Past Leaders & People
Lilly Borges Oldham
The first thing I remember about that incredible year during which I was president of CASLT is my plane landing in a blinding snowstorm in St. John's, Newfoundland, in May, for the 20th anniversary conference. As was the case in those days, the Executive was arriving early for two full days of meetings prior to the conference. I had called Joyce (Fewer) a few days before leaving my home in Yellowknife, NT, and she had informed me of 26 C temperatures and sunny skies. Always glad to leave winter behind, after traveling 6000 km, I arrived in St. John's without even a coat or boots. Quelle surprise! As it turned out, we were so busy in meetings, we hardly left the hotel, until the weekend anyway.
The 20th anniversary conference in Newfoundland was a huge success and set a new standard for conferences in the years to come. I remember being very nervous when Joyce introduced me as the in-coming president -I think it was at the banquet -and I remember shaking so much that my knees were knocking behind the podium. I had to put my papers down so that no one would notice the shaking. I was incredibly excited and honoured to be named president; not only was I from a northern territory with a very small number of second-language educators, I was the only one of the executive members still in the classroom. (I was Assistant Principal and the Core French teacher in a K-6 dual-track school at the time.) CASLT was entering a new decade, the National Core French Study had been completed and was changing the face of Core French curricula across the nation, the BULLETIN newsletter had doubled in size, our membership was at about 900 members, and the Association had considerable visibility on the national education scene. It was a magical time, and we were ready to move ahead with exploring new initiatives. In an increasingly more multi-cultural and multi-racial country and in a shrinking world, we knew that the time was right to look at developing a national initiative which would focus on multi-cultural education, multilingualism, and the professional development of ALL second language teachers. It was time to move beyond the common misconception that CASLT was a group of Core French teachers.
On the Saturday morning immediately following the AGM, CASLT's new executive met yet again for another long afternoon of meetings. We had invited Dr. Keith McLeod of the University of Toronto, and a former professor of mine, to our meeting. We asked Dr. McLeod to assist us in taking up the challenge of developing a multi-cultural initiative which we would officially launch at the May 1991 conference in Winnipeg. I remember being very relieved, and very tired, at the end of that Saturday meeting. We all went out for a fabulous dinner in St. John's, and even had a chance to get to Signal Hill before leaving for home the next day. I left Newfoundland exhausted, but full of excitement thinking about the year to come. I was especially grateful for the assistance I knew I would have on Executive, particularly from the Manitoba representative, Greg Sametz, from out-going President, Joyce Fewer, and from our Winnipeg office manager, Shannon MacFarlane.
The CASLT annual conference was always tied to the province of the president. I remember us talking about the possibility of the NWT hosting a conference already when I was secretary on the Executive. Since it was physically impossible that the community of Yellowknife would be able to host an annual conference in those days, the idea of "co- hosting" or "joint conference" evolved on the Executive. A territorial member could become President, yet the conference could be held in a larger southern setting. Et voila, the partnership developed between the NWT and Manitoba. I became president, Caterina chaired the Winnipeg conference, and together we developed both a northern and a multi-cultural prairie focus.
The months between May 1990 and May 1991 seemed to pass in a blur. When I recently dug out the papers I kept from that time, I can hardly believe the amount of work I did as President and territorial rep, AFTER my day job. I had hardly returned to Yellowknife from St. John ' s, when I was off again, to Ottawa, where Joyce and I represented CASLT at a Secretary of State Consultation and Information Exchange on the Teaching of French as a Second Language. This was a very valuable opportunity to meet with other national associations and groups involved in FSL education, and it was gratifying to note that we all shared the same concerns, including teacher education and the professional development of FSL teachers in Canada, and teacher shortages. We met with Stewart Goodings of the Secretary of State, a gentleman I would meet again at a CPF conference in Yellowknife.
In June, the seven volume Final Report of the National Core French Study became available for distribution, as well as a special issue of the BULLETIN which gave a summary report. FINALLY, we had something in hand which represented five years of labour on the part of a multitude of educators. To many people, it must have felt like giving birth.
One of the best parts of being a member of the CASLT executive was having the opportunity to meet throughout the year, in different capital cities. When I think about it, it is thanks to CASLT that I have visited every capital city in this country. It was my turn to host an executive meeting in Sept. 1990 in Yellowknife. Our weather co-operated, my superintendent allowed me to use the District Office Board room for our meetings. My husband borrowed a van and toured everyone around the city and the mine, and everyone tried some northern dishes like caribou and arctic char. I hosted a wine and cheese at my house, and several territorial government officials turned up, as well as the Assistant Superintendent of Yellowknife Education District #1, board members, CPF executive and friends. As well, children's entertainer Jacques Chauvin was in town on a CPF tour, and he dropped by to enjoy "un verre". We had an executive meeting in Ottawa in January, and then again in Winnipeg prior to the conference, but I am sure that the Yellowknife meeting will be a favourite memory for those on the executive at the time.
During my year as President, CASLT achieved a merger with the Canadian Modern Languages Review, but not without many long discussions to iron out the wrinkles in membership fees and subscription lists. Three BULLETINS were published, thanks to Peter Heffernan, filled with photos, professional articles, and provincial/territorial news updates. A collection of essays from the 1988 CASLT conference papers, "Canada's Languages -a time to re-evaluate/Les Langues du Canada -l'heure de re-évaluer", was published as well. Another accomplishment that year -the review of the CASLT constitution -what a task that was! National office was computerized and expanded, and a load of CASLT pens were available for promotion. Greg Sametz was nominated to the newly established Canadian Heritage Institute. CASLT continued its agreement with the National Film Board and Secretary of State for the "Pour Tout Dire" video series, the AD HOC Working Group of the NCFS Provincial Reps met twice during the year, and a $1,000.00 CASLT bursary was offered.
During 90-91, CASLT also began the challenge of developing a mission statement, but what is far the most important element to me of that year was the joint conference venture. While Caterina took care of everything in Manitoba, I took on the challenge of showcasing the education and culture North of 60. I remember many hours spent writing letters and having meetings with members of the Department of Education of the Government of the Northwest Territories, Economic Development and Tourism, the School boards, the NWTTA, NWT Air, the Chamber of Commerce, the City of Yellowknife, and local tourism outlets. We needed major dollars to put together what became the NWT Friendship Room in the Winnipeg Convention Centre. I was able to convince the minister of education to grant us $5,000.00. When all was said and done, after many long hours and sleepless nights the NWT Friendship Room was a highlight of the 1991 conference. My husband came down to Winnipeg with me for the week, and helped Margaret Thom of Fort Providence with the large display," Our Visions Our Realities -The Children of the NWT". Delegates enjoyed the dried meat, the sample students' work, the artifacts, Dene clothing, tools, furs, foods, posters, aboriginal curriculum resources, pamphlets" NWT flags, Inuit quilt, videos, slides and large posters and photo-graphic display of the NWT.
We had northern prizes as well, such as pins, ball caps, char, and art cards. I remember the glitch when the Manitoba teepee did not fit into our display area. But everything came together and the room was a huge success. People were amazed at what was available "up here" and I was so proud to see the grandeur of my adopted home (I am from near Toronto) take centre stage.
The Friendship Room was the stage for the opening ceremonies of our 1991 conference. The Assistant Deputy Minister of Education, Mr. Eric Colboume, flew down from Yellowknife to officially "open" the room. It was a magic time for me. Several Yellowknife Educators had come down as well to present workshops in FSL, in the Dene Kede curriculum, and in Dogrib as well. Even still today, I meet people in town who remember that opportunity to go to Winnipeg on behalf of northern education.
The rest of the conference is a blur to me. Between organizing the Friendship room, the executive meetings, the very EARLY AGM on Saturday morning, the banquet, all the laughter and tears, I cannot remember attending a single workshop or seeing anything in Winnipeg. I cannot even remember leaving the hotel, but I do remember it was snowing. It was just wonderful, I do know that. When we returned to Yellowknife, I was on a high which lasted for months.
It has been 9 years now since that Winnipeg conference, "The Multi-Lingual Child: Today's Dream,Tomorrow's Reality" -and I wonder sometime how far we have come. Cutbacks in funding, political pressures, changing priorities and attitudes, falling memberships, all have contributed to a somewhat different reality on the national second- language scene today. On the surface, we may seem to have lost the passion, the drive and the enthusiasm of the early 90's for second language education. But beneath the surface that passion still burns. I know that core groups are still working very hard to continue to celebrate and promote the teaching and learning of second languages in Canada. We need to somehow re- capture that earlier magic, and move beyond the trials and tribulations which cutbacks and separation anxiety have wrought.
I much enjoyed being President of CASLT in 90-91. The friends I have made from across the country are still very dear to me, and we stay in touch, some only at Christmas, but we know where to reach each other. The professional contacts I made through CASLT have been invaluable in my career and professional development over the past 12 years. I have learned so much about my country, and about myself, through my affiliation with CASLT. I am very proud to be part of the history of the Canadian Association of Second Language Teachers, and am very proud of the Association's accomplishments during my tenure on the Executive. We were a great team, and I have great memories of that time.
Thank you/merci/vielen Dank/mahs' cho for giving me this opportunity to remember that magical and exciting time when we were changing the face of Core French and second-language education in Canada. My very best wishes to the Association for an equally exciting and productive new millennium in second language education. Bonne chance!
Published in the November 2000 Anniversary Issue of Réflexions