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Claire Trépanier secures SFU’s place in Canada’s francophone academia
Claire Trépanier’s interest in languages started at a young age. At three, she learned sign language so she could communicate with her older sister who had lost her hearing after a bout of whooping cough. In high school, Trépanier learned Greek, Latin and Spanish.
Last fall, Claire Trépanier retired after 26 years of service with Simon Fraser University (SFU), first as a senior lecturer in the Department of French and then as Director of the Office of Francophone and Francophile Affairs (OFFA).
Trépanier was 18 years old when she came to Vancouver in one of the first cohorts of the federal government’s Explore program that provided bursaries for francophone students to learn English in an anglophone part of the country, and the reverse for English speaking youth.
“Experiencing Vancouver in the early 1970s was a very enriching, formative experience,” she says. “That’s the idea behind doing an exchange program. You study in the other language, but you also live in the other language.”
After completing her studies in French linguistics and second- or foreign-language learning and teaching, Trépanier began her teaching career at Laval University in 1977, moving to Concordia University and then Glendon College at York University before coming to SFU in 1993 as a lecturer with the Department of French.
At SFU, Trépanier helped usher in the era of computer-assisted language learning (CALL) that shifted teaching from a structural approach (“now class, repeat after me …”) to a communicative approach with authentic documents and learning through real context and CALL.
When she made the move from teaching to administration as the associate director of OFFA in 2004, Trépanier drew on her experience in the Explore program to set up an exchange program for students in SFU’s French Cohort Program in Public and International Affairs to study in France and Belgium. At a time when the university was closing many of its foreign exchange programs, Trépanier had the support of upper level administration and the French Cohort program flourished.
“When president Andrew Petter came in with his community engagement approach, we at OFFA were already making connections with the francophone community in B.C. and across Canada,” says Trépanier.
Guiding OFFA and ensuring sufficient funding for French language programs required a lot of public relations work in Ottawa as governments and their priorities changed. Trépanier’s skill in dealing with federal ministers and ministries ensured that SFU became a leader in French language post-secondary education not only in B.C. but in all of Canada. She even managed to secure the university’s membership in the association of francophone institutions across Canada, the Association des collèges et universités de la francophonie canadienne; SFU is the only member that is an anglophone institution.
“In a minority language environment, you do your work and you hope that the seeds you plant here and there will flower,” Trépanier says. “I see concrete results when students of French language education walk across the stage to get their diplomas during convocation. That is really dear to me.”
In 2018, Trépanier received the insignia of Knight of the Ordre des Palmes académiques from the French government in recognition of her contribution to French language programs at SFU and the connections the university has forged with francophone communities in B.C., Canada and globally.
“I dedicated the award to children like my granddaughter who is three and is in a francophone daycare in B.C.,” she says. “I hope that children like her will be able to get an elementary, secondary and post-secondary education in French with the option of being able to see the world and study abroad and come back and contribute to Canadian society.”