“C’est permanent por l’avenir.”
Roughly translated “here to stay,” those words were music to the ears of Penticton parent Rachel McWhirter this week.
They came from Minister of Education Rob Fleming at the announcement that the province was putting up $11.5 million to purchase École Entre-lacs, formerly known as McNicoll Park Middle School, from the Okanagan Skaha School District.
Since the middle school closed three years ago, the building had been under short-term lease to the francophone group and is currently home to about 165 pre-kindergarten to Grade 8, French immersion students.
Éntre-lacs started out in Trout Creek in the 90s before moving to Penticton where they set up operations in a former elementary school next door to McNicoll Park school.
“What it allows us, after such a long wait, is to bring to life all our long-awaited plans,” said McWhirter, who has children in grades six and seven at the school. “We are eager to get to work making this school our school, one that will mix in joy, collaboration and wonderful memories for everyone for years to come.”
“We have been struggling to find a space that’s been our own for a number of years, this makes it official that not only is francophone language and education important within the province but this community.”
She also noted there was now the opportunity for the school to grow into a kindergarten to Grade 12 school. Currently, students from École Entre-lacs move to Penticton Secondary School after Grade 8.
According to Fleming, the present government “inherited” a 2016 Supreme Court of Canada ruling reaffirming the rights to an education in both official languages.
“(It) was a ruling that went against a government that had no interest and was dragging its feet,” said Fleming. “We respect the courts decision and (are) working to implement the court judgment.”
The francophone schools in the province operate under the Conseil-scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique.
“We now have a lot of room to grow and there’s not a gathering place for francophones either, so there’s opportunities to expand this, potentially into a cultural centre,” said McWhirter. “It represents a sense of belonging that was missing for many years.”
The provincial government is planning to continue the program in other regions of B.C. in the coming months.