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Official and unofficial school inspection as hegemonic and counter-hegemonic struggle in Prairie districts before 1940.


This paper examines how state inspectors and 'visiteurs d'ecoles" (unofficial inspectors) shaped hegemonic and counter-hegemonic cultural practices in bilingual school districts in Prairie provinces before 1940. The study allows us to better understand why state inspection constituted a threat to Francophone cultural continuity, and why Francophones constructed a counter-hegemonic curriculum and named Visiteurs des ecoles bilingues" to negotiate their legitimacy in Anglo-dominant public schools. The presence of the visiteur in bilingual schools challenged the dominant group's hegemonic principles. Therefore, bilingual schools represent sites where Francophones and Anglophones carried on a hegemonic struggle to maintain and reproduce their language and world-view.

Dans cet article nous examinons comment les inspecteurs d'ecoles et les "visiteurs d'ecoles" ont faconne les pratiques hegemoniques et contre-hegemoniques culturelles dans les districts scolaires bilingues dans les prairies de l'ouest avant 1940. Cette etude nous aide a comprendre pourquoi l'inspection etatique etait nefaste pour la continuite culturelle francophone, et pourquoi les Francophones ont construit un curriculum contre-hegemonique pour negocier leur hegitimite au sein des ecoles publiques anglo-dominantes. La presence des visiteurs dans les ecoles bilingues remet en cause la suprematie ideologique du groupe dominant. En consequence, les ecoles bilingues represententdes sites ou les Francophones et les Anglophones ont luttte pour maintenir et reproduire leur langue et leur conception du monde.


In the past, public schooling in English-speaking Canada reflected a national purpose of Canadianization of all ethnic minorities. Educational goals of citizenship development were steeped in an understanding of British history and institutions, the transmission of the English language and culture, and the inculcation in all students of a sense of pride and loyalty to Canada and its British heritage (Green, 1994; McDonald, 1982; Osborne, 2000). Government appointed school inspectors, primarily gentlemen ofBritish ancestry, acted as guardians of the state's ideological hegemony (Curtis, 1992; Little, 1998). Curtis (1992), who studied the role of the first school inspectors in Canada West (Ontario) between 1843 and 1846, concluded that school inspection 'was about state formation: the creation, stabilization and normalization of relations of power, authority, domination and exploitation" (p. 32).

The system of public schools established in Manitoba and in the Northwest Territories in the early 1890s was used to speed up the process of assimilation of all ethnic populations (Barber, 1978; Curnisky, 1978; Huel, 1978; Jaenen, 1978, 1979; White, 1993, 1994). School laws specified that English was the official language of instruction in all public schools, including separate schools in Saskatchewan and Alberta. Provincial Departments of Education implemented educational policy to establish cultural conformity by rigidly controlling teacher training and certification, its program of studies and evaluation, and the supervision and inspection of schools (Hebert, 1998; Huel, 1978; Jaenen, 1979; McLeod, 1979).

Prior to the consolidation of small school districts into large units or divisions, which began in the 1930s and continued into the 1940s, trustees in rural school districts with homogenous ethnic populations had considerable power over the operation of their one-room schools and the hiring of teachers. It was thus possible for ethnic teachers in these districts to teach children their mother tongue clandestinely. However, when inspectors noted that children were not progressing in English, they rated these teachers incompetent in the teaching of the official language. In certain cases, trustees were ordered to replace them with English-speaking teachers (Curnisky, 1978; Gauthier, Kach & Mazurek, 1996; Jaenen, 1979; Kovacs, 1978; Lupul, 1992; Willmoth, 1978). Amongst ethnic collectivities in the Prairie provinces, Francophones were the most persistent in resisting educational policies and school laws which failed to recognize their linguistic and cultural needs (Julien, 1995; McLeod, 1979; Titley, 1990).

In 1968, the report of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism recommended that the official language minority in Canada should be guaranteed its own schools in districts where the minority constituted ten percent or more of the population. In 1982, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom, which formed part of the Constitution Act, provided language education rights to Anglophone and Francophone minorities. Since then Francophones in English-speaking provinces have struggled with political obstacles and legal battles in order to have their language education rights recognized and implemented by provincial governments. In 1990, for instance, the Supreme Court of Canada's judgment in the Mahe case confirmed the right of the French-speaking minority to manage and control its schools. Following a series of litigations, Francophones in Prairie provinces obtained the right to manage their French language schools in 1993. Yet, Francophone school boards in Manitoba and Alberta were not established until 1994, and in Saskatchewan the Conseil scolaire fransaskois, created in 1997, was not operational until 1999 (Aunger, 1996; Commissioner of Official Languages, 1999, p. 103; La Division Scolaire Franco-Manitobaine, 1994; Le Franco, 1996).

Francophone resistance to hegemonic educational practices in the Prairie provinces has its roots in the governments' abolition of the system of confessional schools due to the rapidly increasing Anglo-Protestant population since the 1 890s. These reforms severed clerical control over schooling, but did not deter the Catholic Church from continuing to authorize parish priests to oversee religious instruction in public and separate schools in French-speaking communities, or in bilingual school districts (Aunger, 1989, p. 27; Carney, 1992; Hebert, 1997). Furthermore, the French-speaking Church hierarchy collaborated with provincial French Canadian associations (1) in naming Jesuit and Oblate Fathers as "Visiteur des ecoles bilingues" (2) (unofficial inspectors) to supervise and inspect French and religious instruction in bilingual districts.

A visiteur generally spent half a day in a school observing the teacher give instruction in French. He also questioned students on their knowledge of Catechism, French grammar, spelling, and reading. He then perused teaching materials for instruction in French, Religion, and French Canadian History. Following his inspection, his report was discussed with the school trustees. A duplicate copy of this report was sent to the Secretary of the provincial French Canadian Association (Auclair, 1927; Hebert, 1997; Huel, 1969, p. 45; Lapointe & Tessier, 1986; L'Union, 1928d; Mahe, 2000; Yelle, 1938). By virtue of their role as unofficial inspectors, it stands to reason that visiteurs were implicated in the conception and maintenance of counter-hegemonic cultural and educational practices in French-speaking communities.

This paper is a sociohistorical study of official and unofficial school inspection in bilingual school districts in the Prairie provinces before 1940. It offers an example of hegemonic and counter-hegemonic struggles between Anglophones and Francophones to give legitimacy to their language and culture in these district schools. The two questions which guided this study are these: How did English and French-speaking, state appointed school inspectors shape the hegemonic world-view in bilingual school districts? How did "visiteur d' ecoles" shape a counter-hegemonic world-view in bilingual school districts?

This study of the impact of official and unofficial school inspection on cultural struggles in bilingual schools rests on a variety of primary and secondary materials on Francophone history and education, and the history of education in Western Canada. Relevant inspection information in each province was analyzed and compared, and commonalities and differences in inspectorial experiences were identified. Two initial conclusions were drawn from data analysis; state appointed inspectors, whether English or French speaking, threatened Francophone cultural continuity in bilingual school districts, and visiteurs challenged the dominant group's power over schooling in these districts.

The concepts of hegemony and counter-hegemony are central to Antonio Gramsci's theories of the state and of social practices, theories he advanced in Selections from the Prison Notebooks (Gramsci, 1971, 1995). Gramsci uses the concept of hegemony to explain how the state apparatus and/or political society, supported or controlled by a dominant social or economic group, can coerce the various groups which compose that society into consenting to the status quo, using its institutions and its laws or judical apparatus. A dominant group uses civil society's institutions, ranging from education, religion, the family, cultural events, mass communications, and so forth, to create, produce, maintain, and manipulate meaning, values, and systems of belief. This world-view, according to Gramsci, can in turn produce or reproduce hegemony (Holub, 1992, pp. 6, 45, 104). From a Gramscian perspective, hegemony has to do with the way one social group influences other groups, making certain compromises with them in order to g ain their consent for its leadership in society as a whole (Sassoon, 1982, p. 14). Morrow and Torres (1995) contend that the assumption "that hegemony is never fully secured, remains precarious, and must be continually renegotiated" (p. 278) is essential to Gramsci's argument. This assumption suggests that, if change is desired by some groups who are not dominant in the state, "they will need to engage in a hegemonic struggle" (Bocock, 1986, p. 76).

The Gramscian notion of counter-hegemony implies that a new historical bloc can be formed in society which is capable of challenging and resisting the dominant group's hegemonic principles and practices (Morrow & Torres, 1995, p. 305). In such a case, any form of "counter-hegemony can be produced on the same grounds and by way of similar structures" (Holub, 1992, p. 6) as hegemonic forms. Gramsci claims that the production of hegemony and counter-hegemony is dependent on intellectual activities. Intellectuals thus play an important role in shaping and countering the status quo as they produce, reproduce, and disseminate values and meanings attached to a particular conception of the world (Bocock, 1986, p. 77; Holub, 1992, pp. 160-162).

Morrow and Torres (1995) propose that educational institutions have become key sites for carrying out hegemonic and counter-hegemonic intellectual activities (p. 305). Giroux (1986) expounds further on this idea when he states that schools are historical and structural embodiments of ideological forms of culture, and as such are places "where dominant and subordinate voices define and constrain each other in battle and exchange, in response to the socio-historical conditions 'carried' in the institutional, textual, and lived practices that define school culture" (p. 59). In the context of this study, Giroux's view of school culture would suggest that bilingual schools were sites where two cultural groups carried on an ideological struggle to reproduce and disseminate their conception of the world.

The kinds of knowledge, values, and beliefs transmitted in bilingual schools were influenced in part by the source of power of the inspectors and visiteurs and by their ability to negotiate a world-view with teachers and trustees. Dahl (1967) and May (1972) state that power is a relational concept which involves interactions between individuals or groups with some kind of deliberate and calculated plan to influence or change others. Those targeted, however, must be in agreement with these transformational ideologies, otherwise a power struggle will erupt when those targeted, who have their own societal plans, fail to comply.

Migliaro and Misuraca (1982) explain Gramsci '5 theories of state bureaucracy in this way; he understood that the exercise of power by a ruling group is performed by specific categories of men, namely bureaucrats, whose function in civil society is to structure and stabilize relations between state leaders and those they lead. In the context of this paper, state inspectors are portrayed as bureaucrats, (3) and whether English or French-speaking, they played a preparatory role in bringing about social conformity in bilingual school districts using different degrees and modes of coercion. In so doing they likely imposed what Bocock (1986) refers to as a collective sense of being members of a "people," a form of patriotism (p. 36) which contradicted the notions about national identity that Francophone children learned in the culture of their ethnic group.

In this paper, "Visiteurs des ecoles bilingues" are depicted as intellectuals who produced and disseminated forms of knowledge and a system of beliefs to secure what Holub (1992) refers to as a "continuity of the present with the past" (p. 163). They thereby played a key role in creating and maintaining a counter-hegemonic cultural consciousness in Francophone communities. The power of the visiteur rested on his historical legitimacy in French Canadian society, and on the fact that small school boards were relatively autonomous. Local boards hired and fired teachers, therefore a visiteur could influence trustees to remove a teacher who neglected to transmit French language and culture. The centralization of school districts in the 1940s and 1950s reduced this discretionary power.


Green (1994) points out that the original purpose of national education in English Canada was "to spread dominant national culture and inculcate popular ideologies of nationhood" (p. 9) rather than to focus on language and ethnicity (p. 15). These national goals inevitably had a profound effect on the different modes of coercion used by English and French-speaking state inspectors to establish the dominant group's cultural hegemony in bilingual school districts.

In Manitoba, the teaching of French in public schools was illegal from 1916 until 1947, at which time the government amended the School Act to allow for the teaching of French for no more than one hour per day. Although illegal during this period, teachers were urged by Francophone elites to quietly continue teaching French. At the same time, they were counselled to promote academic excellence in English to avoid inspectors' indignation and the loss of their employment (Jaenen, 1976). In 1967, French was declared an official language of instruction (Jaenen, 1984).

After 1892, School Ordinances in Alberta and Saskatchewan varied considerably and became increasingly restrictive in Saskatchewan. In Alberta, Ordinances allowed trustees in French-speaking communities to offer a primary course in French, and in 1925 a regulation was passed which permitted instruction in French for no more than one hour per day from Grade 3 on. Instruction was limited to the teaching of French grammar, composition, and reading. Language regulations remained in effect in Alberta until the School Act was amended in 1968 to allow instruction in French for no more than fifty percent of the school day (Mahe, 1993).

After 1892, Ordinances in Saskatchewan permitted trustees to offer a primary course in French, but in 1918 a clause in the amended Ordinances specified that in the case of French-speaking students, French could be used as a language of instruction, but not beyond the Grade I level. After that, trustees could permit the teaching of reading, grammar, and composition in French for no more than one hour per day. In 1931, however, the Anderson government amended this law and English became the only language of instruction in all Saskatchewan schools. As pointed out by Denis and Li (1987), an exception was made which permitted the teaching of French for no more than one hour per day, as long as it was taught in English (pp. 810, 28). In 1967-1968, the School Act was amended allowing the usage of French for one hour or more per day (Denis & Li, 1987, pp. 8-9, 13).

During visits to bilingual schools in Prairie provinces inspectors evaluated the teaching and learning of English. When they noticed students weak in that language, they pressured teachers to emphasize English instruction (Aunger, 1989, pp. 27-28, 31-32; Denis, 1993; Hebert, 1997; Huel, 1969, p. 22; Jaenen, 1984; Lapointe, 1987, p. 163; L'Union. 1928a; Mahe, 1997, 2000). In some cases they directed trustees to replace those who were deficient in English with teachers who were English but could speak some French (Donnelly School District [hereafter S.D.] No. 66, 1920; Joussard S.D. No. 4730, 1936; Mahe, 1997). In Saskatchewan, the case of the Ethier S.D. No. 1834 represents an extreme example of how the dominant Anglo group used the legal system to coerce Francophone trustees to conform to school laws. Between 1921 and 1923, two Francophone trustees were accused by an Anglo-Protestant taxpayer of permitting the teaching of French and religion most of the school day. They were subsequently arrested by the Prov incial police and brought before the judiciary (See Huel, I 983a, for an in-depth description of the series of events surrounding this complex case).

School Ordinances in the prairies restricted religious education in public and separate schools to half an hour at the end of the school day. In French-speaking communities, however, where religion and language were inseparable, religious instruction formed an integral part of the curriculum (Yelle, 1938). In cases where inspectors were able to establish that religious instruction permeated the curriculum, they pressured teachers and trustees to adhere to the law (Huel, 1969, pp. 22, 39; Mahe, 1997, 2000). Furthermore, when inspectors discovered that trustees in certain districts closed their schools on Catholic holidays, they threatened them with the loss of their operational grant (Mahe, 1997).

In Saskatchewan, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and its influence on the election of a conservative government headed by Anderson, a former school inspector, resulted in repressive legislation. During the period 1929-1931, according to Denis and Li (1987), the government banished the use of religious symbols in classrooms, and teachers belonging to religious orders were prohibited from wearing their congregation's habit at school. Any infractions of the law resulted in the possible loss of a teacher's teaching certificate, the payment of a fine, or a court action against trustees (pp. 8-9, 12,28). As bureaucrats, inspectors had very little discretion in these matters under legislation. When they inspected schools in French communities their activities were likely coercive in nature.

Nationalist and patriotic French Canadian teachers were aware of the penalties for giving legitimacy to the French language and culture (Le Courrier de l'Ouest, 1912a). For instance, when Hebert (1997) interviewed nineteen Franco-Manitoban female teachers who taught in French communities before 1947, she discovered that they were willing to risk their job security in order to ensure French cultural transfer. Beatrice Felsing (nee St. Jean), a teacher who had taught in various bilingual schools in Saskatchewan and Northern Alberta before 1940, informed Lafleur (1981) during an interview that she had taught French beyond the time allowed by law, but had never been caught by an inspector, "Mais y m'a jamais pris moi" (p. 8). However, she remembered a teacher who lost her teaching certificate because she had given directions in French to a student to put wood in the stove in the presence of the inspector. "Pendant que l'inspecteur etait la, elle avait dit en francais un de ses eleves, met du bois dans la fournai se. Et puis l'inspecteur etait tellement insulte qu'elle a perdu son diplome a cause qu'elle avait parle francais pendant les heures d'anglais" (p. 8).

School inspection in bilingual school districts did not create anxieties only for teachers and trustees. The students were also challenged to demonstrate English language competency. Gabrielle Chalifoux, a Grade 5 student in St. Denis, Saskatchewan, wrote in 1918 that the inspector reprimanded her teacher for teaching too much French. Students, she stated, were upset by his remark because they were under the impression that they were learning both languages quite well. "Il y a un mois nous avions la visite de M. l'inspecteur. Il trouva que notre maitresse nous enseignait trop de francais. Nous etions bien faches de cela parce que nous apprenons bien les deux langues" (Le Patriote, 1918).

There are indications that a policy of administrative leeway existed in Manitoba and Alberta as some inspectors closed their eyes to irregularities, but this policy depended on meeting two conditions. The first was that teachers not neglect the teaching of English, and second, that they cover the official Program of Studies (Fremont, 1931; Hebert, 1997; Jaenen, 1976; Mahe, 1997, 2000). A number of Hebert's former Franco-Manitoban teacher-informants told her that upon arriving at a school inspectors began by visiting outside buildings or latrines, thus giving teachers and students time to hide their French books and erase French from blackboards.

Changing demography in French communities adversely affected Francophones' counter-hegemonic cultural practices. Complaints from non-Francophones about too much French or religion being taught at school led inspectors to pressure trustees to limit such instruction (Huel, 1969, p. 21; Le Courrierde l'Ouest, 1913; Mahe, 1997). In districts where trustees failed to accommodate non-Francophones, inspectors arranged to have the Department replace them with an "official trustee," who was a school inspector. To establish cultural conformity in a district, these trustees hired non-Francophone teachers. Their actions intensified ethnic conflicts (Huel, 1983a; Mahe, 1997). In a number of cases, the Department of Education resolved these conflicts by assisting non-Francophone parents in creating a new school district (Mahe, 1997).

From the Francophones' point of view, English-speaking inspectors curbed their efforts to transmit their language and culture in bilingual schools as they pressured and coerced teachers and trustees to give legitimacy to the English language and world-view.

French-speaking Inspectors as Bureaucrats

Francophones assumed that French-speaking Catholic inspectors would be supportive of their cultural needs and aspirations. Over the years, Francophones met with provincial Ministers of Education to request the nomination of French-speaking inspectors (Burelle, 1984; Denis & Li, 1987; Hucl, 1969, p. 12, 22-23, 63; La Survivance, 1934a; Le Courrier de l'Ouest, 1912b). Various sources indicate that approximately eleven French-speaking Catholic inspectors were appointed in Prairie provinces between 1897 and 1940; five in anitoba, (4) three in Saskatchewan. (5) and three in Alberta. (6) It is interesting that all eleven French-speaking inspectors were assigned regular inspection posts. Our data suggests, however, that all three inspectors in Saskatchewan and Inspector Brasset in Alberta never inspected bilingual schools, and that the seven remaining inspectors occasionally visited only those bilingual schools located within their regular inspectorial boundaries (Burelle, 1984; Huel, 1983b; Lapointe & Tessier, 198 6, p. 220; Leblanc, 1975).

According to school administration theorists, officials are expected to maintain an impersonal detachment in order to prevent personal feelings from "distorting their rational judgement in carrying out their duties" (Sergiovanni & Starratt, 1971, p. 53). There are indications that three French-speaking inspectors who visited a number of bilingual schools during their long career, Inspectors Goulet, Leblanc, and Gibault, distanced themselves from their cultural affiliation when they inspected these schools. Yet, there is also evidence that Inspectors Leblanc and Gibault were involved in Francophone cultural activities. Although Inspectors Morrier and Charbonneau did not inspect bilingual schools, they too were involved in Francophone community activities. Owing to limited data on other French-speaking inspectors, the five inspectors highlighted in this section do not necessarily represent the bureaucratic and cultural experiences of others.

Inspector Roger Goulet

Inspector Goulet, one of the longest serving French-speaking inspectors in Manitoba, retained his post from 1900 to 1932. Burelle (1984), who studied Goulet' s career, explains that his nomination in 1900 was a touchy issue with the Catholic Church as the government had failed to consult with Mgr. Langevin about his appointment. Francophones were disappointed when Inspector Goulet was assigned a regular inspection post, but Monsignor [hereafter Mgr.] Langevin eventually convinced the Minister of Education to include schools in French communities in his regular inspection post. Goulet' s new duties increased his workload, as these schools were situated outside his jurisdiction. Burelle writes that when Goulet inspected schools in French-speaking communities he was placed in a delicate situation. His employer expected him to enforce government rules if not enough English was taught at school, whereas Mgr. Langevin continuously complained to him that not enough French was being taught in certain schools.

Inspector Julien J. Leblanc

The Alberta government named Julien J. Leblanc as the first French-speaking inspector in 1912. He remained at his post until he retired in 1951. After his nomination as inspector, the Franco-Albertan community presumed he would inspect French and religious instruction in bilingual schools (Le Courrier de l'Ouest 1912c). However, during his career he was assigned regular inspectorates, and he visited only those bilingual schools which fell within his boundaries (De Grace, 1981; Leblanc, 1975; Opryshko, 1967). When Leblanc was interviewed at the age of ninety by Tittley and Vlieg (1976), he told them that, although he spoke French and was referred to as the French inspector, his role was to uphold school laws. As a result, he said that "he wasn't very well liked by his fellow French-Canadians" (p. 22). He added that, "They expected me to get French teachers for them. They accused me of preventing their children from speaking French on the school grounds. It was a false accusation, but you can see how frustrate d they were" (p. 22).

In the years he served as inspector, Leblanc covertly involved himself in a number of Francophone cultural and educational projects. For example, he helped to organize French festivals, but only on Sundays, as he did not want the Department to be aware of his activities (Leblanc, 1975, p. 16). In 1937, with the assistance of Inspector Gibault, he helped l'Association canadienne-francaise de l'Alberta obtain from the Department of Education and the University of Alberta a summer course for teachers in the pedagogy of teaching French (La Survivance, 1937).

Inspector Leon Gibault

Leon Gibault was named to the St. Paul inspectorate in Alberta in 1929, then was assigned the Bonny ville inspectorate in 1932. Both inspectorates included a number of bilingual schools. He collaborated with Inspector Leblanc in obtaining a summer course for bilingual school teachers, but his inspection reports nonetheless suggest that he was torn between Francophone cultural needs and his duty to uphold school laws and regulations. For example, following his inspection of the Lepage S.D. No. 4456 in 1938, he reported that he informed the teacher that he had no objections to finding a picture of Christ in the classroom as long as there were not too many of them. He also advised her to use only the books authorized by the Department for French instruction (Lepage S.D. No. 4456, 1938).

Inspector Joseph-Eldege Morrier

Joseph-Eldege Morrier was named inspector by the Saskatchewan government in 1916, though he left his post a year later. Prior to his appointment, he had served as school trustee in Prince Albert. In 1914, he was elected president of l'Association Catholique franco-canadienne de la Saskatchewan, and in 1915 he became president of La Bonne Presse, the printing press responsible for publishing Le Patriote de l'Quest in Saskatchewan. For his work in defending Catholic and Francophone rights during his lifetime, Morrier was named Commandeur Chevalier de l'Ordre de SaintGregoire le Grand by the Pope in 1925, and Officier de l'Instruction publique by the government of France in 1928 (Lapointe, 1988, pp. 288-290; McLeod, 1979).

Inspector Louis Charbonneau

Louis Charbonneau served as state inspector in Saskatchewan during the period 1912 to 1920. but was excluded from visiting bilingual schools during his career. Following his resignation as inspector, he accused the Minister of neglecting to develop an appropriate Program of Studies for the teaching of French. He therefore encouraged members of l'Association Catholique franco-canadienne de la Saskatchewan to organise their own French Program of Studies and a system of exams, and to appoint their own French-Canadian inspectors to oversee the teaching of French in bilingual schools (Huel, 1969, p. 44).

The small number of French-speaking inspectors appointed by the state in Prairie provinces before 1940 and their assignment of regular inspection posts, rather than districts with predominantly bilingual schools, exemplifies how the state exercised its power to bring about the maintenance of English as the dominant language of schooling in Francophone communities. By virtue of their role as bureaucrats, French-speaking inspectors who visited a limited number of bilingual schools were expected to uphold school laws governing the teaching of French.


Before the state abolished confessional schooling in Prairie provinces in the I 890s, the Catholic clergy was responsible for the inspection of schools in French communities (Leduc, 1896). (7) To maintain and reproduce its hegemony in these communities after 1890, members of the clergy assisted Francophones in creating a number of French cultural and professional associations. The major goals of these associations were to promote the French language and culture, and to defend Francophone interests and linguistic rights (Yelle, 1938).

In the 1920s, Francophone cultural and educational associations in Prairie provinces established a parallel system of education to combat hegemony in bilingual school districts. For example, they developed a French Program of Studies, selected teaching materials, administered yearly examinations (Concours de francais) to measure the attainment of program objectives, and named visiteurs to supervise the implementation of the counter-hegemonic curriculum in bilingual schools. They also set up a teacher recruitment bureau, established bursaries for teacher candidates to attend Normal School, and offered summer courses taught mainly by members of the religious orders to assist teachers in teaching French, French Canadian History, and Religion (Auclair, 1927; Mahe, 1993,2000). A description of the status visiteurs enjoyed in the French community and examples of their ideologies and inspectorial practices illustrates how a counter-hegemonic consciousness in bilingual school districts was shaped.

Data indicates that Francophone associations in Prairie provinces appointed ten visiteurs before 1940: two in Manitoba in the 1930s, (8) three in Alberta from 1925 to 1940, (9) and five in Saskatchewan between 1905 and 1927. (10) In 1927, l'Association Catholique franco-canadienne de la Saskatchewan discontinued naming visiteurs because they received an unprecedented number of complaints from anti-French and anti-Catholic groups. In addition, they were experiencing financial problems (Huel, 1969, pp. 47, 53). Several years later, after the defeat of the Anderson government in 1934, they resumed the practice of naming visiteurs until the 1 960s. Visiteurs were also named in Manitoba and Alberta up until the mid-1960s (Burelle, 1984, p. 28; Denis & Li, 1987, p. 11; Lalonde, 1983; Levasseur-Ouimet, 1996, p. 209).

Visiteurs: Their Status, Ideologies, and Practices

By virtue of their elitist position as members of the clergy, newspaper editors, college instructors, and as executive members of provincial Francophone associations, visiteurs had the power to define and propagate nationalist and patriotic ideals in the French community. A clear example of this are the ideologies promoted by one newspaper editor, Father Achille-Felix Auclair, Oblates of Mary Immaculate [hereafter o.m.i.] and one college professor, Father Joseph Fortier, Society of Jesus [hereafter s.-j.], ideologies which ultimately affected bilingual schooling. We assert that their ideologies are representative of other visiteurs or members of the clergy at that time.


Two visiteurs are well known for disseminating their conception of culture and cultural transmission, as they were influential members of the newspaper community of the day. Father Allard. o.m.i., who served as visiteur in Saskatchewan in 1927, was co-editor of Le Patriote de l'Ouest. Father Achille-Felix Auclair, o.m.i., a Saskatchewan visiteur between 1925 and 1927, founded L'Etincelle in that province in 1909, then was associated with Le Patriote de l'Ouest between 1910 and 1925, and then with La Survivance in Alberta between 1930 and 1942 (Owens & Roberto, 1989, pp. 78-79).

Father Achille-Felix Auclair, o.m.i.: Father Auclair was referred to by Francophone leaders as the builder of the French bastion in the West, and his newspaper, Le Patriote, was the soul of French resistance (Chaput, 1977, p. 24). In his editorials he extolled the virtues of an agrarian life as a way of preserving French-Canadian nationalist and religious character. He also discussed the necessity of forming an elite in Catholic colleges to defend Francophone linguistic and religious rights. Furthermore, he tirelessly wrote about the importance of developing group solidarity in order to carry on the struggle for cultural survival (Huel, 1983b; Lapointe, 1988 pp. 1-3; Lapointe & Tessier, 1986, p. 286). While delivering a report at a Francophone association convention in 1925, he strongly advocated Catechism as the most important subject to be studied at school, followed by French. He also emphasized the teacher's duty to shape the child's Catholic and French mentality, and to develop individual cultural pride by teaching students French-Canadian history (Auclair, 1927). In 1928, the government of France named him Officer de l'Academie francaise for his cultural endeavours (Lapointe, 1988, pp. 1-3).

College Instructors:

The educational goal of Jesuit and Oblate colleges in Western Canada and Quebec was to guarantee French-Canadian cultural survival by forming an elite that could defend linguistic and religious rights. "[L]e college est une pepiniere d'hommes instruits et de chretiens convaincus. Or sans cette elite, pas de survie possible ..." (L'Union, 1928b). Thus, college instructors played a major role in providing the intellectual, ideological, and spiritual impetus for defining Francophone educational goals and bilingual school teachers' cultural mission.

At least three visiteurs were college instructors. Father Georges Boileau, o.m.i., who was appointed visiteur in Saskatchewan in 1905, instructed at College Mathieu and also composed patriotic songs (Tessier, 1983). Father Gustave Jean, s.-j., named a visiteur in Alberta in 1925, was on staff at the College des Jesuites in Edmonton and had previously served as Rector of St. Boniface College (College des Jesuites Edmonton, 1930, 1931). Lastly, Father Joseph Fortier, s.-j., appointed visiteur in Alberta in 1934, was an instructor at the College des Jesuites in Edmonton and eventually became its Rector (La Compagnie de Jesus au Canada, 1842-1942, 1942).

Father Joseph Fortier, s.-j.: Father Fortier was a popular speaker at Francophone cultural and educational association meetings in Alberta. In his speeches he promoted the importance of inculcating in the young a love of their faith and a pride in their heritage (La Survivance, 1933, 1934b; L'Union, 1928c). In a keynote address given in 1934, he described the kind of education young Francophones living in an English-speaking milieu should acquire. All children, he explained, should receive a sound religious education and study Catechism, as this was the only way to form a perfect Christian. He argued that students learn to think, judge, and act by studying the doctrines of Christ. Religious instruction, he emphasized, should not be given at specific hours of the day, but must permeate all school subjects. He then stressed that it was the teacher's duty to imbue a Catholic pride and a spirit of Christianity in students, and to convince them that the Catholic Church was the most powerful force in the world. "[ I]l faut bien convaincre les enfants que l'Eglise Catholique est la plus grande force qui existe aujourd'hui au monde" (La Survivance, 1934b, p. 7).

Father Fortier spoke about ways teachers could help students develop nationalist sentiments and pride in their cultural heritage. He advised them, for example, to teach students that the French race was the first to discover, civilize, and Christianize Canada, and to help them remember stories about the glories of French heroes, missionaries, explorers, and colonizers. To counteract pressures of the English language in society, he stated that teachers had to help children to speak French publicly with pride and distinction, and to savour the beauties of the language. "[N]os ecoliers devront apprendre a gouter les beautes de la langue" (La Survivance, 1934b, p. 7). Teachers, he proposed, had to be well prepared to instill in their pupils nationalist and patriotic qualities, while themselves demonstrating moral and intellectual integrity and a sense of patriotism and pride in their race (La Survivance, 1934b).

Visiteur Involvement in Cultural Associations

The prime task of intellectuals, Apple (1982) explains, is to "spread and make legitimate dominant ideological meanings and practices, and attempt to win people over and create unity on the contested terrain of ideology" (p. 16). The nationalist ideologies articulated by visiteurs in the press and at public gatherings empowered them in the French community and legitimated their leadership role in Francophone associations responsible for the establishment and maintenance of a parallel system of education. For these reasons, visiteurs such as Father Auclair, who was Director General of I'Association catholique francaise de la Saskatchewan (Huel, 1983b), and Father Fortier, who was Secretary of I'Association des educateurs bilingues de I'Alberta and of I'Association des Commissaires d'ecoles de langue francaise de I'Alberta (La Survivance. 1937, Mahe, 2000), were able to influence the selection of knowledge, values, and beliefs to promote a counter-hegemonic curriculum in bilingual schools. Furthermore, by virtu e of their role as visiteurs, they were also able to oversee implementation of this curriculum.

Unofficial School Inspection and Community Participation

Apple (1982) states that "the control of the knowledge preserving and producing institutions of those who work in them is essential in the struggle over ideological hegemony" (p. 16). It is evident that visiteurs, who had an interest in defining the kinds of knowledge to be transmitted to young Francophones, used the power vested in them by the French community to strengthen their ability to persuade and negotiate with teachers the importance of their cultural mission.

The visiteur inspected bilingual schools on a yearly basis, (11) and his presence in a community was a significant social event. Upon his arrival in a community, he was usually greeted by the parish priest and representatives of Francophone associations who then introduced him to school trustees and teachers as a distinguished visitor, a friend, and a French consultant (Auclair, 1927). There are indications in the Department of Education correspondence files that some teachers had complained to the Department about the visit of the unofficial inspector in their school, and Department officials advised them that only an inspector duly named by the Department could inspect schools (Huel, 1969, p. 47; Mahe. 1997).

In Manitoba, a former teacher advised Hebert (1997) that when the visiteur inspected her school, he was preoccupied with the implementation of I'Association des educateurs catholiques francais du Manitoba's French Program of Studies, and in evaluating students' progress in French. The visiteur also tried to convince less enthusiastic teachers and trustees of the importance ofteaching French and transmitting a French-Canadian world-view for cultural survival,"... et de stimuler les institutrices et les commissaires moms enthousiastes ..." (1997, p. 68). Because visiteurs had no legal authority to reprimand teachers who neglected French or religious instruction, they had to negotiate the teachers' role in cultural survival with them. To assist teachers in giving legitimacy to certain forms of cognitive and cultural knowledge, they provided them with pedagogical tools. Mahe (2000), who analyzed 390 inspection reports completed by Father Fortier when he inspected bilingual schools in Alberta between 1934 and 1940 , found that during his visits he gave teachers a copy of the Association's French Program of Studies. He also distributed a copy of various French books to assist in the teaching of Grammar, Composition, French Canadian History, and Catechism, and provided children's' story books published by la Societe St-Jean Baptiste as well as Holy History (Histoires Sainte) storybooks and religious pictures. These books, published in Quebec, contained a French-Canadian nationalist, clerical bias. At that time, the only texts prescribed by the Department of Education for teaching French in Alberta were language arts books published in France. All other school subjects had to be taught in English with the English textbooks prescribed by the Department. These texts contained a bias which conformed to the dominant ideology (Mahe, 1993). Mahe (2000) also noted in these reports that Fortier suggested strategies to assist teachers in teaching reading and writing in French, and suggested activities to help them inculcate religi ous, nationalistic, and patriotic sentiments in students.

During his stay in a community, the visiteur usually attended Church services, concerts or festivals, and even card parties, during which time he distributed prizes to Concours de francais laureates and students who excelled in Catechism. He also collected funds from parishioners to support the provincial Francophone association which was responsible for defraying his travel expenditures (Huel, 1969, p. 47; La Survivance, 1940; l'Union, 1928d; Yelle, 1938). The visit was reported in the community section in French newspapers (La Survivance, 1940), and pictures were taken of the visiteur with school trustees or with the school children (Paroisse du Sacre Coeur, 1922-1942, n.d.).

There is no doubt that the elitist status of visiteurs and their high visibility in French communities, as well as their ability to negotiate a counter-hegemonic worldview in bilingual schools, defied the dominant groups' power over schooling.

Cultural and Educational Practices

Infrequent visits by state inspectors meant that teachers had a fair degree of autonomy with respect to devising an appropriate curriculum for Francophone children. But, as Father Auclair remarked in his report presented to Francophone associations in 1925, the shaping of a cultural consciousness in bilingual schools depended on a teacher's ideals or missionary zeal, patriotism, and devotion to cultural continuity. "C'est un ideal d'apotre et de patriote, en un mot c'est un ideal d'abnegation et devouement ..." (Auclair, 1927, p. 93). Therefore, what teachers included or excluded in their curriculum depended to a large degree on their commitment to certain cultural ideologies. Curriculum theorists would generally support this view, claiming that teachers can give legitimacy to certain kinds of knowledge, beliefs, values, and norms emerging out of the dominant ideology, or they can resist transmitting this ideology (Apple, 1982; Forquin, 1989; Trottier, 1983).

Osborne (2000) reminds us that schooling was never a simple, top-down imposition ofsocial control owing to the resistance of those who turned it to their own advantage (p. 9). When the state failed to acknowledge their diversity and their historical right to have their children educated in French, Francophones organized power blocks in the form of associations to create a counter-hegemonic curriculum for dissemination in bilingual schools. What became apparent, however, when analyzing data on official and unofficial school inspection was that, in addition to wanting teachers to transmit the French language and culture in bilingual schools, Francophones also expected their children to learn English for economic and social reasons (La Survivance, 1935). Fathers Auclair, Boileau, and Fortier were aware of this phenomenon when they inspected bilingual schools, and they were concerned that English was rapidly becoming the young Francophones' primary language (Auclair, 1927; La Survivance, 1934b; Tessier, 1983). T heir observations suggest that cultural transformations emerged out of hegemonic and counter-hegemonic struggles in bilingual school districts. Based on Gramsci' s writings, Mouffe (1979) explains that the relations of forces between two rival hegemonic groups who confront each other can result in a perpetual process of transformation (pp. 183-195), and that these processes can take the form of continuous absorption, a passive consensus, or the sifting through past conceptions "to see which ones, with some changes of content, can serve to express the new situation" (p. 192).


School inspection in Prairie provinces before 1940 represents a system that illuminates previously neglected aspects of complex educational practices with respect to how ethnic minorities were able to conceive of, and affect change in, state controlled schools amidst social relations of power, domination, and subordination. By juxtaposing official and unofficial school inspection in bilingual school districts, evidence was uncovered which demonstrated how Francophones organized counter-hegemonic cultural and educational activities to construct and maintain their historical legitimacy in those very public schools which were designed to submerge and eradicate ethnic diversity.

A study of official and unofficial school inspection in bilingual school districts allows us to deepen our understanding of the outcome of hegemonic and counter-hegemonic struggles. This paper illustrates how state inspectors coerced teachers and trustees to reproduce the dominant group's language and cultural values in bilingual schools. Examples are also provided of the visiteur's role in ensuring Francophone cultural continuity in bilingual schools. Nonetheless, the implementation of a counter-hegemonic curriculum depended on the visiteur's ability to negotiate cultural transfer with teachers and trustees as well as the teachers' willingness to undermine the state's hegemonic power over schooling. Bilingual schools represent one of the key sites where two cultural groups carried out an ideological battle to win the hearts and minds of young children.

In the last thirty years, as a result of hegemonic and counter-hegemonic struggles by a variety of ethno-cultural communities in Canada, there has been an increasing acceptance of the bilingual, multicultural, and pluralistic nature of Canadian society. Provincial governments have attempted to recognize and accommodate ethnic groups within the public school system. Further investigation of these struggles would, we believe, document complex dimensions similar to those outlined in this study.


(1.) The associations involved in naming "Visiteur des ecoles bilingues" included: l'Association Catholique franco-canadienne de Ia Saskatchewan, founded in 1912; l' Association d'education des Canadiens-francais du Manitoba, founded in 1916; and l'Association canadiene-francaise de l'Alberta, founded in 1925.

(2.) The term "visiteur," has its roots in school inspection in Quebec in the first half of the nineteenth century. According to Mellouki and Lcmieux (1995), visiteurs were members of the Catholic clergy who contributed to defining Catholic schooling and defending its ideological foundations (p. 63).

(3.) The role and duties of school inspectors were established by laws and government regulations. Their responsibilities can be classified under four categories: inspectorial, supervisory, administrative, and executive. School inspectors, for example, inspected teachers' classroom performance, examined pupils, checked teachers' qualifications and experience, acted as official trustees to safeguard public interests, served as attendance officers in rural areas, and advised the government of the need to adjust educational policies (Chalmers, 1967, p.363; Opryshko, 1967, p. 125; Sparley, 1958, pp. 179, 184-188).

(4.) In Manitoba, five French-speaking inspectors were appointed by the state between 1897 and 1940. Telesphore Rochon, who served between 1897 and 1900, and Roger Goulet, serving between 1900 and 1932. With respect to Adrien Potvin, appointed in 1909, Godias Brunet named in 1912, and A. A. Herriot who replaced Goulet in 1932 it was not possible to determine when they left their post (Burelle, 1984, Herriot, 1947; Le Courrier de l'Ouesr, 1912a).

(5.) In Saskatchewan, the three French-speaking inspectors named by the state during the period 1912 to 1920 were as follows: Francois-Xavier Chauvin, 1912-1915, Joseph-Eldege Morrier, 1916-1917, and Louis Charbonneau, 19 19-1920. The government ceased to appoint French-speaking inspectors after 1920 as it wanted to avoid political ramifications resulting from hostilities against French and Catholics (Huel, 1969, p. 22).

(6.) In Alberta, three French-speaking inspectors were nominated by the state between 1912 and 1940. Julien J. Leblanc, B.A., 1912-1951 (DeGrace 1981), Leon Gibault, BA., a graduate of the College des Jesuites in Edmonton who was assigned the St. Paul inspectorate in 1929, and the Bonnyville inspectorate in 1932 (La Survivance, 1929, 1932; L'Oeuvre du College des Jesuites d' Edmonton, 1940, p. 12), and Inspector Brasset who, according to Leblane (1975), inspected Ukrainian schools for a short time before leaving his post.

(7.) Before 1892, the Catholic Section of the Board of Education in the Northwest Territories had appointed a number of members of the clergy to supervise and inspect Catholic Schools. For example, Father Joseph L'Estanc, o.m.i., 1885-1890, Henri Grandin, o.m.i., 1888-1892, Hippolyte Leduc, o.m.i., 1886-1887, and Pierre Dommeau, o.m.i., Emile Legal, o.m.i., Father Lebrot and Father Andre who all served as inspectors at some point between 1888 to 1892 (Duhaime, 1983; Report of the Board of Education, North-West Territories, 1885-1886, 1886-1887; Tardif, n.d., p. 51).

(8.) The two visiteurs d'ecoles who inspected schools in Manitoba in the 1930s were l'Abbe A. D'Eschambault and Father Bourque, s.-j. (La Survivance, 1931; Yelle, 1938).

(9.) Three visiteurs d'ecoles were named by I 'Association canadienne-francaise del' Alberta between 1925 and 1940; Father Philibert Pare, s.-j., 1925-1927, Father Gustave Jean, s.-j., 1928-1934, and Father Joseph Fortier, s.-j., 1934-1940 (Mahe, 1997).

(10.) Five visiteurs d'ecoles were named by I' Association Catholique franco-canadienne de Ia Saskatchewan between 1905 and 1927. FatherGeorges Boileau, o.m.i., 1905-1927, l'Abbe A. Gagnon, 1923-1925, Father A. Jan, o.m.i., 1925-1926, Father Auclair, o.m.i., 1925-1927, and Father J. Allard, o.m.i., 1927-1928 (Huel, 1969).

(11.) Yelle (1938) reported in 1937 that the two visiteurs in Manitoba had inspected 165 schools situated in 47 parishes, and had questioned 7,952 students on their knowledge of Catechism and French (pp. 233-234). In his report, Father Auclair, the visiteur in Saskatchewan, stated that in 1925 he had visited 210 classes, and had examined 6,167 students at all grade levels (Auclair, 1927, p. 89). When Father Fortier inspected bilingual schools in Alberta between 1934 and 1939 he visited between 64 to 74 schools per year out of a total of 97 bilingual school districts. He observed an average of 129 teachers per year, and questioned approximately 3,700 students (Mahe, 2000).


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Yvette T. M. Mahe is an Associate Professor of Education at the Faculte Saint-Jean, University of Alberta. She is responsible for teaching Social Studies curriculum courses, and research methods at the graduate level. Her research interests include the history of Francophone education and the processes of cultural transmission.
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Author:Mahe, Yvette T.M.
Publication:Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jun 22, 2001
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