February 26, 2016
Until July 2012 Catholic schooling was the only public education option in the town of Morinville, Alberta, embedded within the town’s historic francophone-Catholic identity. By 2012 town demographics had changed dramatically enough to challenge this pillar of Catholic hegemony. Catholicism had become the minority faith, and a demand for a secular schooling option galvanized during the town’s 2010 municipal elections. The argument seemed straightforward: Non-Catholic families have a right to choose non-faith-based education for their children, and so a secular option must be made available to them within the community. However, the more complex issue was negotiating authority away from the town’s Catholic minority, mediated through educational institutions and schooling as fundamental loci for reinforcing and reproducing Catholic hegemony. Through an administrative anomaly embodying the legacy of Canadian colonial history, non-Catholic families were unable to petition to establish a secular option in Morinville via Alberta’s School Act (2000) and s. 93 of the Constitution Act (1867) because they did not represent the minority faith. New legislation – The St. Albert and Sturgeon Valley School Districts Establishment Act [Bill 4] – creating an exception was necessary to facilitate a solution. This paper examines the sociohistorical context in which this secular school episode in Morinville unfolded; how Catholic hegemony was asserted against external challenges, as well as internal challenges that were constructed as “external”; and how Catholic hegemony is being reasserted through an emergent “First Families” narrative that resituates legitimacy and authority with heritage linked to Morinville’s francophone-Catholic founders.