The St. Boniface Library, unique in the Winnipeg Public Library system for its extensive collection of French materials, serves an important role in St. Boniface and the broader Winnipeg francophone community.
“The main purpose of the St. Boniface branch, I would say, is that we are the central branch for providing French services and resources to all of Winnipeg,” Danielle Robidoux, branch head for the St. Boniface Library, says.
She notes that the library’s collection of materials is 75 per cent French language and 25 per cent English language.
Because of this rich collection, Robidoux says the library frequently transfers materials to other Winnipeg Public Library branches where patrons request them. As well, all of the branch staff must be fluent in French and English, and most of the library’s programming is done in French.
Robidoux also notes there are bilingual Baby Rhyme Time sessions. Baby Rhyme Time is a program of the Winnipeg Public Library that aims to promote language development in infants through playful activities.
The St. Boniface Library tries not just to provide resources for fluent French speakers, but also for people who are learning or looking to learn French, including people with French heritage, Robidoux says.
Resources the branch offers to help people learn French include language learning kits, French learning databases, bilingual dictionaries and staff to provide assistance, she says. This assistance can include staff chatting with patrons in French to help them brush up on their language skills.
The St. Boniface Library participated in Nuit Blanche for the past two years, hosting a Métis storytime event this year. This event involved Métis speakers telling stories in French and English, accompanied by shadow puppet shows, Robidoux says.
“Our library really represents a community space,” she says. She explains that this is both the St. Boniface community and the broader local francophone community. Robidoux explains that French speakers are not just in St. Boniface today but are spread out throughout the city.
But it’s not just French learning that the St. Boniface Library can assist with. Mehdi Madani moved to Winnipeg from Morocco in 2005 and attended Collège universitaire de Saint-Boniface (now Université de Saint-Boniface). His first language is Arabic and second is French, but he says the branch helped him learn English.
“At that time, I was not specifically looking for French materials. I was looking for English ones to improve my English speaking ability,” he says. French movies with English subtitles were particularly helpful when it came to learning English, Madani explains.