The town of Trois-Pistoles

 

 

Western French-Immersion School returns to Trois-Pistoles 

Canada’s oldest French immersion program celebrates 90 years.

 

By Nicole Laidler 

 

Western University’s French-Immersion School at Trois-Pistoles is planning a return to in-person learning this summer, after a two-year switch to virtual classes in response to COVID-19 restrictions. This year also marks the 90th anniversary of the school, making it the oldest French immersion program of its kind in North America. “You can learn vocabulary in a classroom, but the immersion experience brings the language to life in a way that nothing else can,” says Kathy Asari, Director of Western University’s French-Immersion School at Trois-Pistoles.

 

"The immersion experience brings the language to life."

 

The partnership between the small francophone community and Western University began in 1932. Today, the School facilitates a variety of credit and non-credit immersion programs offered through Western Continuing Studies. It is also recognized by the Explore Program – a government funded initiative that promotes bilingual learning in Canada.

“While a lot of students enrol to earn credits towards their degree, we’ve also had many working professionals, Supreme Court Justices, and even Ontario Premiers,” notes John Doerksen, Acting Provost & Vice-President (Academic), Western University.

 

French immersion rooted in community

Asari’s bond with the French Immersion School began as a student during her undergraduate days at Western. The program made a profound impression, inspiring her to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in both Biology and French Studies. “There is something very special about this program. It’s personal, in the best sense of the word,” she says. Trois-Pistoles offers an ideal environment for French learners at any level. The town, located on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River, boasts a vibrant cultural scene and easy access to recreational activities like hiking, kayaking, and whale watching.

 

"The whole community has adopted the School. It’s something they are very proud of."

 

Students live with a host family during their stay, providing a unique opportunity to experience Quebecois culture and practice their language skills outside the classroom. “I still remember the conversations we had around the dinner table,” says Asari, who later returned to teach courses at the Immersion program, before being named Director in 2019.

“The whole community has adopted the School. It’s something they are very proud of,” she says. “Some of our host families have been welcoming students for multiple generations.”

 

Building confidence and connection

As a French teacher, Asari has seen the impact of the Trois-Pistoles experience first-hand. “When students come back, they have a new-found confidence. They are more comfortable speaking, and take a lot of joy in it."

But the benefits go beyond becoming more proficient in Canada’s ‘other’ official language. The intercultural sensitivity participants gain through the exchanges can be transformative, says Asari. “The social aspect of language is very difficult to recreate in a classroom,” she notes. “When students are able to build a personal connection with people and have a lived experience of the language, it changes who they are and how they interact with other people.”

 

"When students come back, they have a new-found confidence."

 

Celebrating 90 years of learning

This summer, Western University and the community of Trois-Pistoles will be celebrating 90 years of building these linguistic and cultural bridges. The planned festivities include live performances by Quebec musicians, workshops, and a formal reception.

“Right now, this is all pandemic dependent, but if we can be in-person many of us – including civic and political leaders – will want to attend,” says Doerksen. “For an institution like this to last for 90 years is an extraordinary testament to the commitment of so many people, not the least of which are the people of Trois-Pistoles.”

 

 


 

Registration is now open for our French Immersion in-person one- and two-week non-credit programs, as well as our five-week credit program, in Trois-Pistoles with sections running from June 27 - August 20. 

Current post-secondary students may be eligible for Explore Program bursary funding. Application deadline is May 31.

 

 

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