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Université de Saint-Boniface

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Université de Saint-Boniface (Français) (USB) is a French-language post-secondary institution in the province of Manitoba, Canada. USB offers general and specialized university degree programs as well as technical and professional training to a wide variety of students from Manitoba, the rest of Canada and some 20 different countries. Located in the St. Boniface neighbourhood in the city of Winnipeg and affiliated with the University of Manitoba, USB now has 1,250 regular students and more than 5,000 enrolments in its Continuing Education Division, which includes a language school. It is the only French-language university in Western Canada.

History

With its origins dating back to 1818 and established by Father Norbert Provencher (1787–1853), Université de Saint-Boniface is Western Canada’s oldest post-secondary educational institution. It had its humble beginnings as a small school where Latin was taught to the boys of the French-speaking Red River Colony.

The school continued to grow, and in 1855, Msgr. Alexandre-Antonin Taché (1823–1894) oversaw the construction of Collège de Saint-Boniface, a two-story building on the corner of Taché Avenue and Masson Street.

From 1866 to 1870, under the guidance of Bishop George Dugas, Collège reorganized its programs to consolidate the instruction of Latin, Greek and philosophy into a classical curriculum.

Incorporated in 1871, Collège was one of the first official institutions of the new province of Manitoba, which had joined Canadian Confederation the year before. In 1877, together with the Anglican St. John’s College and the Presbyterian Manitoba College, it helped establish the University of Manitoba. Collège served both francophone and anglophone Catholic students. Around the same time, Manitoba saw a major influx of French-speaking newcomers from Quebec as well as France, Switzerland and Belgium. In 1880, increased enrolment led to the construction of a larger building on the site of what is now Provencher Park. Annual enrolment at that time was around 300 students.

In 1890, French lost its official language status in Manitoba, and in 1916, the Thornton Act strictly prohibited French-language instruction in the province’s public schools. As a private institution, Collège remained in operation and even encouraged public schools to defy the government ban. French-language teaching continued clandestinely.

In 1922, a major fire completely destroyed the building, including all of its records and the 40,000-volume library; it also claimed ten victims. In response to this tragedy, Msgr. Arthur Béliveau, Archbishop of St. Boniface, donated the seminary (Le Petit Séminaire) on Avenue de la Cathédrale, the present location of USB. The English-speaking Jesuits founded their own college (St. Paul’s College) in 1925, and USB became a francophone institution, although it offered business courses in English until 1941.

The 1960s were marked by three major changes: the arrival of women in the classroom (1959), the beginnings of continuing education (including conversational French and French as a second language classes) and the institution’s transition to a secular administration (1969).

In 1975, Collège began to offer technical and professional programs, which led to the creation of the École technique et professionnelle in 1989. In 1983, high school classes were transferred to Collège Louis-Riel and Collège began to focus solely on post-secondary education.

The institution officially became the Université de Saint-Boniface in September 2011, following passage of the Université de Saint-Boniface Act.

Maintaining an historical connection

Despite its new university status, USB continues to be affiliated with the University of Manitoba, which it helped establish in 1877. Enshrined in the Université de Saint-Boniface Act, the affiliation with the University of Manitoba has valuable benefits for USB staff and students, and USB was committed to preserving this special 135-year-old relationship. University degrees will continue to be conferred by the University of Manitoba. However, graduates of the technical and professional programs of the École technique et professionnelle (ETP) will receive their diploma or certificate from Université de Saint-Boniface.

A pivotal hub of French-language education and of Manitoba's francophone community, USB now welcomes students from around the world and its reputation for excellence has spread far beyond Canada's borders.