Commentary | Hyde Park: Honouring francophone McGill

An open letter to the Principal regarding her support for the celebration of 40 years of the “Mouvement McGill Français”

Dear Madame Principal,

On March 28, 1969, our downtown campus was home to a demonstration of over 5,000 people seeking to make McGill more sensitive to the fact that it is situated in the heart of Canada’s only francophone province. In many ways, this event acted as a catalyst in making the University more open toward the French language.

While the movement may have ultimately envisioned McGill as a francophone institution, in hindsight, its effects were much different. Today, the desire to make McGill a French institution has faded. Improving the place of French, however, remains a central concern.

Clearly, many individuals and groups have contributed to making McGill a more bilingual University: the “Mouvement McGill Français” was, however, among the most significant. Shortly after the demonstration in March of 1969, the University took concrete measures to become more bilingual. Starting in the Fall Semester of 1969, the administration sought to implement a quinquennial plan in order to improve the balance of English and French at the University. Among other features, the plan envisioned a fully bilingual administration and that at least 20 per cent of registered students be francophone.

Over time, the positive steps taken by the University served many needs of the McGill’s francophone community. Today, for example, there is an assistant for Francophone students in the First-Year Office, and language courses are offered for staff who wish to improve their French. Further, anticipated Senate amendments to Article 15 of the Charter of Student Rights will allow students to submit any written work in either English or French, where acquiring proficiency in a language is not the purpose of the course. An additional amendment proposed by Dean Everett, as Chair of the Senate Committee on Student Affairs, would have this article appear on all future course syllabuses.

While these are all positive steps, work remains to be done. Bilingualism at McGill still requires nurturing and strengthening. During the December 2006 meeting of Senate, in response to questions concerning the state of French at McGill, Morton Mendelson, the Deputy Provost (Student Life & Learning), demonstrated a willingness on the part of the administration to continue to work toward this strengthening. It is comforting to know that the University’s representatives are keenly aware of the importance of strengthening bilingualism. Anything to the contrary would be surprising given that French is a great asset, helping McGill earn prestige on the international level, and featuring in the recruitment of new students and professors. It is also important to be mindful of the fact that McGill is situated in Quebec, where the official language is French and the overwhelming majority of the population is francophone.

In light of this, the Commission des Affaires francophones (CAF) is organising an event in March, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the “Mouvement McGill Français.” Through you, we would like to engage the administration in a constructive dialogue on the place of French at McGill. The celebration will be an ideal moment to recognize the improvements already made at McGill, as well as an opportunity to renew our commitment in support of bilingualism. Your presence, therefore, is of utmost importance and will be interpreted by many as a concrete gesture of partnership for a stronger McGill. Ultimately, our central goal is to commemorate a movement that had positive effects for McGill and its community.

Madame Principal, we ask you to respond to the following questions in order for us to better understand your position on this topic:

First, in light of the positive consequences that the movement had on the University, does the administration support the idea of celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Mouvement McGill Français?

Second, does the administration view this anniversary to be a source of motivation, in order to support and improve bilingualism at McGill?

We eagerly await your responses to these questions and other sentiments on bilingualism at McGill. We look forward to engaging in a constructive dialogue with you in this regard.

CAF is Hugues Doré-Bergeron, Alana Boileau, Amélie T. Gouin, and Faizel Gulamhussein. You can reach them at