Celebrating 50 Years of French Immersion!

Mar. 08, 2024

Joyeux 50e anniversaire l'immersion française!​​​

​This year, CBE is celebrating 50 years of French Immersion programming in Calgary! That’s 50 years of students challenging themselves to learn an additional language, 50 years of committed teachers searching out authentic cultural opportunities for their students, and 50 years of families watching their child become fluent in both of Canada’s official languages.

In the fall of 1973, Calgary’s first public French Immersion program opened its doors at McDougall School in central Calgary. Its mission was to instruct its two Grade 1 classes in French so that the students could grow up to be bilingual citizens. When the program began, Grade 1 students spent 50 per cent of their time in French and 50 per cent in English, contrary to today, where 100 per cent of Grade 1 instruction is in French. French immersion soon expanded to both Chinook Park School and Banff Trail School in the 1976-77 school year. The program continued to grow rapidly, such that, by 1979, ten CBE schools offered some form of French bilingual education to over 1,400 students.

Jocelyn Wensley was a student in that very first Grade 1 French immersion class at McDougall School and today teaches music at Banff Trail School in the French Immersion program. She said being part of the first French immersion class was very special.

“There was pride in being first, like we were explorers of the new system and a new idea in the CBE.”

Fifty years later, French Immersion in CBE now welcomes over 9,700 students in 24 schools each day. To celebrate, many special events are planned for schools, students and staff. All of CBE’s French immersion high schools will host commemorative events this spring with elementary students who will attend these schools when they reach high school. French immersion middle schools will gather for a special event on March 20  featuring workshops, music and dance by Francophone artists. Finally, CBE will host a gala in May to celebrate the parents, alumni, current staff and retirees who built the successful program we have today.

So if you find yourself in one of CBE’s French Immersion schools this year, remember to say: Joyeux anniversaire, French Immersion! And a huge merci to the students, teachers, staff, school leaders, parents and community supporters over the past 50 years who helped us get here. We look forward to the next 50 years!

Check out more information about French Immersion at CBE.