Marie-France Santerre has welcomed students into her home for the past 23 years, but this year could be the last for this retiree.
When Santerre’s daughter moved in in 2000, the Trois-Pistoles, Quebec, resident opened her home to students attending Western University. French immersion school in the town located 250 kilometers from Quebec City on the south bank of the Saint Lawrence River.
“She said, ‘Mom, this will be fun for you. It will be a good way to spend your time and earn a little money,'” Santerre said.
Over the decades, Santerre says she learned a lot about the students, their hometowns and their cultures, as people from all over Canada spent time in this quaint town of 3,000 to learn French.
This summer was the first time she had students in her home who were not part of the immersion program. She stopped hosting students directly at the university last year, citing the high room and board costs associated with the program.
But it could be her last year as a hostess. She says that she is getting old and is thinking about moving.
Santerre reflects the dwindling number of locals hosting students at the university. Since the pandemic, the school has lost more than half of its housing, says program director Kathy Asari.
“In 2019, which is our last year before the pandemic, there were 98… Last year it was down to 20-something,” Asari said. “We’re in our 40s right now. We’re working on it. [and] bring it back, but it’s a struggle.”
The pandemic and the high cost of living are the main factors
Part of the problem stemmed from the pandemic, Asari says, when locals chose to stop hosting a few years ahead of schedule.
Coupled with changing demographics and inflation, he says it can be difficult to attract locals. The amount that Ottawa contributes for each student (just over $3,000) is used by the university to compensate families and cover all other program expenses.
“If the amounts are not enough, we will not be able to compensate the families enough,” Asari said.
“That creates a problem because what we are asking of them is a very long-term commitment.”
Asari says that talks have been going on for several years to increase the value of the scholarships, but it seems that the total amount of the program is not going to change. As they plan next year’s show, Asari says they’re trying to make everything work.
“We are still campaigning to try and attract host families. In fact, we are increasing host family compensation at our expense, which is putting a lot of strain on our resources,” Asari said.
“But ultimately it comes down to where we are in terms of the number of students that we can actually have.”
In an emailed response to the CBC, Farrah-Lilia Kerkadi, press secretary for Employment, Workforce Development and Official Languages Minister Randy Boissonnault, said Canada’s two official languages are a priority.
“The Government of Canada recognizes that access to French immersion education is essential to continue building a bilingual country,” the statement read.
They said they fund $3,350 per participant age 16 and older, or $2,400 per participant ages 13 to 15, to cover tuition, learning materials, meals, and lodging.
Host families are the “engine” of the support program
Carolyn Moore stayed at Trois-Pistoles this summer as part of this program to learn French before moving to Montreal in the fall. She says that the host families are like the “engine” behind the program. Her absence is palpable.
“There were only about a third of the number of students in Trois-Pistoles that there were in previous years,” said Moore, who was told this information by locals in the town during his trip.
“I think it’s really unfortunate because it’s been an incredible opportunity for me to not only improve my French but also to experience the culture of Quebec and get out and see more parts of Canada and really appreciate Canada as a whole, not just the microcosm that it is. .Ontario.”
Originally from Whitby, Ontario, she stayed with Santerre for part of her time at Trois-Pistoles and suspects that any compensation the families receive fails to address some of the bigger issues at stake.
“That’s not just taking into account the emotional and physical toll that hosting four or six students can really take on people… [and] with the aging of the population this has also created difficulties,” Moore said.
“I think inflation has been a big problem for host families too, they bring it up from time to time.”
Santerre says he was paid $12-15 a day for the room and $10-15 to feed a student each day, but it’s not enough.
“The cost of living is clearly getting more expensive and food costs more and more,” says Santerre.
“I find the women [who host] They work very hard and deserve a higher salary and slightly higher compensation.”
Although Santerre has good memories of receiving dozens of students, it has been hard work.
“On the big days, I was almost always in the kitchen and in the supermarket,” explains Santerre.
‘I was thinking in French as clearly as in English’
Tim Tuuramo, from Ontario, attended the program in 2009 to learn French for his job at the Canada Border Services Agency and says living with locals made all the difference.
“[In] In Montreal, you could probably force yourself to be intensive, but the problem is that a lot of people learn the English accent and then speak English,” Tuuramo said.
“[In Trois-Pistoles] They told you that if you spoke English once, they warned you and the second time they sent you home… It forced you to live in a community that is 99 percent French and basically live in French and at the end of the week I was thinking about French. as clearly as it was in English.”
LISTEN | Host families are needed in Trois-Pistoles to keep the 90-year-old French immersion program alive:
Quebec AM9:49Host families needed in Trois-Pistoles to keep 90-year-old French immersion program alive
Robert Everett-Green, a former Globe and Mail journalist who attended the immersion program in 2015 before moving to Montreal, says the experience was akin to summer camp.
“When we would go on field trips, we would catch a big yellow school bus and there would be a count. So all of this reminded me of what school life had been like for me when I was in elementary school,” Everett-Green said.
“My French became livelier, [it] I wasn’t asleep like before.”
Everett-Green says she would hate to see a program that was established 90 years ago, in the early years of the Great Depression, disappear.
“It must have been pretty hard to ride back then,” Everett-Green said.
“And it saddens me to think that there has been a century of this activity and it could be in jeopardy now.”