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Bilingual signage program gets a “Oui” from Lac La Biche County council

Through a partnership between the county and CDÉA, this week plans to develop bilingual signage throughout Lac La Biche County to promote francophone heritage and bilingual culture for residents and tourists alike, received some much-needed traction.

LAC LA BICHE - Developing bilingual signage throughout Lac La Biche County has been an ongoing project to promote francophone heritage and bilingual culture for residents and tourists alike. The hamlet of Plamondon is one of just a handful of provincial communities officially recognized as being bilingual. 

Recently, the move to create more Francophone awareness in the region got a boost as the county was approved for a $53,000 federal grant from the Alberta Bilingual Municipalities Association (ABMA) to develop bilingual street signs. 

Lac La Biche County and the hamlet of Plamondon are both members of the ABMA which is managed by the Conseil de développement économique de l’Alberta (CDÉA). The collective association represents 17 francophone-based communities throughout the province who seek to improve economic development and opportunities for their communities. 

In recent years, the Wayfinding & Interpretive Signage project administered by the county seeks to create consistent signage in the area to link with corresponding provincial signs for residents and tourism development. A prime component of the project is to also create French and English signs. An additional $20,000 contribution from the municipal budget to the bilingual signage grant aims to further promote Francophone languages, said Alex Fuller, Lac La Biche County’s Economic Development Coordinator. 

The initial rollout of the new signage project will correct existing bilingual street sign errors throughout Plamondon while additionally installing bilingual street signage along major roadways such as Old Trail, Beaver Hill Road and major intersections, said Fuller.  

“We identified those roads because …they are arterial roads that visitors to the community use to navigate,” Fuller said. 

Limitations  

But having some signs in English, some in French and others sharing both languages could be confusing, says Lac La Biche County councillor Sterling Johnson, who would rather see more funding go to the project to affect all signs or reduce the target area to only Plamondon.  

“To label some signs and then no signs in other areas; it’s not consistent…if we’re going to do bilingual signs then we should vote to make the community totally bilingual signs,” he says to avoid potentially causing confusion for residents and visitors. “If we don’t have the funding to do the whole community then I think we should stick to Plamondon.”  

Plamondon-area councillor Colette Borgun is just happy that recognition is being made. She said the current funding and placements are part of a pilot project that will hopefully grow. Ultimately, she said,  the project is a necessity and a privilege for the entire county which has French-speaking residents and visitors. Borgun has advocated for the project through her work with the Northern Alberta Bilingual Tourism Network (NABTN), ABMA and CDÉA. She says the overall goal is to have signage across the entire county. 

“The intent of the project being that it was to do both hamlets because they’re both members of ABMA and we had spoken on doing the signs so that we could at least do the main places,” she said. 

“The pilot project is the very first one of its kind. ABMA has 17 members and people are actually waiting in line in other places,” said Borgun. 

Multicultural considerations  

However, Mayor Paul Reutov stated that consultations with other cultural groups in the area should be considered before the project is widespread throughout the county. He said there are other languages and cultures to consider. He suggested seeking more public input prior to going with the federally-endorsed project that would highlight only Canada’s second official language and no others. 

“In Lac La Biche in general and this entire area, we’ve got other cultures and peoples to consider. Have we had any public input sessions or any kind of public gathering…for us to just approve something based on the $50,000 grant and running with it, I think would be a little premature with no input.” 

Additional projects 

While the initial plan seeks to explore signage, it also involves creating bilingual banners and enhancing information guides for tourists, said Fuller. 

“We are looking at installing street banners along Main Street in the hamlet of Lac La Biche, on Beaverhill Road and along Main Street in the hamlet of Plamondon,” he says, “while updating our visitor information kiosk content with bilingual content…we would have it in both.” 

But the future of the expansion is not limited to street signs, it also aims to include signs for businesses that include both English and French translations of hours, greetings and additional information provided by CDÉA’s own national program, said Fuller. 

“There is another half to this project that CDÉA is managing directly which is business signage. Brick and mortar businesses located within the county as well as neighbouring Indigenous communities can access free bilingual signage.” 

The continuing bilingual project would also include community centres and public areas where tourists visit, says Corinne Michaud, the project coordinator with CDÉA. 

“Part of the plan is to get the facilities in Lac La Biche and Plamondon area to use those signs. So when you're thinking of the major facilities and attraction sites, there is quite a few that could benefit from these signs.” 

Moving forward  

Councillors did vote in favour of pursuing the road signage and banners in the Plamondon areas first, followed by surrounding arterial roads and banners within the hamlet of Lac La Biche. 

Discussions on additional signage for a wider-reaching area and for businesses and county-run facilities will be tabled in the near future.  

Overall, the signage will “support and highlight the added value of bilingualism in the community,” explained Fuller.