For minority linguistic groups, places like libraries, schools, hospitals, media and community centres are essential for their language’s survival. In R vs. Lalonde, the 1999 Ontario Superior Court decision to keep Hôpital Montfort open, the judge eloquently states
...institutions are vital to the survival of cultural communities. They are linguistic and cultural milieus which provide individuals with the means of affirming and expressing their cultural identity, and which by extension permit them to reaffirm their cultural adherence to a community. The individual and the family alone are incapable of maintaining the linguistic and cultural identity of a community. Thus, these institutions must exist in as wide a range of spheres of social activities as possible in order to permit the minority community to develop and maintain its vitality.
When you step into the Vanier branch of the Ottawa Public Library, you are instantly transported. Set in the beautiful backdrop of the Richelieu-Vanier Community Centre, it’s the only ‘sugar shack’ library in the world while still accommodating for parking and greenspace. The OC Transpo number 20 bus has a direct stop and there are off-leash dogs scuttling around in the woods behind the Library, a baseball diamond and soccer fields where you can hear people cheering, even when indoors, and the entire location serves as a hub and meeting place for Francophones in Ottawa. When you walk into the Vanier branch, the first language you are greeted in is French, the French books are plentiful, and there is an entire children’s section upstairs which is bright and cheerful and you’re not looking in odd spaces or high shelves for French books, they’re displayed prominently and are easy to access. Why not read Denise Bombardier’s autobiography while enjoying a maple marshmallow? As a francophone, this sounds heavenly!
Vanier itself seems to be turning the corner. The Ottawa Citizen recently declared that ‘It’s Vanier Time’ but truthfully, those who visit and love the Vanier library know it’s always been Vanier time. And with children being enrolled in French and immersion schools in record numbers, maybe branches such as Vanier will start popping up all over Ontario. Stay tuned!