Dialogue New Brunswick was born in the autumn of 1989 in a political climate that threatened to polarize members of English and French-speaking communities. Radical voices were raised in an often angry debate about the benefits of bilingualism.
Dialogue New Brunswick set itself apart from every other organization of the day by eschewing political or economic goals. Its sole aim was to be a catalyst to get French and English-speaking people to talk and listen to each other. That focus has never changed.
“The word ‘dialogue’ says it all,” said author Antonine Maillet, co-chair of DNB’s original public forum. “To have them (Anglophones and Francophones) look at each other and have them enrich each other mutually. And especially to have them looking in the same direction.”
The birth of Dialogue New Brunswick stems back to this public conference instigated by then Premier Frank McKenna Nov. 23, 1989. He asked Fredericton Archbishop Harold Nutter to join Maillet to co-chair the event.
In a bold move, he also called in former premiers Richard Hatfield and Louis Robichaud. Additionally, 60 New Brunswickers from various walks of life and linguistic backgrounds were invited to come and talk.
“We have an opportunity to lead the way in diffusing language tensions which exist across this country,” McKenna said in talking about the conference. “We must build on our strengths and create more opportunities for greater understanding and appreciation between our linguistic communities.”
The original conference was sponsored by the Provincial Intergovernmental Affairs Department and the federal Secretary of State’s office. As it wrapped up, a recommendation was made to form a permanent board that would promote unity among New Brunswickers under the banner of Dialogue NB.
cf. Dialogue New Brunswick Conference Report, November 1989.
Reaction to the concept of forming an organization to continue the conversation was positive from the beginning. One of its first media backers was The Telegraph Journal provincial newspaper which ran a laudatory editorial that said in part:
“Tolerance, the chilly distance between two solitudes, is not enough and neither is condescending diplomacy. What is needed is free and easy speech between equals, an opportunity for Francophones and Anglophones to share impressions, ideas and aspirations…. Harmony is a product of comfort and trust between neighbours. Neither can exist without dialogue and understanding.”
The 13-member volunteer board of directors held its first meeting in January, 1990, with co-chairs Larry Batt of Fredericton and Marcel Sormany of Edmundston.
The other founding board members were Doris Norman and Barry Toole of Fredericton, Dollard LeBlanc and Jacqueline Collette of Moncton, Richard Oland, Irene Grant-Guerette and Linda Forestell of Saint John, Sue Calhoun of Shediac, Christine Chiasson of Caraquet, and Dr. Susan Purdy of Sackville.
During its first year of operation, DNB hired an executive director and secretary, determined its mandate and mission statement, established office space in the New Brunswick Teacher’s Federation building in Fredericton and in July was incorporated as a non-profit organization.
Within the first few months of operation, the organization sponsored a logo contest and an essay contest, the latter a major media coup at the time since it involved getting the competing newspapers L’Acadie Nouvelle and The Telegraph Journal to work together and carry a supplement of the winning entries.
Slowly and surely, DNB was able to track some measure of its success. Research indicated that between 1992 and early 1998, people favouring bilingualism in New Brunswick rose from 65 per cent to 73 percent.
Meanwhile, Dialogue NB continued to unveil a series of new programs throughout the years, from pen-pal and video-tape exchanges in schools to actual exchange visits, from youth forums to public discussions and an ongoing awards program for New Brunswickers who exemplified the spirit of linguistic and cultural co-operation. They also launched a scholarship program to encourage young New Brunswickers to further their educations and be a force for the future in the province.
From 1991 to 2006, Dialogue NB staged a series of provincial youth forums throughout the province to bring young Anglophones and Francophones together for discussion. The first was held at the Memramcook Institute May 17-19, 1991. It was co-chaired by Stephen Kuttner, president of the NB Youth Council and Gino LeBlanc, president, Federation des Jeunes Francophones du NB.
Guest speaker was Aldea Landry, then Intergovernmental Affairs Minister and also vice-chair of the Cabinet Committee on Official Langugages.
She said she had always believed “the future is now” and because of that, the youth of the province have a tremendous responsibility to shape the future. She warned that just because friction arises out of the province’s linguistic and cultural diversity doesn’t mean the different segments can’t live in harmony. But, she said, the youth must prove that can happen.
She concluded her remarks by issuing two other challenges to the youth:
“To eliminate the climate of mistrust that has grown out of a lack of understanding between Anglophones and Francophones and to learn a second language, not just for self-improvement, but as a tool of communication.”
In subsequent youth forums, the young delegates held weekend long discussions and generated discussion on many aspects of life in New Brunswick.
Meanwhile, Dialogue NB reached out to New Brunswickers by using innovative advertising.
In 1994, a first television campaign promoting respect and understanding between the province’s two linguistic communities was launched. The theme of this campaign was “Dialogue New Brunswick, So Much to Share” and it featured the ad Bus Depot produced by David Peterson.
In April of 1996 they shot an advertisement in Beresford directed by Charles Theriault, a Bathurst filmmaker. A 30-second spot, it began to run April 26 on CBC Television. The scenario was simple. A mother and child went into a small grocery store to ask for directions. The mother could not communicate in French but the child, having gone through French immersion, was able to communicate in his second language.
In 1997 Dialogue NB launched another significant advertising campaign with two high-profile New Brunswickers taking the message of harmony to the public. The five-week campaign featured ads with Acadian singer songwriter Roland Gauvin and Olympic Silver Medalist Marianne Limpert.
Other advertisements were presented, including the Grandfather ad and the Team Sport ad.
In 1992, a provincial multi-media campaign promoting harmony, mutual respect and understanding was launched under the theme “New Brunswick, Now You’re Talking.” It focused on the positive attitudes of ordinary citizens.
Two provincial conferences and three regional conferences on language and culture were held in Bathurst, Fredericton, Campbellton, Moncton and Grand Falls respectively. These conferences allowed participants to exchange ideas, exchange points of view and examine the possibility of creating partnerships among different cultural and linguistic communities.
Since 1993, Dialogue New Brunswick has sponsored a pen-pal program called My Dialogue Friend for students from grades one to nine.
In 1995, Dialogue New Brunswick participated in the translation of L’Acadie des maritimes along with the Centre d’études acadiennes at the Université de Moncton. That same year, the organization partnered with the Atlantic Human Rights Center to organize a provincial conference in recognition of the United Nations Year of Tolerance.
Dialogue New Brunswick also participated with the provincial government in the conception of a Virtual Museum.
From 1998 to 2002, Dialogue New Brunswick coordinated an interprovincial student exchange program consisting of reciprocal exchanges between French- and English-speaking classes. Approximately 500 students participated in this program.
In 1999, Dialogue New Brunswick, NBTel and the Centre communautaire Samuel-de-Champlain co-sponsored a conference for business leaders in Saint John.
To mark Dialogue’s 10th anniversary, a travelling art exhibit was organized in cooperation with the New Brunswick Museum. This exhibit travelled from 1999 to 2001 and more than 8,000 people came to visit it. During this time a provincial conference was held in Bathurst and a special gala was organized with French, English and First Nation artists.
During the 2003 Bathurst-Campbellton Canada Winter Games, Dialogue organized an art exhibit themed “New Brunswick Spirit” which showcased works of our young artists. Selected pieces were then awarded to athletes in each province and territory.
In 2003, Dialogue New Brunswick created the Lieutenant-Governor’s Dialogue Award. This prestigious award is presented annually in partnership with the office of the Lieutenant-Governor of the Province of New Brunswick.
In March of 2006, 28 youth from the Grand Falls area met at the Dialogue Regional Youth Conference titled “Cultivating Relationships.” These participants, aged 14 to 18, had an opportunity to interact and collaborate on language issues.
In 2007, Dialogue produced a series of stories about people who champion linguistic and cultural harmony in the Province of New Brunswick.
The first Dialogue New Brunswick Ambassador Program took place in June of 2007. During the 2007 exchange between Saint John and the Acadian Peninsula, the first 65 ambassadors were recruited.
The 2009 installment of the Ambassador Program was between the Charlotte County region and the greater Edmundston region where 60 new ambassadors were installed. The Ambassador Program aims to create a better understanding, increased respect and new appreciation between English-speaking and French-speaking New Brunswickers.
In 2009, Dialogue NB coordinated a series of activities to mark the 40th anniversary of New Brunswick’s Official Languages Act. Activities included a youth forum and travelling art exhibit entitled “Communication Through Arts,” a forum on journalism and official languages titled “Two Languages, One Story,” a study on the socio-economic advantages of bilingualism titled “40 Years of Official Bilingualism in New Brunswick: Looking at the Social and Economic Impact of the Official Languages Act,” a research rally for students titled “Two languages, one province: 40 years of official bilingualism,” an outdoor summer theatre titled “Parlez Games” as well as a documentary regarding the making of “Parlez Games.”
The organization’s most recent strategic plan was developed following a World Café tour which focused on two central questions:
- What does linguistic harmony mean to me and what would it look like in a perfect world? And
- How can Dialogue New Brunswick drive the dialogue forward?
As a result of this tour, the Board of Directors adopted a strategic plan which focuses on two key elements: visibility and partnerships.
In 2013, Dialogue New Brunswick launched a provincial multi-media campaign promoting linguistic and cultural harmony under the theme “I believe in dialogue!” The campaign focused on the benefits of having two vibrant linguistic communities as essential social, cultural and economic components of New Brunswick’s identity and heritage.
This is also when the organization’s brand was refreshed and a new logo adopted by the board of directors.
The year 2014 promises to be an exciting one for Dialogue NB. Its 25th anniversary will be marked Nov. 22 and a series of special events is being planned for the celebration.
Much has happened in the last quarter century, and Dialogue New Brunswick looks forward to continuing to build harmony within the province in the future.