Campus Saint-Jean is evolving

For nearly 47 years, Faculté Saint-Jean, Western Canada's first French-language faculty, has been providing quality, multidisciplinary post-secondary education to ensure the continuity and vitality of the French-speaking populations of Alberta and Western Canada.


A growing and dynamic French-speaking community

At the heart of Alberta's francophone community since its creation by the religious order of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate in 1908, Saint-Jean has never stopped evolving. Today, close to 630 students study education, arts, sciences, engineering, business administration and nursing in an inclusive, secular setting that celebrates the diversity and uniqueness of Saint-Jean's French-speaking community, in keeping with our motto "unité, diversité, université" ("unity, diversity, university").

The growth and dynamism of Western Canada's French-speaking community is creating significant changes, including a demand for ever more French-speaking and bilingual talent across Canada. In addition, the realization that being bilingual is a major asset in securing employment and career advancement only adds to the pressure on Campus Saint-Jean.

As part of Campus Saint-Jean's evolution, we plan to reach an in-person student population of over 1,500 over the next few years, an increase of over 140%, and expand our hybrid or co-modal offerings in Calgary, Alberta and beyond.


Innovation at the heart of evolution

The evolution of the Campus is not limited to the quantitative - the Campus regularly adapts to new technologies. The Campus Digital and Pedagogical Transformation Room, inaugurated in early 2019, offers a glimpse of tomorrow's classroom. The transition to distance or hybrid education innovation, also launched in 2019 ensured that the Campus was ready to face the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, with several faculty members already equipped with the skills and tools to offer courses in digital format. The evolution of technological innovation will continue over the next few years, with projects focusing on educational robotics, as well as the forthcoming launch of a creative space and parts of university and college programs, and online continuing education.

Campus spaces are also evolving. Thanks to the support of corporate partners, we will soon have hybrid multi-purpose community spaces that will enable Alberta's French-speaking associative community to take full advantage of Campus technology. Laboratories have also been created, including the CROC LAB, the Centre de recherche sur le développement cognitif, and an experiential pedagogy laboratory will also soon be inaugurated. On the teaching side, three new classrooms have been created.

This transformation is just the beginning, and the sharp rise in student, teaching and support staff numbers over the next few years means that we need to be able to use all the spaces on the Campus. Several other projects are awaiting approval, but will aim to create a larger, more modern Campus Saint-Jean, offering a better, more accessible student experience, and equipped with the best programs and technological innovations to serve the French-speaking community in the West. This multi-year strategy includes several phases of funding from all levels of government.

Also, to meet the evolving technological demands of these developments, major wiring, power supply and ventilation work took place over the summer of 2023 in all Campus buildings and main spaces.


Use of the Onésime Dorval Room

The Onésime Dorval Room, located in Pavillon Lacerte, has long been used as the Campus' "historical" hall. Formerly the institution's chapel when it was run by the Oblates, this 56-person capacity room was used to display objects related to the history of the Campus, and to display portraits of Campus graduates when it was under Oblate administration. Panels tracing the institution's history were displayed, as well as a wall frieze showing the evolution of the infrastructure.

Like all the rooms on the Campus, the Onésime Dorval Room underwent partial renovation during the summer of 2023. The main furniture and objects in the room were removed and stored in rooms where they could be preserved.

In addition, the work carried out in this room enabled Campus Saint-Jean's administration to reflect on the way in which the objects were presented. Many of the objects and panels were related to the history of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and their presence in Alberta, but were presented without any pedagogical or explanatory framework enabling the public to situate them in a broader historical and socio-cultural context.


The University of Alberta, Campus Saint-Jean and decolonization

The University of Alberta and Campus Saint-Jean are public, secular and inclusive institutions. They include a vibrant and active Indigenous student and staff population.

On June 13, 2023, all Campus Saint-Jean staff and francophone community organizations were invited to a pipe ceremony to mark the official beginning of the Campus' journey of reconciliation and decolonization, in consultation with the Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society.

In its Indigenous strategic planning entitled "Braiding Past, Present and Future", the University of Alberta calls for the creation of "safe and welcoming physical and virtual spaces for First Nations, Inuit and Métis students, faculty, staff and community members." As part of its decolonization process, the existence of a room where the history of the Oblate presence in Alberta is not presented in a pedagogical and objective manner, was a major obstacle in the reconciliation and decolonization process initiated by the Campus. Several testimonies, notably from students of Indigenous origin, underlined the importance of all Campus spaces being inclusive and safe.

Taking this into consideration, as well as the need to use all Campus spaces for educational and research purposes, the Campus Administration, in agreement with the Association des Universitaires de la Faculté Saint-Jean (AUFSJ) representing the voice of the Campus student population, and after consultation with Indigenous, Francophone and University of Alberta officials, decided to work on the best way to represent the history of the Campus and of Alberta's Francophonie.


Representing the larger French-speaking community

The Campus Saint-Jean community reflects the diversity of the French-speaking world. Today, the Campus welcomes students and staff from all corners of Alberta, Canada and the world. Our community also includes students and staff of Indigenous descent. We need to present the history of all these members of our community, without of course forgetting the historic francophone presence in Alberta, and in particular the Oblates, but within a pedagogical and educational framework.

Protecting intangible heritage

Although we often talk about the physical Franco-Albertan historical heritage, the fact remains that the intangible Franco-Albertan heritage must also be presented in our institutions. This is why the Campus is in contact with cultural associations to ensure that this heritage can be shared within the Campus Saint-Jean framework.


Chronology of the decolonization process

August 31, 2022: Campus Saint-Jean General Assembly - presentation of the year's vision and priorities, including space planning and renovations (internal events)

September 25, 2022: Dean's Brunch - UofA Days - presentation of the Campus' inclusive vision

March 31, 2023: Campus Saint-Jean Congress on Inclusivity - discussions on how to ensure inclusivity at Campus Saint-Jean, with the presence of the community

Spring 2023: Consultations with community and university leaders on the development of Salle Onésime Dorval (Salle historique)

June 1, 2023: Cabling, piping and ventilation work begins.

June 13, 2023: Pipe ceremony - official start of the reconciliation and decolonization journey, with staff and community members in attendance.


Frequently Asked Questions

Was the Salle historique dismantled?

The Onésime Dorval Room had to be renovated in the summer of 2023, and the furniture and objects in it had to be moved.

What was in the Salle historique?

No recent complete inventory of the Onésime Dorval Room exists, but apart from recent furniture, the room included:

  • Three wooden altars
  • Framed photos of the institution's graduating classes under Oblate administration
  • An antique clock
  • Two original doors from the institution
  • A statuette of Brother Antoine
  • A small cross
  • Two small antique desks
  • An antique wooden chair
  • An engraved wooden map identifying, formerly by an electric mechanism, French-speaking and bilingual municipalities in Western Canada.
In addition, the room featured a series of panels presenting the history of the Saint-Jean institution and the Oblates, large printed presentation banners, and a frieze tracing the history of Saint-Jean's infrastructure. The clock features two decorative glass panels.


Have the objects in the Salle historique disappeared?

The altars have been bequeathed to a cultural association, where they will be used for religious purposes in a respectful setting. This decision was taken after consultation with leaders of the French-speaking community in the spring of 2023.

All other objects have been safely stored, with the exception of the clock, which remains in situ for the time being.

No objects have disappeared, been destroyed or thrown away.

Where are the objects from the Salle historique?

Objects previously housed in the Onésime Dorval Room have been moved to a storage room on campus, away from light, dust and humidity.

Why was the Salle historique closed to the public?

For many years, the Onésime Dorval Room was kept closed to prevent theft or damage to the objects housed there. It was only opened for special events, such as conferences and musical performances.

Has the Campus Saint-Jean administration consulted community organizations for Alberta's francophonie as part of this process?

The Dean of the Campus meets regularly, both formally and informally, with the heads of community organizations in Alberta's French-speaking community. The administration consulted several of these leaders as part of the launch of the Campus decolonization process. All community members and organizations who made requests were contacted in writing or by e-mail.

Isn't Campus Saint-Jean pitting Indigenous and Francophone communities against each other? Isn't this contrary to the principles of reconciliation?

The basic principles of inclusiveness and decolonization are directly opposed to the way in which the history of the Saint-Jean institution was presented in this room, without any pedagogical framework, and in particular with very little mention of the important role played by the Oblate order in the cultural genocide perpetrated by the native residential schools. As a reminder, the Oblates ran the majority of Catholic residential schools in Canada, 48 out of 70.

St. John's had close ties with the administration of several residential schools. Many of the Oblate staff who worked at Saint-Jean had at one time or another worked at a residential school. It is therefore important to take a close look at the way in which the history of the Saint-Jean institution is presented, so as not to omit important facts.

It is also important to recognize that the history of Francophones in Alberta is not limited to the presence of the Oblates. The Onésime Dorval Room contained virtually no objects other than those directly related to Oblate teaching. Apart from a few photos, there were no objects representing other sporting or cultural activities, notably those of the Chorale Saint-Jean.

Finally, it should be noted that the layout of the Hall predated the conclusions and calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). It was therefore not only desirable, but absolutely necessary, to carry out a rethinking exercise. This will be carried out once the renovations to Campus Saint-Jean are complete, to avoid constantly moving objects around and risking damaging them.

There are also plans to digitize student photos and make them available online to the wider community.

Clearly, in this framework, there is no "erasure" or "destruction" of Alberta's francophone heritage, and no opposition between the process of decolonization and the preservation of francophone historical heritage.

Alberta's French-speaking community is alive, plural and in constant transformation. Reducing its historical heritage to a small number of religious objects does not reflect this plurality. The Campus wishes to represent Alberta's francophonie and the diversity of its history, and will work with all community partners who wish to associate themselves with this project and this inclusive vision.

What will become of the historic Salle?

The Salle Onésime Dorval will be used in the short term as open-plan offices before further renovations. The Salle will then continue to serve as a multi-purpose space for teaching, research, continuing education and community events, as it has in the past and recently, for the benefit of all members of Alberta's Francophonie.

Will Campus Saint-Jean change its name?

There are no plans to rename Campus Saint-Jean. 

Will the grotto of Notre-Dame de Lourdes, known as the Frère Antoine grotto, be destroyed?

The grotto of Notre-Dame de Lourdes is part of the Campus Saint-Jean infrastructure and will not be moved or destroyed.

What will happen to the objects in the Salle historique?

The few objects that were in the Onésime Dorval Room will first be catalogued. Then, those that are of historical importance to the Campus will be presented as part of a project to showcase the history of the Campus and Alberta's Francophonie, in a location on the Campus to be determined.  Consultations will be held to decide how best to preserve the remaining objects in a respectful and inclusive manner.