Franco-Ontarian writer so angry about Laurentian cuts, he’s handing back 2002 honourary doctorate

·5 min read

In the beginning of a letter written to Laurentian University president Robert Haché on April 15, playwright, novelist, poet, screenwriter and actor Jean Marc Dalpé, three-time recipient of the Governor General’s Literary Award and pillar of Franco-ontarian culture, recalled the sunny day he received his honorary doctorate from Laurentian university in 2002.

At the end of that letter, he renounced the doctorate he received.

“En guise de solidarité avec tous les profs et étudiants qui ont tellement perdu ce lundi, je renonce donc (avec regret) aux titres et privilèges attachés au doctorat honoris causa qui m’a été décerné en 2002,” Dalpé wrote.

Translated to English, the statement reads, “In solidarity with all the professors and students who lost so much that Monday, I renounce the titles and privileges attached to the honorary doctorate that was given to me in 2002.”

Dalpé told Sudbury.com that receiving the award was a momentous moment for him. “it was a great honor,” he said. “It was wonderful. I use the expression in French, ‘c'est comme un gros, gros calin de communauté’. It was like a great big hug from the community, from the Franco-Ontarian community in Sudbury.”

“I received that as an honour,” he said. “And because I honour that, I just can't let what's happening pass. I can't let go the legacy, all the good work they've done and how they changed our culture. And all that is being erased, is being dismantled through this process, which has been clearly, and I think I'm not the only one to say this, clearly anti-democratic.”

Dalpé was born in Ottawa, but lived in Sudbury and is not only considered a highly-important figure in Franco-Ontarian literature but central to the reinvigoration of Théâtre du Nouvel-Ontario (TNO). His play, Le Chien, a drama first performed in Sudbury, won the 1988 Governor General’s Award.

In his letter, he details the countless things that have come from Laurentian University and even makes mention of a 2020 rousing statement from Laurentian University and Haché, titled ‘To the Four Winds of a Possible Future’ of University Education in French Ontario.

In it, Haché details the many accomplishments of the Franco-Ontarian community of Laurentian and Sudbury, “La Laurentienne” as he refers to it, and it includes a specific sentence that Dalpé has trouble with and said so in his letter.

The sentence? “Francophones will always have their place at Laurentian. We affirm our passion for our community and for “langue de Dalpé et Desbiens,” (a Franco-Ontarian twist on “la langue de Molière”).”

Yes, that Dalpé.

In his recent letter, Dalpé was not subtle about his feelings. “Puisque vous avez fait les choix que l’on connaît maintenant (bye-bye Théâtre, Littérature, Histoire, etc.), soyez assuré que je ne me tairai pas si vous osez de nouveau écrire qu’à la Laurentienne, ‘Nous affirmons notre passion pour notre communauté et pour la langue de Dalpé et Desbiens’.”

(Translated to English: “Since you have made the choices that we now know (bye-bye Theatre, Literature, History, etc.), rest assured that I will not keep quiet if you dare to write again that at Laurentian, ‘We affirm our passion for our community and for the language of Dalpé and Desbiens’.”)

He also noted his anger towards Haché’s mention of other francophone trailblazers like CANO a Franco-Ontarian folk-pop collective, with founding members a part of Coopérative des artistes du Nouvel Ontario (CANO), and Robert Dickson, francophone poet and champion of the language.

“Et vous osiez citer CANO et Dickson en vous vantant d’être un «flambeau de la francophonie ontarienne» alors que vous vous prépariez à vous placer sous la Loi sur les arrangements avec les créanciers?”

(Translates to: “And you dared to quote CANO and Dickson, boasting of being a ‘torch for Ontario's francophonie’ as you prepared to place yourself under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act?”

Dalpé says his strong feelings come from the seeming indifference to the cultural history that is intertwined with the institution.

“All of that comes, was created, because Laurentian was there,” Dalpé said. “It gave the opportunity for a whole new generation of francophones to have access to a post-secondary education, it's an extremely important legacy.”

It is the next generation he worries for, as well.

“That's what’s so tragic about what's happening with Laurentian,” said Dalpé. “The students that are there now, they're going to have problems trying to get degrees, but there's also all these kids leaving high school at the end of this year. Their option to be able to continue living in the north and studying in French is put into peril. That's tragic.”

And he specifically mentions that it is not just the francophone students he is heartbroken for. “I have to say a word about what they've done to the Indigenous Studies, to that community,” he said. “I am flabbergasted. I fell off my chair when I understood to what degree those cuts were going to undermine the great advancements, the great steps, the accomplishments over the last 20 years.”

He says, “this is a story about all of the people in Northern Ontario, including the Anglophones.”

“This is going to have repercussions on families across the divide of the identities and it's not just going to hurt Sudbury,” he said. “This is going to hurt what we hope Sudbury will become; what we hope the North will become.

However, Dalpé is optimistic.

This is not our first dance,” he said. “This is not our first battle. We the Francophone minority here in the province have had to fight over and over and over again. But the message to everyone is, we win, dammit, we win. We've won every damn time.

“It's hard, but we've danced a few of these dances over the years, and we're getting better at it. The battles are hard and the losses are real,” said Dalpé.

“But we win.”

Jenny Lamothe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Sudbury.com