Serge Gingras, co-chair of official languages committee with the 2019 Canada Winter Games, is looking forward to being the French voice behind public announcements at some of the mens and womens hockey games. (Photo by SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff)

Winter Games adds French flair to Red Deer

Bilingual volunteers recruited to assist athletes and visitors

When the 2019 Canada Winter Games are over this March, they will leave behind a bilingual imprint on Red Deer, from signage at new athletic facilities to a renewed cultural awareness.

“When you talk about the benefit of the Games on the community, I already see it,” said Serge Gingras, co-chair of the official languages committee, who has been screening the bilingual volunteers needed for the Games.

“I already see it before the Games start, with the interviews with francophones I have never met.”

As a national event, and with the federal government as a partner, 10 per cent of staff hired for the Games are bilingual, and the goal is for 10 per cent of the roughly 5,000 volunteers to be bilingual.

Bilingual volunteers will wear badges and be strategically scheduled and assigned on the front lines so they can jump in and help.

Melanie Pare, co-ordinator of official languages and communications, said organizers are on track to reaching their recruitment goal. One source of volunteers is French immersion students.

“I think when you’re in an immersion program in high school, you might be tempted to wonder, ‘When am I going to use French again? How is this going to serve me?’

“This is a perfect way of showing how it can give you an added dynamic to an experience such as volunteering with the Games,” Pare said.

She said being involved in the bilingual aspect of the Games has been a great way to discover something people may not know.

“There’s a very strong francophone presence in Central Alberta. It’s very vibrant. It’s not a large minority, but it’s still there and very active and ready to chip in and help out,” Pare said.

The Games will be held Feb. 15 to March 3 and feature up to 3,600 athletes, coaches and managers, along with more than 20,000 visitors.

To further assist French athletes and visitors, bilingual directional signage will point the way to athletic facilities. Bilingual signs were installed from the start at new facilities. Older facilities, like Collicutt Centre, will have temporary signs.

City manager Craig Curtis said bilingual signage will position Red Deer facilities for future national events.

“We are a bilingual country and when we have a national event, we need to be bilingual,” Curtis said.

Mayor Tara Veer will be among those who will parlez vous francais at the Games.

“I took French throughout school and the Games have given me an opportunity to modernize my bilingual abilities. Some of it has come back to me fairly easily, and some of it I’ve had to work on, and so I’m right now expanding my vocabulary,” said Veer, whose initial goal was to be fully bilingual by the Games.

She said that was an ambitious target and it’s been a busy year, but she is confident she’ll be able to represent Red Deer while conversing in French.

Veer added the francophone community knew of her efforts and have been very supportive.

Gingras, in addition to his administrative duties with the Games, will also be the French voice behind public announcements at some of the mens and womens hockey games.

“I did it for the Hlinka Gretzky Cup last summer, and the Memorial Cup a few years ago. It’s an experience I really, really enjoy doing,” Gingras said.

— With files from Mamta Lulla

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