Exciting things are on the horizon for the Association Francophone des Rocheuses du Sud (AFRoS), or the Francophone Association of the Southern Rockies.
The association was formed in 2012 as a way to campaign for a francophone school in Fernie and for years was run entirely by volunteers.
“It started with just parents, volunteers,” explained AFRoS president Stephanie Lemieux. “There was a couple waves of volunteers running AFRoS. The first wave was the parents who wanted the school created and that was a lot of energy and I think it kind of drained them out a little bit so then there was a new wave of volunteers that I came about with. Kind of like a second wave that took it over because as volunteers sometimes you can get burnt out.”
Lemieux said that one of her goals since becoming president of the association was to find funding, allowing the association to create a paid position and to secure office space for their programs.
“I really focused on doing grant applications, trying to find money because I could see that our volunteers were getting burnt out and I felt that it was good that we have something going but your potential to run an association like this with just volunteers is quite small.”
Thanks to a grant from Heritage Canada, on Nov. 15, Lemieux’s goal was realized and Maylis Destremau started work as AFRoS first ever general director, a paid position.
Destremau came to Fernie in September 2017, after living with her family in Chile for 20 years.
“We decided that we wanted a different education for the kids, especially for them to learn English so we did a road trip in 2017 along the Powder Highway,” Destremau recounted how she and her family ended up in Fernie. “So we came here and we really liked it and we were like wow, let’s try to come.”
According to Destremau, once she had arrived and settled in Fernie, she reached out to Lemieux, who used to bring clients to Destremau’s ski lodge in Chile.
Lemieux told her friend about the association and Destremau began volunteering wherever she could.
“I was always willing to be more a part of the community and doing things in Fernie and giving some time helping the association,” she said. “And then, I saw this opportunity for a job, presented my resume, did the interview and then got selected.”
The association, which began as “French story time in somebody’s basement,” according to Lemieux, has come a long way since their inception.
Now, with a paid position and new office space as of Oct. 1, AFRoS is better able to serve the French community in not only Fernie, but the rest of the Southern Rockies as well. Although their focus is mainly in Fernie for now, they actually cover Elkford, Sparwood, Cranbrook, Kimberley, Invermere and Golden as well.
“Here in B.C. it’s more an anglophone region but we are part of Canada and Canada is bilingual,” said Destremau.
She also noted that the association tries to include everyone, not just francophones. “For us it’s really important… it’s not just for francophones or people from Quebec or from other French speaking countries. We are really willing to welcome everybody.”
Every Monday, AFRoS runs three different programs from their office. One program is geared towards young children, aged zero to four while the others are targeted towards teens and adults.
“We want to offer programs that are free or very cheap so that people can come, and not only people with lots of money,” Lemieux added.
On top of running weekly programs, all in French, of course, the association also hosts monthly cultural events.
“We call them the AFRoS events and it’s always around food or cultural things, just to remind people of their culture and where they come from,” said Lemieux.
Their last event was a games night at Infinitea and on Dec. 5, they’ll be hosting a tourtiere dinner, also at Infinitea.
The association also puts on Franco-fest, a french language festival in the springtime in Fernie.
“Every year we have been creating new things,” said Destremau. This year, AFRoS is looking to find more grants to expand their actions in the rest of their territory. They also have big dreams of things to come for the French community in the Elk Valley.
For now, they are working on building a website to increase their visibility and are actively looking for new and exciting ways to share the French language. If you’re interested to learn more, you can find them on Facebook by searching AFRoS Fernie or reach out via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.