The Canadian government has given the Yukon $7.5 million for the creation of Francophone community spaces that will be part of the territory’s first-ever French-language high school.
Yukon MP Larry Bagnell, on behalf of Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly, made the announcement at the Yukon government administrative building in Whitehorse Nov. 16.
“This has been a long exercise, a very hard exercise but, obviously, you’ll see, very worthwhile,” Bagnell said of the creation of the school, which will be built on the Riverdale Education Reserve. “The battle was worthwhile and it’s so exciting today for the French community.”
The $7.5 million is coming from the federal government’s minority language education program and is the “largest federal contribution to the official languages minority community infrastructure in Canada in over decade,” Bagnell said. The funding is an addition to the $20 million already set aside by the territorial government for the school’s construction.
Yukon education minister Tracy-Anne McPhee said the territory is “very pleased” about the announcement.
“Looking back, the last project funded through this federal program was the construction of école Émilie-Tremblay back in 1996…. This project will give the francophone community more spaces for local activities and programs as well as community events and gatherings,” McPhee told reporters.
The federal money will go towards facilities like the school’s gym, theatre room, community kitchen and a portion of the library that will be accessible both to students and the wider community.
“The francophone community is vibrant, and a growing part of the Yukon…. A strong francophone community benefits all Yukon communities,” McPhee said. “Through these spaces, the francophone community will be able to share their culture and heritage with all Yukoners. With this contribution from the Government of Canada, we can invest in our community and help the francophone realize their future.”
In a brief question-and-answer period, McPhee said the government does not have a firm timeline for when construction on the school will begin or when it will open. She said soil remediation and testing at the site has thrown off the original plans. However, she said the design plan is being finalized and that the government is still aiming for its original opening date of sometime in late 2019 to early 2020.
Speaking to media following the announcement, commission scolaire francophone du Yukon president Jean-Sébastien Blais said the funding is “great news” and will finally allow francophone high school students to have a school with resources equivalent to the ones enjoyed by their English-language counterparts. The CSFY will be launching a contest in the coming days, he added, to name the school, soliciting submissions that evoke the Yukon’s history or natural beauty.
Blais emphasized, though, that there’s still a lot of work ahead.
“I think it’s important to say, we’re pleased about the announcement, but we’ll be very pleased when (the school will) open, and for me, this is something that needs to be designed well but with a sense of emergency,” he said, describing the situation at Émilie-Tremblay, with students being overflowed into portables, as a “real crisis.”
“We cannot wait any longer,” Blais said. “We have the funding now, so let’s get started, right?”
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