The building housing the only daycare at the University of Ottawa is set for demolition, and community members say they’re feeling helpless in their efforts to save Garderie Bernadette.

The centre has served faculty, staff and students at uOttawa for more than 35 years, providing subsidized, bilingual care close to classrooms and offices. Today 50 families use the service.

In 2021, uOttawa informed staff that the Brooks Building would be demolished because of “construction defects.” They were told they would be given six months’ notice before demolition.

Three years later, supporters say there’s been radio silence from the university, even as concern grows demolition was looming.

Parent and PhD candidate Natalie Bruvels said she’s reached out to members of uOttawa’s board of governors, and the majority that she’s been able to contact “openly do not view child care as something they should fight for.

“We just keep hitting brick walls,” said Bruvels, who is also a member of the Save Bernadette Coalition, a group of concerned community members who are organizing to save the daycare.

Because of its subsidized childcare program, Garderie Bernadette isn’t just a resource for people spending most of their days on campus; it’s also a vital option for families who can’t afford any alternative.

“I don’t believe that having children is a human experience reserved only for the wealthy,” said Jess Tomas, a community organizer with the Association of Early Childhood Educators Ontario. “We have to keep this equity lens when we’re thinking about childcare.”

To see this centre close, it’s another affordable centre, another centre with spaces for infants and toddlers, another Francophone centre, that just doesn’t exist.

Amanda Quance, member, Child Care Now Ottawa

Amanda Quance, who is a member of Child Care Now Ottawa, says affordability is a huge barrier to child care in Ottawa. She knows all about that having paid more than $1,200 a month for child care for her son. Child Care Now Ottawa fights for accessible child care across the city and is lending its voice to the fight for Garderie Bernadette.

Quance said the closure of the uOttawa centre would be a tragedy. “To see this centre close, it’s another affordable centre, another centre with spaces for infants and toddlers, another Francophone centre, that just doesn’t exist,” she said.

Some 21.4 per cent of Ottawa’s population speaks mostly French at home, says Statistics Canada. The Save Bernadette Coalition says Garderie Bernadette’s bilingual approach to child care is unique and sought-after by multilingual families.

Quance says that the biggest priorities for child care in Ottawa at the moment are francophone spaces and spaces for infants and toddlers — two features of the care offered by Garderie Bernadette.

“Our communities are not monolingual,” Quance said. “There are a lot of French public schools in Ottawa, there are two French school boards. Francophone parents deserve childcare.”

The University of Ottawa has no plan to replace Garderie Bernadette or to offer a temporary space for the daycare to get back on its feet. The university said in a 2022 statement that it is “unfortunately unable to provide alternative space that meets the strict requirements for licensed daycare facilities.”

In the same statement, the university emphasized its commitment to “exploring future solutions for our students, faculty and staff.”

Moving forward, Bruvels said she hopes to see some progress on the work she’s been doing for the past three years. To her, Garderie Bernadette isn’t just a daycare, but a symbol of hope for underprivileged families.

“If you are keeping really marginalized parents out of these spaces,” she said, “it’s not just the type of world that you’re building on campus, but it’s the type of world that you’re building at large.”