Success Stories

2003 Bathurst-Campbellton's Canada Winter Games, a model of linguistic cooperation

It was one of the most successful sporting events in the history of northern New Brunswick. But the 2003 Canada Winter Games was more than a logistical triumph; it was a model of linguistic, ethnic and cultural cooperation.

Today, Lyne Raymond, an attorney with the Campbellton-based law firm Humphrey Matchin & Raymond, who served as the Games’ vice-president for official languages, looks back on that period as if it were a kind of golden age. “I really believe we set a new standard of understanding,” she says.

Years before the commencement of the Bathurst-Campbellton extravaganza, the Host Society – which included 18 management board members from all walks of life – decided that its games would be entirely bilingual in every sense of the word. Says Raymond: “It was a very deliberate act on our part, and from the earliest stages. We had only three members of the board who were unilingual English, yet they were the most supportive of complete language parity.”

And when she says “complete parity”, she means it. “The Host Society was unique in that it functioned in both official languages internally,” she explains. “We weren’t just ‘officially” bilingual, we were ‘working’ bilingual in all of our planning meetings, strategy sessions, casual conversations. We never had a translator or interpreter in the room with us at any point.”

That determination led to policies that applied to all 100 employees and 6,000 volunteers who manned the daily operations of the Games, from hospitality workers to parking lot attendants. “In fact,” Raymond recalls, “we assigned jobs to volunteers very strategically. I mean, those who dealt with the public all the time, like parking attendants, really needed to be able to communicate perfectly in both French and English.”

In her 2003 annual, the federal Commissioner of Officials Languages had only good things to say about these efforts: “The organizing committee used effective and sometimes ingenious measures to ensure that our two official languages received equal treatment during the event: Care was taken to use both languages early in the planning stages for the games; a large number of bilingual volunteers were recruited (70 per cent); and a ‘language patrol’ was organized to visit competition sites daily and ensure that athletes and spectators were offered services in English and French.”

As the Commissioner noted, “All of this was a major challenge since more than 100 kilometres separated the two host cities. Nevertheless, the few problems which did arise were corrected by the time the competitions got underway. Bilingualism had one of the best showings in the history of Canada during these 10th Winter Games.”

For Raymond and her colleagues – including Dr. Dennis Furlong, MLA for Dalhousie/Restigouche-East at the time, and the mayors of Campbellton and Bathurst, Mark Ramsay and Stephen Brunet, respectively – the task was tough, but also rewarding. “For some time, we wondered whether we actually needed an official designation of bilingualism,” Raymond says. “Coming from this part of the world, it all seemed second nature to us. We spoke to each other in each language. Everyone was comfortable. In a sense, we were already in the place that everyone else talks about when they speak of French-English relations.”

All of which is to say that models of linguistic harmony don’t have to be brash or proud or politically motivated. They just have to work, as they did, magnificently, for the 2003 Bathurst-Campbellton Canada Winter Games Host Society.

This feature is a copyright (2007) of Dialogue New/Nouveau-Brunswick, which promotes understanding, respect and appreciation between English-speaking and French-speaking New Brunswickers.