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This Coquitlam nonprofit is still without a home — 40 years on

"When you’re a nonprofit with three full-time staff, $5,300 is too much for rent. We have been put in a position of survival," says Joanne Dumas, executive director of Société Francophone de Maillardville.
Joanne Dumas, general manager of the Société Francophone de Maillardville and artistic director of Festival du Bois in Coquitlam, with administrator Rokia Kone. The photo was taken on Nov. 2, 2023, at the Société offices in Coquitlam.

A Coquitlam nonprofit that started in portables on Poirier Street is marking its 40th year.

But the space crunch for the Société Francophone de Maillardville is still a problem, says the executive director Joanne Dumas.

Dumas, who has led the French-speaking organization for the past 28 years, told the Tri-City News last week that its digs on Brunette Avenue in Maillardville cost the group $5,300 a month in rent — and it's not big enough to accommodate the growing demand.

As well, the area is in an upstairs office at 938 Brunette Ave., which is not ideal for seniors and people with mobility issues trying to access the centre's programs and resources.

"We have made a mark in the community and continue to do so," she said,"“but what’s still a challenge after all these years is that we still don't have a permanent place to call home."

"When you’re a nonprofit with three full-time staff, $5,300 is too much for rent," Dumas added. "We have been put in a position of survival."

Dumas said government money flowed to nonprofits during and after the COVID-19 pandemic; however, those funds have largely dried up and reliable funding sources are few and far between.

Grants awarded to the Société are spent on activities such as French language classes, a French summer camp and services for new Canadians, among other things.

Dumas said many immigrants from eastern Europe, Asia and Africa have settled in the Tri-Cities since the pandemic ended and want to learn Canada's other official language to obtain government work and practise speaking in French.

"They're making an effort to become involved here. And we don't just have people from France or Québec anymore," she said.

"The community is changing to become more multicultural and we have to respond to that."

According to the 2021 Census, there are more than 40,000 French speakers in the Lower Mainland.

Maillardville, in southern Coquitlam, is viewed as the cradle of francophone in B.C. after it was founded in 1909 — largely by workers from the Québec lumber industry who moved to be employed at the Canadian Western Lumber Company sawmill, known as Fraser Mills.

Francophone Fête

Besides the tight space, the Société is also facing cost hikes to host its annual fête next year.

Quotes for tents and other infrastructure have doubled for the 35th anniversary of Festival du Bois in 2024, said Dumas who is the artistic director of the largest francophone fest in western Canada.

"If we don't get the money, we have to make choices," she said.

The next Festival du Bois, taking place at Mackin Park in Coquitlam on March 8, 9 and 10, 2024, will pay tribute to the World Acadian Congress in August 2024.

Overall, Dumas said she’s pleased about the Société's success over the past four decades.

This month, it hired a networking co-ordinator to reach out to local French-speaking residents — ages 50 and up — to prevent isolation and build relationships.

To learn more, you can visit the Société Francophone de Maillardville website.