From Acadian Roots to International Recognition: Gino LeBlanc’s Impact on French Language Education in Canada

November 24, 2023

On November 1st, Gino LeBlanc, Director of the Office of Francophone and Francophile Affairs (BAFF/OFFA) at Simon Fraser University, was awarded the insignia of Knight of the l’Ordre des Palmes académiques by the French Republic for his exceptional commitment to the Francophone and Acadian communities in Canada. This prestigious distinction is bestowed upon individuals making significant contributions to the education and promotion of French culture and language. 

In an exclusive Q&A, LeBlanc shares personal reflections and insights, delving into the collaborative efforts that shaped his journey, offering advice for those aspiring to impact language policy, detailing university collaborations, and highlighting the vital role of BAFF/OFFA in Francophone communities. 

Q: What does this recognition mean to you, and how do you feel about being acknowledged in this way?

A: I am deeply honoured and touched by this recognition, especially considering its international scope for Francophones worldwide. What makes me particularly proud is that it highlights the collective work of colleagues in the French education sector, reflecting my 30+ years of experience in New Brunswick, Ottawa, and British Columbia.

This distinction holds special significance for me as it recognizes the role of universities not just as elite structures but as vital community development tools. My vision of the university emphasizes its impact on society, both socially and economically, aligning with my commitment to safeguarding the French language and culture in Canada.

I want to acknowledge my roots in the Acadian community of Eastern Canada, where my initial reflections on being a Francophone minority took shape. Additionally, I extend my gratitude to my colleagues at BAFF/OFFA and the Faculty of Education, who have been essential partners. The support we have received has been crucial in developing and protecting the French language, and I see this award as a tribute to our collective efforts.

Q: Can you share advice for individuals aspiring to make a positive impact on language policy and education?

A: Firstly, it is crucial to prioritize continuous progress. As a minority, whether based on gender, ethnicity, or language, maintaining the status quo is akin to moving backward. Actively contributing to the development of the community and the education system, from early childhood to post-secondary, is essential. The concept of the education continuum is significant here, starting from French daycare to a robust K-12 education system and beyond into post-secondary education.

Secondly, when aspiring to make a positive impact, it is vital to view the protection and promotion of the language holistically. While obtaining degrees is crucial, it is equally important to recognize the fragility of such achievements in isolation. Building a solid foundation involves not only trained teachers but also infrastructure, including French daycare spaces, cultural elements like theatre, movies, and music in French, and connections with French cultural life in Canada and Western Canada.

In summary, my advice is to consistently move forward, contribute to educational development, and embrace a holistic approach to language protection and promotion for a vibrant linguistic ecosystem.

Q: Can you share some of the specific university collaborations and partnerships that you have established to support French language education and cultural initiatives?

A: Firstly, the longstanding partnership between SFU and French universities is particularly evident in the Dual Program. Over the past 18 years, SFU has worked diligently with partners in France to facilitate student exchanges. This initiative, where SFU students spend a semester in a majority French-speaking society like France, plays a pivotal role in instilling confidence in their French language skills and opens doors to the broader Francophone world, which boasts over 321 million speakers globally.

In addition, our innovative community development program embeds a portion of the PDP curriculum at École Anne-Hébert. This hands-on experience at a Francophone school allows our students to immerse themselves in a real school setting, dealing with practical issues such as classroom management and parent relationships. 

Beyond academics, SFU provides crucial support, including training for teachers. These ongoing collaborations display the depth and breadth of our efforts to support French language education and cultural initiatives. These partnerships are invaluable, and I look forward to their continued growth and support in the years to come.

Q: What is the role of BAFF/OFFA in Canada's Francophone and Acadian communities?

A: BAFF/OFFA serves as a unique gateway for Francophones to access university education in French in Western Canada, offering courses in political science, history, education, and the French Department at both the undergraduate and graduate level.

Our focus includes expanding program offerings, such as majors, minors, and micro programs, aligning with the contemporary trend. Efforts are also directed towards connecting with the growing Francophone immigrant population in Vancouver and B.C. 

As an immigration society, Vancouver attracts diverse Francophone communities from West Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and beyond. BAFF/OFFA aims to introduce them to the French education system and post-secondary opportunities, thus, contributing to the continued development and vitality of Francophone and Acadian communities in Canada.

Q: How do you see the impact of this recognition on your future work with Francophone and Acadian communities in the future?

A: Receiving this recognition is a deeply humbling experience that prompts reflection on the collaborative efforts and mentorship that have shaped my journey. 

Throughout my career, I have been privileged to work with incredible teams. The saying, "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together," holds true. Individual efforts can only go so far, but the collective strength of a team contributes to a lasting impact.

I have also been fortunate to have mentors from various backgrounds and regions throughout Canada including Acadian mentors from the East, mentors in Ottawa, and here in B.C., who have generously shared their guidance and support. Their influence has been instrumental in helping me reach new heights and achieve meaningful outcomes.

Looking forward, the commitment to mentorship and collaboration remains a priority. While the recognition serves as a point of reflection, it by no means signals a slowdown. The journey continues with a focus on contributing to the growth and success of Francophone and Acadian communities, fostering a culture of support, collaboration, and mentorship for the benefit of future generations.