Born in 1942, Mme Maria Chaput was raised in a francophone family in Ste. Anne, Manitoba, rich with French culture and with an unwavering dedication to their mother tongue. She would devote herself to ensuring future generations experience the same opportunity and freedom she had: to live life in the official language of their choosing.
Mme Chaput’s passion for language and minority rights was ignited when she went to enroll her eldest daughter in school. She and fellow community parents realized their French children had no choice but to receive an education in English-speaking schools. Mme Chaput and her colleagues faced court battles for decades as they fought for their legal right to access schooling in their official language. Thanks in large part to the tenacity of the community, the Division Scolaire Franco-Manitobaine was established in 1994 and today, the francophone division educates more than 5,000 students in 24 schools province-wide.
Mme Chaput believes strongly in the power of post-secondary education and yet it was not always within reach. The eldest of 11 children, Mme Chaput initially had to forgo university to stay home to help her mother, but years later while raising three daughters of her own, she proudly enrolled in classes at the Université de Saint-Boniface.
In 1984, Mme Chaput expanded her advocacy to the arts in the role of executive director at the Centre Culturel Franco-Manitobain. She understands the need to create in one’s native language, and has said, “If I couldn’t speak French, part of my heart would be missing.”
She served as the first female president of the Caisse Financial Group in Manitoba, and also brought the integrity she is known for to her post as vice-chair of the Board of Governors at the Université de Saint-Boniface, deputy director of the Franco-Manitoban Society, and director of the charitable foundation Francofonds.
Her historic appointment to the Senate in 2002 as the first Franco-Manitoban woman to sit in the chamber cast a national spotlight on her trailblazing spirit. During her 13 years as a Senator, Mme Chaput served on diverse committees, including agriculture and forestry, national finance, foreign affairs, and of course, official languages.
She put forth Bill S-209 four times to modernize the Official Languages Act, and pushed diligently for the language and cultural rights of francophones in settings as varied as airports, the Olympics and the Internet. Through it all, she has asserted that upholding French language rights is not simply an obligation or concession, but a central tenet and asset of the Canadian identity.
She has received numerous awards, including the Prix Riel of the Société Franco-Manitobaine, the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal, and the Légion d’honneur, the highest distinction awarded by the Government of France.
The University of Manitoba is proud to award a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, to Mme Maria Chaput, a driving force for language and cultural rights.