Étienne-Brûlé: 40 years of French-language education in Toronto
by Annik Chalifour, Toronto, Ontario
Like Étienne-Brûlé, the following schools are also celebrating their 40th anniversary this year.
École secondaire Étienne-Brûlé, now the largest school in the Toronto area’s Conseil scolaire de district du Centre-Sud-Ouest (CSDCSO), has nearly 600 students in grades 7 to 12. Located in North York, the institution is celebrating 40 years of French-language education this year.
In the mid 1960s, Étienne-Brûlé was part of the North York School Board. A four-year battle resulted in the opening of the school on September 2, 1969: following the adoption of Bill 141, a group of Francophones demanded that a French-language public high school be established in the Toronto area.
To this end, 15 portable classrooms were set up on the grounds behind the English-language secondary school York Mills Collegiate, located at 490 York Mills Road. At the time, 310 students from Francophone families living not only in Toronto, but also in Oshawa, Georgetown, Burlington and Mississauga, formed the first student body at Étienne-Brûlé.
In 1973, the school officially inaugurated its first building, which is still located at 300 Banbury Road in North York. The majority of students were of Franco-Ontarian origin, while others came from Quebec and the Atlantic provinces, and a few from outside of Canada.
Today, Étienne-Brûlé reflects the highly diverse population of modern-day Toronto; students come from a variety of cultural backgrounds.
Contributing to the growth of the Francophonie
In the 1980s, Étienne-Brûlé quickly became one of the main rallying points for Francophones in Toronto.
During this period, French life in the city began to thrive thanks to existing Francophone institutions, which included Étienne-Brûlé, York University’s Glendon College and the Toronto Francophone Centre “La Chasse Galerie,” which is dedicated primarily to the promotion of Francophone arts and culture.
The popular “Cabaret des étoiles,” presented annually by Étienne-Brûlé students, began in 1980, known at the time as the “Soirée des étoiles.”
Presented each year for over 30 years, the show gives more than 50 student artists from Étienne-Brûlé the opportunity to display their French-language singing, dancing, music and acting talents in front of other schools and Toronto’s Francophone community. This evening of entertainment at the school showcases the artistic talents of Toronto’s Francophone youth.
“This large-scale project, which is both educational and entertaining, has helped young people understand the importance of preserving French and of discovering Francophone music, and continues to do so today,” says Yves Desrochers, who has been the principal of Étienne-Brûlé since 2008, and attended the school from 1979 to 1984.
Famous Étienne-Brûlé alumni
Many former Étienne-Brûlé students have become famous figures on the artistic, cultural and sports scenes, most notably, Isabelle Routhier, radio producer at Radio-Canada; Chantal Hébert, national affairs journalist; Réjean Bourdages, screenwriter for DreamWorks Animation; Karina Gauvin, international soprano; Émilie Livingston, gymnast; and Patrick Chan, who will be competing in the figure skating event alongside other Canadian athletes at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver.
Allyshia Sewdat, a student who graduated in June 2008, wrote in the special 40th anniversary edition of the student newspaper Étienne-Brûlé en direct, published in May 2009, “These walls have seen many generations grow up—a long line of enthusiastic, proud and dynamic students like ourselves. We have inherited from them a vibrant spirit, a rich diversity and a high quality place of learning.”
The high academic standards and outstanding extra-curricular program at Étienne-Brûlé have made and continue to make a significant impact on the vitality of Ontario’s Francophone community.
Credits: Archives de l’école secondaire Étienne-Brûlé