Founded in 1997, French for the Future was originally a two-day conference bringing together students from the Toronto area. Its objective was to demonstrate the value of a bilingual or French-language education and to create continuity between secondary and post-secondary education. The first conference organized brought together 200 students from 8 high schools in the city of Toronto. In the following years, more conferences were organized throughout the major English-speaking cities in Canada and participation continued to grow until it reached more than a thousand students in 2001. In response to the enthusiasm shown, a national French for the Future office was opened in Toronto in 2001, setting the stage for the development of new programs and the organization’s final vision.
Today, French for the Future is a national non-profit organization that aims to inspire a passion for Canada’s official bilingualism among youth from grades 7 to 12. To do so, it has created 7 programs since its foundation, which are accessible to all Canadian students. The organization strives to help young Canadians develop their leadership and project management skills through the National Ambassador Youth Forum and the Bilingual Young Leaders committee; to increase their confidence in writing and communicating in French through the National Essay Contest and the United Bilingual Correspondents; and to improve their language skills through Local Forums, x-Forums and Franconnexion Sessions.
Co-founder and honorary president of French for the Future, John Ralston Saul is a Canadian novelist and essayist. In his best-seller, A Fair Country, published in 2008, he argues that Canada was a nation of Métis people, who were strongly influenced by certain Indigenous values such as egalitarianism, balance between individuals and groups, and a preference for negotiation over violence. In addition to being recognized both in Canada and internationally for his writings, he was elected International President of the PEN Club, an international writers’ association that brings together writers from all countries who share the same values of peace, tolerance and freedom.
Co-founder of French for the Future, Lisa Balfour Bowen is a former Canadian journalist. During her 35 years of experience, she has published numerous articles for major newspapers across Canada. She was also the first female Anglophone political correspondent appointed to the National Assembly Press Gallery in Quebec City from 1967 to 1969, as well as an art critic in the City of Toronto. As a bilingual policy advisor to the Government of Ontario’s Federal-Provincial Affairs Secretariat, she helped set up the bilingualism and biculturalism programs in Ontario for the Ontario-Quebec Permanent Commission.
“In 1997, a small group of us saw a need. An important need. Canada had decided decades before to make increasingly real the bilingual nature of the country. Programs and school boards were expanded for Francophone Canada and a whole new system was created to encourage Anglophone Canada: French Immersion.
By the 1990s we had reason to be both proud of this system, and worried about it. Too many young people were leaving French Immersion between Grades 8 and 10. Lisa Balfour Bowen and I created French for the Future to help keep these kids in the system – to help them live the adventure of having both of Canada’s languages and cultures; to play their full role as citizens who may come from Victoria or Moncton, but can relate to the whole country.”
– Statement from the founder and honorary president, John Ralston Saul, for the 20th anniversary of the foundation of French for the Future, Extract from French for the Future’s 2016-2017 Annual Report.