3. The war and the end of bilingual education
The war and the end of bilingual educationThe Laurier-Greenway Compromise had brought a temporary conclusion to the Manitoba Schools controversy in 1897. It allowed for education in French or any other language as long as there were a significant number of children in the school who spoke that language. The students were also supposed to be educated in English on the basis of what was termed the bilingual system. Greenway had included the right to education in any other language so he could not be accused of giving French special status. He had not however anticipated the dramatic wave of European immigration that washed over Manitoba in the late 1890s and early twentieth century. Manitoba schools soon found themselves obliged to provide education in German, Ukrainian, and Polish as well as in French and English. By 1915 there were 126 separate French bilingual schools. Furthermore, 61 school districts had German bilingual schools, and there were 111 Polish and Ukrainian bilingual schools. In total, 17,000 of the province’s 100,100 students attended bilingual schools. In addition, there were a number of teacher training schools (called normal schools) that trained French, (Ref, Ref2) Ukrainian and German teachers.
For a number of years critics of this system claimed that students in bilingual schools were not being well educated and were not being assimilated into Canadian life, which in their minds meant British culture. The outbreak of war further fuelled their opposition to the bilingual system: many were angered that the public school system was teaching in German and Ukrainian, the languages of two of the peoples with which Canada was at war. The fact that French Canada had not supported the war effort with the same enthusiasm as the rest of country served to intensify a long-simmering hostility to the use of French as the language of education in public schools. The war also heightened the expectation that schools would transform the children of immigrants into English-speaking Canadians who accepted British cultural values. One Manitoba teacher wrote a musical in which her students acted out Canada’s role in the war effort, while in another teacher’s militarized mathematics: each correct answer was equated with capturing an enemy prisoner of war. In St. Boniface (Ref1, Ref2) seminary students participated in debates about the morality of the war itself. The Orange Lodge also canvassed all the candidates in wartime provincial elections as to whether they favoured the bilingual system.
Winnipeg Free Press editor John Dafoe had launched a campaign against the bilingual schools as early as 1910. Over the next four years the paper carried over 60 articles and more than 100 editorials criticizing the system. Dafoe claimed that Conservative Premier Rodmond Roblin had given the East European immigrants control over the schools system in exchange for their votes. He even argued that Eastern Europeans were taking control of schools in rural districts and driving out English-speaking residents.
Roblin’s Conservatives not only defended the bilingual system, in 1912 they had amended the education act to allow for the students of Roman Catholic parents to be educated in separate classes in Winnipeg and Brandon. It should be noted that local leaders of the Roman Catholic church were far from happy with the Laurier-Greenway Compromise, but for different reasons. They argued, for example, that the half hour a day allowed for religious education was not enough to provide students with a proper moral instruction.
In a province where 100,000 of a total of 500,000 people spoke neither French or English, Liberal Party leader Tobias Norris concluded that the English was “threatened by the invasion of ‘foreign languages.’” In 1914 the Liberal Party came out in favour of compulsory English-speaking public education. One year after the Liberal victory in the 1915 election, the Norris government abolished the bilingual education system. For the first time education in Manitoba was compulsory for children between the ages of 5 and 14, although parents could send their children to private schools that had been approved by the Department of Education.
Liberal education minister R.S. Thornton justified the decision to do away with the bilingual system with the comment: “In this Dominion, we are building up, under the British flag, a new nationality. We come from many lands and cast in our lot and from these various factors there must evolve a new nationality which shall be simply Canadian and British.” Joseph Dumas, the MLA for St. Boniface said, “It is folly to believe that the French-speaking people of this province are going to abandon that which they regard as their sacred right.” Taras Ferley, the first Ukrainian-Canadian elected to the Manitoba Legislature, also defended the bilingual system. Archbishop Adelard Langevin was the leading advocate for bilingual education, speaking in favour educational rights for Ukrainians, Germans, and Poles as well Franco-Manitobans. The Ukrainian community rallied to defend the bilingual schools, drawing over a thousand people to one protest meeting. The Liberals’ large majority in the legislature, and the wartime concerns about the need for cultural unity, resulted in the government position carrying the day.
In response, delegates from French-speaking Catholic school boards met at St. Boniface College to establish the Association d’Éducation des Canadien français du Manitoba. The Association had the support of the Catholic leadership, but all communication with school boards in the formerly bilingual school districts was to come from the Association so that there would be no perception that the Church or clergy had initiated the activity.
Historians continue to debate the quality of the education that was provided in the bilingual schools of the day. Some point to Deputy Minister of Education Robert Fletcher’s comment that the education system was nearly out of hand as evidence of the system’s failure, while others argue that the Manitoba government’s 1916 investigation into bilingual education was not as critical of the system as the public was led to believe at the time. The latter group further argues that teachers and administrators within the system were aware of its shortcomings and had been working to address them.