Winter Carnival shows French immersion students that the culture lives beyond the classroom

Elementary school students play with a parachute as part of the French Winter Carnival on Mar. 6, 2020. Other outdoor activities included snowshoeing, tug of war and an obstacle course. (Jayda Noyes/Daily Herald)

“It becomes a part of your being.”

The Saskatchewan Rivers Public School Division brought French immersion students together on Friday to show them that the language exists outside of classroom walls.

The fourth annual French Winter Carnival took place at Carlton Comprehensive Public High School. It included its French immersion students, as well as students and staff from École Arthur Pechey Public School, École Vickers Public School and École Debden Public School.

According to a news the release, the celebration totalled over 500 people.

“In a community like Prince Albert, it’s a little bit limited of where you can use French outside of school if you’re a French immersion student,” said École Vickers Vice Principal Kara Cantin, who’s on the carnival’s organizing committee.

“We’re a big part of the city. There’s a vibrant French speaking community in Prince Albert and…it’s also to show some of the cultural aspects of French Canadian and Métis culture.”

École Vickers Vice President Kara Cantin speaks at the opening ceremonies of the French Winter Carnival at Carlton Comprehensive Public High School on Mar. 6, 2020. (Jayda Noyes/Daily Herald)

Cantin said Carlton’s French immersion students played a big role in planning and facilitating many of the activities.

Activities included outdoor events such as snowshoeing, tobogganing, flag football, tug of war and horse-drawn sleigh rides.

The Provincial Association of Francophone Youth (l’Association Jeunesse Fransaskoise), Prince Albert French-Canadian Society ( Société Canadienne Francophone de Prince Albert), Canadian Parents for French, French Historical Society of Saskatchewan (Société Historique de la Saskatchewan) and Saskatchewan Urban Native Teachers Education Program also hosted various activities.

“It’s the brain child of the principal at Arthur Pechey, Brandi Sparboe,” said Cantin. After attending a conference for French teachers, Sparboe was inspired to bring the division’s French-speaking community together.

During opening ceremonies, organizers got elementary students dancing in the stands while singing songs in French.

One student was also awarded for winning the temporary tattoo design contest for participants to sport at the carnival. Her winning design featured a heart and the Fransaskois flag.

“It falls within the context of March being a national month to recognize the French language and the French culture here in Canada,” added Tom Michaud, Superintendent of Schools for the Saskatchewan Rivers Public School Division.

“It’s more than just opening opportunities for employment. It’s opening opportunities for personal growth,” he said.

“It becomes a part of your being.”

The Prince Albert French-Canadian Society (Société Canadienne Francophone de Prince Albert) provided maple toffee for the French Winter Carnival on Mar. 6, 2020. (Jayda Noyes/Daily Herald)

According to 2015-16 data from the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, 21 per cent of Saskatchewan students are enrolled in core French classes. Eight per cent are enrolled in French immersion.

The data showed French is the mother tongue of 1.5 per cent of the province’s population, which is over 16,000 people.

Michaud said they like to get the kids collectively singing at the opening ceremonies because that’s how they show their pride—by simply speaking the French language.

Ultimately—as kids were singing their hearts out, drawing French words on the cement with chalk and tasting maple toffee—Michaud hopes the kids feel a sense a joy.

“There’s that joie de vivre that the French are known for, that joy of life,” he said.

“This is an opportunity for them to celebrate their common passion for the French language and have fun living French.”