Two aldermen and the mayor go bilingual to celebrate francophone history in Calgary
The change in language was both fitting and welcome to onlookers as the motion called for City Council members to nominate Mission-Rouleauville (Calgary’s Mission district) — and the rich French history it has — as an event of national historical significance to the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.
“The establishment of the Mission-Rouleauville Francophone settlement represents a nationally important aspect of Canadian history and culture,” stated the motion.
The Mission district was established in 1900 and is filled with historical buildings such as the St. Mary’s Cathedral and St. Mary’s High School, which is now the oldest operating school in the city.
Everyone in attendance sat up in their chairs with puzzled looks on their faces as Ald. Pincott’s fluent French filled the room. Bored onlookers and administrative officials alike snapped to attention, amused by the change in an otherwise typical Monday City Council meeting.
It was clearly an oddity, as even the transcriber took a minute to determine which language he was speaking, pausing her typing before finally writing, “Speaking in French,” unable to translate.
Photo by Lisa Taylor
Surprising onlookers further, Ald. Andre Chabot then replied to City Council, continuing what would have been a typical debate, but in French. He followed his comments by summarizing quickly in English, congratulating his colleague on his decision to lead the motion in Canada’s other official language.
“I applaud Ald. Pincott for going forward with this motion in French,” Ald. Chabot said to Council. “I know we are supposed to do our business in English, but it doesn’t say that we can’t do it in both of our official languages.”
An amused Mayor Naheed Nenshi joked about the different accents coming from each of the aldermen’s backgrounds in English, then teasing himself about his, “cowboy French accent,” while speaking in French.
The bilingual debate continued to pick up as the aldermen found themselves no longer discussing the motion, but rather the very apparent, new issue that – what should the members of City Council do when one speaks in French?
The main concern was that there would be no official documentation, since the transcriber was not able to transcribe French.
The clerk questioned if anyone else in the room could even understand, prompting a group of women from the Government of Alberta’s culture department who were watching the proceedings to exclaim loudly (in French) that they were very pleased to hear the French language being celebrated so openly.
“It did bring up an interesting procedural question that we have to deal with in Council,” said Ald. Gord Lowe. “Clearly, while I think it’s appropriate that the other language be available here, it does cause concern.”
It was informally decided that in the future, in the event of a rare occurrence such as this, that aldermen need to also summarize their comments in English.
“I am so pleased that we are able to do some of our business in Canada’s other official language,” Nenshi said to Council. “Even in a place that is as knowingly Anglophone as Calgary.”
The motion was carried with the approval of all the aldermen present, with the exception of Ald. Diane Colley-Urqhart who opposed the motion without stating the reason why she opposed.