French explorers once roamed the vast Canadian wilderness, setting up communities not only in Quebec but in villages scattered across Canada. None outside Quebec was more dynamic than the French-speaking enclave of St. Boniface. But bigotry, sometimes sanctioned by provincial officials, wreaked havoc on this Francophone community, and the example of what happened here is cited as a prime reason why some French Canadians believe Quebec should become an independent country.
Simply put, the fear is that Canada's English-speaking majority could eventually overwhelm the language and culture of Francophone Canadians. French-speaking Canadians who were pupils in St. Boniface in the 1940s And 1950s still vividly recall how their language was banned and how they were forced to hide their textbooks when provincial school inspectors came around to ensure that nobody was being taught French.
Today there are 4,400 students studying in French at 22 schools run by The Division Scolaire Franco-Manitobaine, but many French-speakers fear the modest gains they have made in the recent past could be wiped out if Quebec secedes.
The November election in Quebec is as much a vote of confidence in the Canadian dream of a bilingual nation from coast to coast as on whether to elect a government committed to holding another referendum on Quebec secession.
If Quebecers re-elect their secessionist government on November 30, they may soon be asked to cast their votes on the same issue put to them three years ago in a referendum that came within an ace of splitting Canada apart.
Although Manitoba was admitted into Canada as a bilingual province in 1870, the right to French-language education was not guaranteed and was abolished 20 years later. In Quebec, what is now known as the "Manitoba Schools Question" was seen as the most significant loss of French rights in non-Francophone Canada.
Some fear this could be repeated if Quebec separates. Many Franco-Manitobans such as Francine Martin take a more cautious view of their future in a Canada without Quebec. "I think French-language services will be the first thing to go including French language schools." ( Reuters News Agency)