“Familiarity Breeds Understanding”
Caraquet mayor Antoine Landry is an Acadian who is proud of his roots and his language but is also open to other cultures. In other words, he is a man who encourages dialogue.
Antoine Landry firmly believes in the importance of dialogue, and for good reason. His ancestor, Alexie Landry – one of the founders of Caraquet – benefited from it enormously. “He was one of the few bilingual Acadians,” Landry says. “Some English soldiers he did business with tipped him off to Lawrence’s strategy to deport the Acadians, giving him the opportunity to escape. It took him two years to get to Caraquet. If not for the Mi’kmaq, he would have perished in the forest.”
Over the years, Landry has always sought to promote respectful dialogue between the province’s two linguistic communities. Very active within Dialogue New Brunswick’s Ambassador Program, he initiated exchanges between the municipalities of Caraquet and Saint John. He believes those meetings made it possible to correct certain perceptions. “Representatives from the city of Saint John were afraid no one would be able to speak to them in their language,” he says. “But of course we had bilingual ceremonies. Now they no longer view the Acadian Peninsula in the same way.”
For the mayor of Caraquet, the adoption of New Brunswick’s first official languages legislation in 1969 contributed greatly to the vitality of the French language. “We took a giant step forward,” he says. At the time, Landry was Caraquet’s town clerk. “For the first time, we would be able to communicate with the government in French.”
A few years previously, Landry was the town’s police chief. He says that using English exclusively posed major problems. “When I went to court, I had to express myself entirely in English; I had to write all of my documents in English. That was a handicap for us since poorly translated technical details often caused us to lose cases.”
Today, Landry devotes considerable effort to increasing immigration to his town. “Our birth rate is low,” he says. “That’s why we’ve been working very hard on immigration over the past two years.” The mayor makes a point of finding out the origins of the people who immigrate to his town, because he believes familiarity with several different cultures enriches people’s lives. “There’s an African proverb that says a people without culture is like a zebra without stripes.” He then adds, “Take away a zebra’s stripes and what you’re left with is a donkey.”
Landry notes that the vitality of the French language is a daily struggle, adding that francophones often tend to switch to English even when it’s not necessary. “Today, there are lots more anglophones who speak French than you’d think. And when we speak French, they reply in French,” he stated.
For Antoine Landry, harmony between the two linguistic communities is based on dialogue. “We’re the only officially bilingual province,” he said in conclusion. “Efforts have to be made on both sides.”