"If You Don't Speak French, You're Out": Don Cherry, the Alberta Francophone Games, and the Discursive Construction of Canada's Francophones

By Dallaire, Christine; Denis, Claude | Canadian Journal of Sociology, Fall 2000 | Go to article overview

"If You Don't Speak French, You're Out": Don Cherry, the Alberta Francophone Games, and the Discursive Construction of Canada's Francophones


Dallaire, Christine, Denis, Claude, Canadian Journal of Sociology


Abstract: The Alberta Francophone Games (AFG), a yearly weekend-long sporting and cultural event, were instituted in 1992 to create an attractive space where young French speakers would produce themselves as "francophones." In the newspaper version of "Coach's Corner," hockey commentator Don Cherry has argued that it is "unfair" to allocate government funding to the AFG because participation is restricted to French speakers. In this article, we relate Cherry's comment not only to the discourses of francophone identity produced at the Alberta Francophone Games, but also to those that circulate in Canadian society in general, all of which generate competing "truths" that make the francophone subject discursively unstable. We offer an analysis of "francophone" performance at the intersection of the AFG's main identity discourses which play their small, but revealing, part in the overall Canadian production of uncertain "francophone" communities and identities. The paper also suggests that Canada's minority francophonies provide a rich ground for the development of discourse theory along the problematic of identity/difference.

Resume: Institues en 1992, les Jeux francophones de l'Alberta (JFA) sont un evenement sportif et culturel qui vise a encourager les jeunes d'expression francaise a se produire en tant que "francophones." Dans la chronique "Coach's Corner" publiee dans les journaux, le commentateur de hockey Don Cherry a declare "injuste" l'allocation de fonds gouvernementaux aux JFA puisque seuls les parlants francais peuvent y participer. Notre analyse porte initialement sur la performance "francophone" produite a l'intersection des principaux discours identitaires aux IFA, discours qui jouent un role -- petit, mais revelateur -- dans la production d'identites et de communautes "francophones" incertaines. Ainsi, nous campons le commentaire de Cherry non seulement dans le cadre des discours sur l'identite francophone aux JFA, mais aussi dans le cadre de discours circulant dans la societe canadienne en general. Comme ces discours sur l'identite francophone produisent des "verites" contestees, le sujet francophone est discursivement instable. L'article suggere aussi que les francophonies minoritaires canadiennes offrent un contexte opportun au developpement d'une problematique d'identite/difference dans le cadre de la theorie du discours.

Introduction: On Don Cherry and Canada's francophones

This paper addresses how meaning circulates in society, and especially the meaning about Canada's francophonie in its relationship with (anglo-) Canadian identities. The media play a key role in circulating meaning in contemporary societies, including bridging small-scale, more or less local, phenomena and events on the one hand, and society-wide understandings on the other. When a few people in a small Ontario town, for example, stomp on a Quebec flag before a television crew, the repeated airing of this outburst in Quebec's francophone media makes it -- rightly or wrongly -- exemplary of the rifts between "English Canada" and Quebec. This media effect created a connection between Don Cherry, an oddly and truly Canadian celebrity and media personality, and the Alberta Francophone Games (AFG), an event involving at most three hundred participants -- and a small budget.

Francophone studies recognize the social construction of identity and have focussed on the types of social relationships forging francophone communities and affiliations (Breton, 1983, 1985a, 1985b; Juteau-Lee 1979, 1980, 1983; Juteau-Lee et Lapointe, 1983; Theriault, 1994). Building on this groundwork, we aim to study further the complexity of francophone identities, focussing on individual identity as a dynamic process wherein one's different allegiances may be congruent or in conflict: French speakers' identities are multiple and hybrid as well as fluid, in a constant process of (re)invention.

Our analysis is informed by these studies, but we choose a different affinity by drawing ideas about identity predominantly from discourse theory (Butler, 1990, 1993; Foucault, 1976, 1983, 1984), rather than drawing theoretical assumptions from ethnic studies. …

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