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Le Centre scolaire secondaire communautaire Paul-Émile Mercier to welcome first students on Friday

Multi-use classrooms outfitted with sitting and standing desks, plenty of windows, moveable walls and garage-style doors.

Multi-use classrooms outfitted with sitting and standing desks, plenty of windows, moveable walls and garage-style doors.

A library with a larger digital collection of literature than physical books.

The first cohort of students at Whitehorse’s first dedicated French high school will be walking into a modern building designed for learning in the 21st century, officials say, one with theatre, commercial kitchen and office facilities that can also be used by the community.

“It’s a bit surreal, to be honest,” Marc Champagne, the executive director of the Commission scolaire francophone du Yukon (CSFY), said following a media tour of le Centre scolaire secondaire communautaire Paul-Émile Mercier (Paul-Émile Mercier Secondary School Community Centre, or CSSC Mercier) on Nov. 9.

“We’ve been working on this project for so long now… For me, the biggest thing is going to be seeing our students finally have a space where they can do all the things they need to do in high school, so that’s really exciting, but it’s also really exciting for the francophone community and for the broader community here in Whitehorse to have these new spaces that are going to allow a lot of great events and great things to happen.

“It’s a real, beautiful addition to our community.”

CSSC Mercier, which was completed in September and sits next to F.H. Collins Secondary School, will welcome its first 85 students on Nov. 13. The building can accommodate up to 150 students and cost approximately $35 million, $7.5 million of which was covered by the federal Canadian Heritage department’s minority language education program. That federal money was specifically earmarked for the building’s multi-use community spaces.

The opening comes after a long battle over the availability of French-language education in the Yukon, an issue that made its way up to the Supreme Court of Canada before eventually being settled outside of court with the current Yukon government.

The incoming Grades 7 to 12 students are currently split between École Émilie-Tremblay and a rented space at NVD Place where, for example, they don’t have room for things like music or home economic classes.

By contrast, CSSC Mercier will give students access to classrooms dedicated to those subjects, as well as facilities such as a recording studio where they can record songs, podcasts and radio programs; a commercial kitchen that Champagne said will hopefully result in the establishment of a culinary and hot meal program, as well as eventually be used for community events; and a flexible theatre space with a moveable stage, varying layers of curtains and a pull-down green screen for video projects; a science lab; and a slightly-smaller-than-regulation gym.

There are windows everywhere — an intentional choice, Champagne said, so students walking through the building can see, can get interested in what’s happening in other classrooms, and to allow in as much natural light as possible.

There are also several garage-style doors that teachers can open to make their classrooms larger and allow students to spread out to common areas for individual or group work.

As well, the building’s washrooms and change rooms are gender-neutral, with individual rooms for each toilet or shower.

Champagne said the French education commission was “a bit sad that we can’t celebrate” the opening of CSSC Mercier “the way we’d like to” due to COVID-19 restrictions, but added that there will “absolutely” be a larger celebration once restrictions ease.

For now, there will just be a smaller celebration with students on Nov. 13, and discussions about how to safely allow community access to the space are ongoing (community events will only be allowed outside of school hours).

In a press release, CSFY president Jean-Sébastien Blais described the entry of students to the school as “a historic and exciting moment for the entire francophone community and for French First Language education programs in the Yukon.”

“The opening of CSSC Mercier demonstrates the respect accorded by the territorial government to our language rights and the provision of an equivalent infrastructure to our students,” he said.

“…The sustainability of a language and a culture is ensured, among other things, by the institutions dedicated to them.”

Contact Jackie Hong at