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brought in to work on local farms and in the area’s five massive industrial pig barns. The town has seen a population boost of about 200 residents in the last few years alone for these reasons, says Lemieux, but not many of those new citizens speak French.

“Ninety per cent of our French families here don’t speak French anymore,” says Lemieux. “It’s going to get less and less. And with the diversity of new peoples coming in...will French survive here? That’s a hard question to answer. Once you lose your base, it makes it very difficult.”

Lemieux points to an uneasy division amongst the old French-speaking families in the area. Some of whom wish to preserve the traditional French language, culture and heritage of the community while others seek to embrace the reality of a future without French and the greater prosperity which comes with new families moving into town.

Rita Cyrenne is an administrator at the local public school. The public school has always taught in English- only in the community— relying on the local convent and clergy for the bulk of the town’s French language education. She grew up speaking French in Ponteix, but admits she has lost the knack of speaking it well. None of her children speak French, but Cyrenne says it hasn’t been detrimental to their success. Cyrenne points to stark numbers at the public school. Out of 146 students who attend classes only five can speak French fluently.

“We now have more kids who speak Phillipino fluently, and speak German fluently, than speak French,” states Cyrenne. “I’m sad about it, but that’s just the way it is. That’s just progression. And it’s not the end of everything either.”

Cyrenne says she is embracing the new diversity of the community: A community which is growing and prosperous again after many years of economic stagnation and decline.

“I would just like to see Ponteix keep growing with all its different cultures. It’s awesome! We are learning

Ponteix is full of rich history with a few murals up around the community. about other cultures and they are learning about ours.”

Educator Cindy Legrand came to Ponteix from France six years ago to have a cultural immersion experience at the Centre Culturel Royer’s bilingual daycare. She is now the Centre’s Agent Culturel, and the main ambassador for the French language and culture in Ponteix. Exuding enthusiasm and energy, the youthful Legrand is a woman who feels by being positive and reaching out to young people, the Centre is beginning to have a larger presence in the community.

“What I think is we have to show a culture alive. Preservation is nice, but I think our task is to show how lively French culture can be— and how lively it is,” explains Legrand.

Legrand says their numbers are way up at the bilingual daycare compared to the three kids she had when she started there, and numbers are also increasing slowly at the Centre’s accredited French school. She has been active in the community promoting the French language and culture, but also stressing the importance of bilingualism. Legrand says there are some in town who tend to dwell on what has been lost in the community by the decline of French, but what she wants to focus on in her work is what may yet be gained.

“We can’t go back in time,” says Legrand. “We have to see the future and keep going on. Keep working. It’s every person, one step at a time, and we can bring something back to the culture. Because French is a living culture, not something dead. It’s not a fight for me here in Ponteix. It’s natural to speak French for me and it’s natural to share it.”

From Père Royer’s shining cathedral on a hill to the hopeful vision of the future advanced by Cindy Legrand in the centre which now bears his name, Ponteix has always been guided by a dream of peace and prosperity grounded in faith and community. Although the language may change, that dream will continue.

Notre Dame d’Auvergne cathedral

Yolande and Ernie Lemieux, both Francophones, are concerned about the loss of the French culture in the community.

Educator Cindy Legrand, a resident

originally from France, is excited to show how lively the French culture truly is.

Ponteix school

administrator Rita Cyrenne has noticed a shift in language preferences.

Laurent Desrosiers looks on a 15th century wood-carved Pieta statue enshrined in Notre Dame d’Auvergne cathedral in Ponteix. Built in 1929 Notre Dame d’Auvergne remains at the heart of the local Francophone community.

Rural Innovation 11

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