serves primarily Education students of the Faculté Saint-Jean and teachers involved in all levels of bilingual and immersion programs in the province.

Of major interest also is the termination of the second mandate of Dean Frank McMahon who intends to continue his studies at Université de Montréal in the fall. Dean McMahon presided over the momentous changes which took place at Saint-Jean over the last decade. His successor, Dr. Gamila Morcos, began her mandate in July, 1980. Dr. Morcos was previously Dean of Humanities at Laurentian University, and specializes in French literature.

New Dean At Faculté Saint-Jean

On 1 July 1980, Dr. Gamila Morcos, previously Dean of the Faculty of Humanities at Laurentian University, became Dean of the Faculté Saint-Jean for a five-year period.

In order to understand the concerns of the francophone population in Alberta, Dr. Morcos has already visited each of the franchophone regions in the province. Additionally, she hopes to form an advisory committee representative of the Franco-Albertan population.

Dr. Morcos has studied at the University of Cairo and Bryn Mawr College in the United States and holds a Doctorate in French literature from the University of Paris (Sorbonne).

She taught at Ain-Chams University in Cairo prior to joining the academic staff of Laurentian University in 1967. She has served on that institution's Senate, executive of Senate, and Board of Governors.

Dr. Morcos is a Fellow of the International Biographical Association and holds memberships in the Modern Language Association, the Canadian Federation for the Humanities, the Association des Universités partiellement ou entièrement de langue française, the Association canadienne-française pour l'avancement des sciences, the American Association of Teachers of French and the Association canadienne-française de l'Ontario.

She has published several texts on French language instruction and, more recently, numerous articles dealing with French literature.

A Multi-Disciplinary Faculty

Faculté Saint-Jean currently offers three degree programs. The BA and BSc are general degrees and normally require three full years of study. The BEd, as at the Faculty of Education, requires four years after high school, or two years after a first undergraduate degree. In addition, students planning to work towards such degrees as LLB, MD, DDS, and BCom may begin these programs at Faculté Saint-Jean.

Program requirements vary slightly from equivalent programs in other faculties. The major difference is obviously that French as a discipline and as a language of instruction occupies a significant role in the course of studies for all degrees. Before a student receives his degree, he must pass an oral and written linguistic competency exam in both English and French.

Most courses are offered in French, with the most obvious exception being English literature. Many general first-year courses and senior courses which alternate from year to year cannot, however, remedy the problem of a good choice of courses in a very small faculty. Depending on their specialization, therefore, many students do take a number of courses in English from other faculties.

Since the Arts and Education programs attract the majority of students, the greatest choice of courses exists in these areas. However, the Faculté is faced with a most distressing problem in the permanent position attrition policy adopted by the University in its attempt to live within the truncated budget offered by the provincial government. In a faculty where there is often only one professor per department, the loss of a permanent staff member through retirement or employment termination can also mean the disappearance of the department. This recently happened to the linguistics department at Faculté Saint-Jean.

Research is carried on in a number of areas at the Faculté, often related to the French-English interface in Canada. For example, the effectiveness of public and separate school immersion programs is being measured for the respective school boards. Another staff member continues research in the work ethic of francophone versus anglophone Canadians. A professor of political science has prepared a book which compares the techniques evolved to resolve the political/ racial conflicts in Ireland and in New Brunswick. The new Dean of the Faculté, Dr. Morcos, publishes regularly on the "new criticism" in French literature.

Planned, possibly for 1981, is the third National Conference on Bilingualism to take place at Faculté Saint-Jean. These conferences unite linguists, psychologists, educators and administrators from across the country for discussions on the progress of second-language learning techniques in schools, in the government and in university.

Student Enrolment

The composition of the student body at Faculté Saint-Jean has undergone a quiet evolution in the last ten years. Except for the 1979-80 academic year, full-time registrations numbered between 100 and 170 per year. However, from a largely Franco-Albertan student body fifteen years ago, it has since evolved into a more heterogeneous mix.

A study conducted among the 250 students at Faculté Saint-Jean this year produced a different picture. With a response rate of approximately seventy-five percent, it was found that slightly less than half of the students claimed French as their mother tongue. About five percent claimed a language other than French or English as their mother tongue.

As for the student origins, most students are from Alberta. The anglophone students are about equally split in two groups: Edmonton and the rest of the province. The greatest number of Franco-Albertan students comes from Edmonton and area, but with significant groups from the St. Paul-Bonnyville area and from the Peace River region. There are also strong contingents of francophones from Quebec and anglophones from British Columbia. Other nationalities represented include French, Swiss, Morrocan, Lebanese, Haitian, etc.

A newly developing trend towards increased enrolments reflects an interest in French among anglophones. Exchange trips, more effective second-language training, and the interest in immersion-type schooling are contributing factors. Among the francophones, one important factor for increased enrolments of Québécois and Franco-Albertans is the urgent need for bilingual teachers in Alberta. Generally, it would seem that there is a slight preference for the Arts among the anglophones and for Education among the francophones.

Job Prospects Upon Graduation

Graduates of Faculté Saint-Jean face much the same job prospects as graduates of BA, BSc and BEd programs from other faculties. The major difference is that their degrees are written in French and they can consider themselves bilingual.

This probably makes the least difference in the career aspirations of a BSc graduate, since such an advantage is of relatively little use in a world where much scientific research is in English. However, for employment with federal government agencies, bilingualism is a definite advantage. In private industry, the Edmonton office of a large engineering multi-national corporation was recently looking for bilingual engineers for a project to be built in Algeria.

An Arts graduate may also gain employment more easily in any of the federal government services if they are bilingual. A source at Canada Manpower recently indicated that there are approximately seventy-five federal government positions in Edmonton designated as bilingual. Other Arts graduates of Saint-Jean seem to find employment with the media, especially the French-language radio, television and newspaper.

It is probably the BEd degree which is the greatest assurance of finding a job in one's field. Graduates of Saint-Jean are in considerable demand as there is a shortage of qualified teachers for French immersion programs. According to Alberta Advanced Education and Manpower, an average of approximately fifty such teachers must be hired each year. At present, only between ten and twenty students receive their BEd from Faculté Saint-Jean each year. These graduates may often choose among several job offers. This situation is liable to persist as more and more school jurisdictions recognize the value of the immersion programs.

Role in the Community

Faculté Saint-Jean serves a francophone population which is mostly concentrated around Edmonton and in the northern parts of the province. This community has considered Saint-Jean as one of its institutions since the founding in 1908. The original role, as a juniorate of the Oblate order, was to prepare native-born priests for the missions and francophone communities of Western Canada.

In the post-war period, Saint-Jean served to give young men a classical education in French. In the last decade, the academic level became exclusively post-secondary. However, in spite of its changing educational role, the campus has continued to be used as a cultural centre. A number of different groups hold meetings at Saint-Jean, and some even have offices in the buildings. The Centre d'Expérience Préscolaire allows children of pre-kindergarten age to socialize with one another and learn more about French songs, games, etc. A corner of the residence building has been set aside for them and a playground developed next to the "Château Lacombe" (a turn of the century red-brick building previously used by well-known personality Mr. Guy Lacombe and not to be confused with another Edmonton building of more recent construction!).

Another group which operates from an office located on campus is Francophonie Jeunesse de l'Alberta, a cultural group whose goals include providing activities (sports, films, concerts, rallies, etc.) in French for Franco-Albertans of high school and university age. Their major activity last year was sending an Alberta delegation to a rally, "On s'garoche à Batoche", held at the site of the last battle of Louis Riel, Gabriel Dumont and the French-speaking Métis of the western plains. Through activities such as a visit to the National Historic Site, a theatrical recreation of the last few days of Batoche and group awareness discussions, young francophones from all four western provinces acquired a sense of community with their pioneer ancestors and metis cousins.

Perhaps the best-known group operating from Saint-Jean is the Théâtre Français d'Edmonton. The curtain went up for the first play in 1969 and since then five or six plays per season have been presented to anglophone and francophone publics. Although most performances take place in the auditorium of the Faculté, in recent years the Rice Theatre of the Citadel has been occasionally used. A full-time director, who also gives drama courses at Saint-Jean, works with amateur actors and stage technicians to produce some of the finest theatre in French west of St. Boniface.

A more recently-organized group is the Salon d'histoire de la francophonie albertaine. Originally the project of then professor of history of Saint-Jean Sr. Alice Trottier and Dr. Kenneth Munro, professor of history at the Faculty of Arts, the Salon d'histoire has presented each year a number of conferences given by various speakers dealing with topics of Franco-Albertan history. The Salon, which now also includes the present professor of history at Saint-Jean, Gratien Allaire, has been awarded a grant by Alberta 75th Commission for the publication of two books on the history of the Franco-Albertan community. Published in both French and English, these works should be available later this year.

The students of Faculté Saint-Jean are active in the cultural life of the francophone community in Alberta. Besides the traditional dances on St. Catherine and St. Valentine's days, the student council organizes a winter carnival, a "journée canadienne", and arranges for recent French-language movies to be shown. Many of these activities are open to the general public.

In the last couple of years, there has been a renaissance of French-Canadian folk-dancing. In addition to a band "la Gigue électrique" which provides a steady flow of popular and folk music, there is a dance group "La Girandole" which has given exhibitions around the province. This past spring, a delegation from this group participated in folk-dance workshops held in Chicoutimi in Quebec. In fact, at most dances, by the time midnight rolls around "disco" is out and "la danse à la chaîne" is in.

The Federal-Provincial Second-language Monitor Programme also creates contacts between students of the Faculté and the community. In essence, this program provides study bursaries to francophone students from other provinces who agree to spend about ten hours a week helping a French teacher in an Alberta school. In this way, students are exposed to the culture and the points of view of francophones, an opportunity which might not otherwise arise.

Published August 1980.

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