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French studies at the University of Toronto are undertaken, at the undergraduate level, in the Department of French, on the St. George campus (UTSG), in the Department of Language Studies, on the Mississauga campus (UTM), and in the Department of Humanities, on the Scarborough campus (UTSc). The Department of French administers programmes at the graduate level.


During the nineteenth century University College and the three unfederated, later federated, colleges (Trinity, Victoria and St. Michael’s) offered a scattering of courses in French language and literature taught by various individuals, the most colourful of whom was probably Louis Forneri, a former cavalry officer in Napoleon’s garde d’honneur. The four college departments of French were formed towards the close of the century. During the third quarter of the twentieth century the heads of the four college departments conferred to achieve some degree of conformity, until the Combined Department of French, meetings of which were eventually open to all members of the four departments, was given the task of achieving formal conformity of the undergraduate programmes.

The expansion of the University of Toronto in the 1960s saw the Department of French of University College extend its responsibilities to the constituent colleges: New College, Erindale College and Scarborough College.
The University Department of French was created in 1975, offering courses and programmes of study to students of all colleges. For the first year it was housed in University College; in 1976 it had its headquarters at 7 King’s College Circle, and then moved to Odette Hall, on the campus of St. Michael’s College, in 1996.

At the graduate level French studies were controlled by the Graduate Department of Romance Languages and Literatures until the Graduate Department of French, administered by the Department of French of University College, was formed in 1965. In 1975 the control of graduate studies in French passed to the University Department of French.


Some Impressions of Colleagues in French Studies at the University of Toronto

Russon Wooldridge

I was appointed to the University College Department of French in 1966. The Head of the department ("the last head to roll", as he was to say to me later) was Dana Rouillard, a specialist of the Turk in French literature of the 17th century. A key role in my appointment was played by Pierre Léon, who had joined the department a little earlier, coming from Besançon and Paris by way of Ohio. In typical French fashion, he told the departmental Head I was more or less the bee's knees, on the strength of a 10-minute conversation with me in Besançon.

I was given the dusty office, a former broom closet, vacated by Peter Dembowski, who had just moved to Chicago. Young colleagues appointed at the same time as me all had offices in New College, but as I was supposedly a specialist in linguistics I was put in the same building, University College, as the new language laboratory.

Opposite mine was the office of the departmental secretary, Silvia Hvidsten, an early friend renowned for her regal progress down Avenue Road on her bicycle on her way to work. Other senior members of the department, with offices on the East corridor of the second floor, included David Hayne, one of the first in English Canada to foster the study of Quebec literature; Robert Finch, painter and poet, who, in his Massey College apartment, regaled his guests with Bristol sherry and performances on his harpsichord; and Victor Graham, a specialist of 16th-century France who gave me valuable leads in my research on texts of the period.

Pierre Léon also had an office on the second floor, in which was housed his first, pioneering experimental phonetics laboratory. Pierre had a gift for getting colleagues to work for and with him, a gift he displayed throughout his career in his various professional activities for the benefit of the department. He organized several significant international conferences, held in University College. They were a forum for academic celebrities to enthrall or to posture. On one such occasion, Gérard Genette seemed incapable of yielding the lectern; his successor, Marshall McLuhan, made a point of clearly punctuating his paper with the word "cutting". Pierre gave me opportunities for research and publishing; I felt fortunate to be a male, and not a female judged on her physical appearance.

Another University College colleague sharing the same reputation was Pierre Robert, the first to address me by the familiar tu. He was later (in 1969) to receive the appointment of first Chair of the department, succeeding Rouillard, set up the highly successful Nice summer programme, the first such France-Toronto venture, employing French-speaking faculty members from various University of Toronto departments, with a former colleague of his, Michel Sanouillet, who had moved back to Nice, and instituted the democratically elected Senior Committee of the department, with representatives of the lecturers, assistant professors, associate professors and professors. Up to that point all policy decisions had been made by the senior faculty members of the department.

My duties included monitoring sessions in the language laboratory. The executive director of the lab, Pierre Ducretet, was instrumental in my involvement with computers, in the days of IBM punch-cards and before those of the screen. His concordance of Voltaire's Candide was one of the first to be published in Canada.

At meetings of the Combined Departments of French I was struck by the facts that the Chair wore his collar back to front, and that the secretary was a nun. Kay Grisé was later to doff her habit and marry a colleague, Cam Tolton, from Victoria College, then, fortified by her expertise in 17th-century French literature, serve on two occasions as Acting Chair of the Department of French. I succeeded Kay as secretary during the last year of the Combined Departments (1974-5), which brought me into contact with Ted Walker, my boss (Chair) from Victoria College, and Alex Waugh and Bill Bateman, both of Woodsworth College, which ran the Department's evening and summer programmes. I served a second year as academic secretary of the fledgeling University Department of French.

I served on a number of departmental committees during the course of my career, and particularly remember the congeniality and competence of two committee chairs I served under, Cam Tolton, of Victoria College, and John Walker, of University College.

Among the various Chairs of the University Department I should like to single out for mention Fred Case, who, besides chairing some of the best departmental meetings I attended and being an innovator in the field of Afro-French studies, encouraged me to put myself forward as a candidate for promotion to the rank of professor; and Janet Paterson, a specialist in Quebec literature and post-modernism, who asked me to run a conference on the use of the World Wide Web in French Studies. Both Fred and Janet bacame college principals, the former of New College, the latter of Innis College. Other Department of French colleagues who were appointed college principals include David Clandfield (New College), Paul Perron (University College) and Mariel O'Neill-Karch (Woodsworth College).

With David Clandfield I worked on two projects. First we ran Ciné-Cent-Quatre (which became Ciné-Cent-Six when the room at University College was renumbered). With money from the departmental budget we were able to rent unsubtitled French-language films, taken from the repertoire of the French and Quebec cinemas, sent from Ottawa and Montreal; our programmes typically included two shorts and one feature-length film, thematically connected when possible. Entry was free to all comers, and the 150-capacity or so room was usually packed each Friday evening. The two of us then experimented with film as a language-learning tool. In the project Ciné-français we did critical analyses of three French and four French-Canadian unsubtitled short films and then shot an explication de texte de film at the Media Centre, half of the cost being borne by the Department and half by the Media Centre. In a fifty-minute session held in one of the classrooms of the Audio-Visual Centre at the Sigmund Samuel Library the students watched the film, then the analysis (explication), and finally the film a second time, in the hope that they would understand more French the second time around. The voices used in the explications were those of Francophone colleagues whom we liked and who spoke well, Marie-Renée Cornu, Pierre Bouillaguet, Nicole Maury and Philippe Lafaury.

David's academic career was typical. He was hired as a medievalist at a time when Medieval Studies were held in high esteem in departments of modern languages, and taught something else, in his case language practice (like everyone else) and the Canadian cinema, in which field he became an authority and published several books. When he arrived in Toronto he was working on his doctoral thesis on St. Margaret of Antioch. During my first sabbatical leave, spent mainly in East Anglia, I scoured the churches of the area for St. Margarets, finding one depicted on the vestments of an effigy of John de Sleford engraved on a monumental brass, and others on bench ends or in stained glass.

David and I also collaborated in our teaching of the two sections of a first-year language course offered one summer session. The texts we used included a Tintin album and a cinematic adaptation in modern dress of one of the fables of Jean de La Fontaine. After class we exchanged ideas on the tennis court of the Graduate Students Union. The squash courts of the Athletics Building were the scene of another pedagogical collaboration. Gabrielle Saint-Yves and I taught two sections of another language course. Afterwards Gabrielle had great success in fostering an interest in Quebec culture and the French language at Drew University in New Jersey, before returning to Toronto to undertake under my supervision a doctoral dissertation on French-Canadian dictionary-making. She then went to Université Laval in Quebec to undertake research before becoming a valued member of that university.

After one morning session with Ciné-français colleague Philippe Lafaury the two of us went to the office of his St. Michael's College colleague Jean-Claude Susini, with whom I taught language courses. His desk had been transformed into a restaurant table complete with white linen tablecloth, silver cutlery, silver cruets and crystal wine glasses. In one corner he had a stove on which he pan-fried three succulent steaks, which were then accompanied by salad, a baguette and a bottle of Bordeaux claret. Jean-Claude's office was the most extravagant I ever saw, with original paintings and tapestries on the wall, and an Afghan rug on the floor on which were set two elegant armchairs.

Before money for cultural activities dried up the Department held each February a French or Quebec Week, with cabarets, plays, readings and films, and the visit of a celebrity such as the Quebec writer Roch Carrier (novels and short stories) or the Franco-Spanish surrealist Fernando Arrabal (particularly films). Work on these brought me into close contact with colleagues Raymond Brazeau, Ben Shek (both specialists of Quebec literature) and Pierre Léon (the "Renaissance man" of the Department). Those were also the days of the visiting professor. The Department of French was visited for one year each by several luminaries, such as the linguist and literary critic Henri Mitterand, whom I had had as instructor at the Université de Besançon.

After I emerged from the ivory tower to which I retreated for several years, I collaborated with several colleagues of the Department of French on a variety of activities. Brian Merrilees, a specialist of Anglo-Norman who had made a study of the French contained in Firmin Le Ver's manuscript Latin-French dictionary, and I, who had made a study of the first century of French lexicography (roughly 1531-1628), together directed the doctoral research of Jean Shaw on the print dictionary in France in the late 15th and early 16th centuries.

Charles Elkabas, an expert in language didactics (the study of language teaching and learning) although he had written his doctoral dissertation on Émile Zola, and I wrote a language textbook based on a computer-assisted analysis of a novel by Georges Simenon. We also wrote several articles on an approach to language learning based on the use of the World Wide Web.

David Trott, a specialist of Ancien Régime theatre (French theatre of the 17th and 18th centuries) and experimental language teacher, joined Charles and me in the writing of two of these articles. David and I met frequently, often over a meal or a beer, and collaborated on various aspects of language teaching and the theatre. With the assistance of a junior colleague at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM), Julie Cabri, we published an online database of 222 Ancien Régime plays (including the complete theatrical works of Pierre Corneille, Molière, Jean Racine, Pierre de Marivaux and Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais). When he died, at the age or 63, he was engaged on a research project on voice in the theatre. He made a particular study of private performances of plays (Voltaire, for example, had a home theatre), documenting them in a statistical database, and was highly regarded in France as an authority on Ancien Régime theatre.