As we enter February, billboards around the city are calling on people to “Be Voyageur!” Festival du Voyageur (FDV), a Winnipeg tradition which began in 1970, will mark its 47th anniversary this month and will take place from Feb. 12 to 21.
Festival is a time when Winnipeggers and visitors get the chance to experience French-Canadian culture in abundance, whether they’re going for the food, music, sights or activities.
While hosting FDV, the neighbourhood of St. Boniface will experience more visitors this time of the year, as the largest winter festival in Western Canada makes its presence known.
February is a month when French-Canadian culture is celebrated by people of all ages. However, Festival isn’t the only marker of Winnipeg’s Francophone culture.
Other than FDV, where else do we see Franco- Manitoban culture?
In Winnipeg, the majority of our print news outlets like the Winnipeg Free Press, the Winnipeg Sun, and Metro Winnipeg, are English-based. Most radio stations are offered in English with the exception of some. Where does the French population in Winnipeg turn to get their news and music in French?
The radio dial turns to Envol 91.1 FM for those wanting to hear community-run Francophone radio. Annick Boulet, executive director of Envol, believes that community radio is important.
“The preservation of the French language and culture in Manitoba needs French services and cultural activities in order to survive,” Boulet says.
“This is a place where we not only broadcast French music, but most specifically, it’s a place where French musicians can be played and heard on-air. In doing this, we help promote the Francophone musical scene.”
Envol’s signal spreads 120 kilometres in Winnipeg and its surrounding areas. The radio programing is mainly conducted by volunteers, who each offer varying genres of content.
“A person needs to be able to exist in a language if they want to keep it,” Boulet says.
La Liberté is a weekly French newspaper founded in 1913 by Archbishop Adélard Langevin. The Winnipeg based newspaper caters to Franco-Manitobans. La Liberté is often circulated around St.Boniface throughout businesses, coffee shops and restaurants.
La Liberté is a commercial newspaper which requires some readers to pay. It’s offered in print and online format.
Jacqueline Blay president of Société franco-manitobaine (Franco-Manitoban Society) describes La Liberté as “a mix of a community paper and a newspaper.”
“It has professional reporters and at the same time it reports on events in the community.They are very imbedded in the community,” Blay says.
Education en Français
French culture isn’t visible just in St. Boniface. We see a Francophone influence all throughout Winnipeg, whether there’s poutine being offered on the menu, streets named after saints or through the classes in our education system. In Winnipeg, the majority of schools from kindergarten to Grade 12 offer to teach French as a part of their curriculum.
Each of Winnipeg’s school divisions has various schools that offer French courses or immersion programs. Students that wish to pursue post-secondary education, advance their French, and also inherit Franco- Manitoban culture are often found at Université de Saint-Boniface (USB).
USB has been operating since 1818, and offers both undergraduate and graduate programs in various fields and as well as masters courses. Students at USB also have the option to pursue technical programs which range from one to two years.
And while they’re at school, they’re also reading French media, Blay notes.
“Every student in the Francophone school district reads La Liberté. They get it free of charge. The parents pay through a different means,” Blay says.
People that are interested in learning French as a second language can attend Alliance Française Manitoba (AF), a private based institution which operates on Corydon Avenue. AF is based out Paris, France and operates in various countries throughout the world.
St. Boniface is host to various Francophone businesses that cater to people who want to enhance the Francophone culture through artistic mediums as well. La Maison des artistes visuels Francophones is a hub for french art and artists.
La Maison is the only Francophone art gallery in Western Canada and was founded by a group of Franco-Manitoban artists with a bit of a different vision from a commercial gallery.
“The goal is to not necessarily run an art gallery that sells art first. It’s to inspire and to create an art experience,” Eric Plamondon, director of La Maison, says.
“Because we’re a minority, the focus is on creating a cultural experience so that anyone in Winnipeg or Manitoba who is around can come in and get a taste of what Francophone Manitoban artists are doing.”
Additionally, artists are represented bilingually, written and orally, which increases accessibility to all visitors.
La Maison serves Francophone visual artists from Manitoba, across Canada and sometimes other countries.
“We try to offer leadership in arts for Francophones everywhere,” Plamondon says.
Centre Culturel Franco-Manitobain (CCFM), is a crown agency that was enacted in provincial law to promote French language culture. It has three buildings and is home to 11 organizations, including Le Cercle Moliere, l’Alliance Chorale Manitoba, Envol 91.1 FM, Freeze Frame and more.
Some citizens outside of the Franco- Manitoban community may find CCFM as a host of socials at Jean-Paul Aubry Hall, or through the Folklorama festival, when CCFM hosts both the French-Canadian and Caribbean pavilion.
CCFM promotes culture by offering programing mainly in French and by providing space. The crown agency gives people the ability to rent space for meetings, weddings and socials, dinner functions, art galleries, and concert halls.
Le Cercle Moliere is a theatre and a school that hosts five shows a year.
It is the oldest running theatre in Canada to date and will be celebrating its 90th anniversary this year.
Marc Prescott, chief of operations at CCFM, highlights the importance of la Société Historique de Saint-Boniface and what it offers to citizens. La Société Historique de Saint-Boniface holds extensive genealogy records and artifacts.
“If you want to get your genealogy done you can come here to the heritage building. It’s very important for the Métis population here in Manitoba to be able to get their Métis card,” Prescott says.
“One of the ways you can get a card is by retracing your Aboriginal ancestry. If you do qualify, you do have to have your genealogy done to obtain your Métis card,” he adds.
“We cater to all Manitobans, whether they may be native Franco-Manitobans, people who come from Quebec or from France. We also have an increasing population of people who want to learn French which are known as Francophiles, which are encouraged to come,” Prescott says.
Festival du Voyageur
CCFM is also a partner of FDV. CCFM will be hosting guests during the festivities and also helps out with FDV marketing.
“We have halls and resources that are available to them (FDV), and very knowledgeable staff in event management. We partner with them on a number of levels,” Prescott says.
Promoting French culture is also a duty that FDV has taken on since the wintertime tradition began in 1970. FDV sees itself as the pinnacle of Francophone community traditions being celebrated throughout Western Canada. There are other events that also celebrate French culture in Manitoba as well however not to the extent of FDV.
“This is our 47th edition this year. The entire French community has embraced it and calls it their own. This is our time, this is our opportunity to showcase what’s great about being Franco-Manitoban and what’s great about living in this wonderful province,” Ginette Lavack Walters, executive director of FDV, says.
“We wouldn’t still be here if the community didn’t embrace us. We’ve gone beyond the French community. More than 60 per cent of our clientele is Anglophone,” she adds.
FDV also caters to many other cultures and people of different backgrounds, and isn’t limited only to the Francophone community. But through the 10 days of FDV, Francophones are able to share and express their culture.
“There are Filipinos that come, there are Afro-Canadians that come and are a big population in the province now. They’re starting to explore the event even though they’re not tied to the history,” Lavack Walters says.
“There’s something unique about our event (FDV) even though we show French culture. It’s very open to everyone.” “There’s just something energizing, warm, wonderful and loving about the French culture. It’s why we’re so popular in Winnipeg. I think people look for that.”
While there are many showcases of French culture throughout the year, FDV stands out because of the sheer scale of its event.
A great feature that FDV offers is that it also gives visitors the opportunity to experience Francophone culture from a contemporary perspective.
“If you want to see modern day Francophone community at FDV, you will find that on stage through entertainment. There’s loads of local talent in French and in English,” Lavack Walters says.
“We do try to showcase French artists that are trying to develop a career celebrating who they are as a Francophone.” Blay agrees promoting contemporary acts is valuable, but she also remarks about the time embracing Francophone culture began.
“Since the Francophones and Métis people founded the province, there’s a lot of pride in that aspect of the culture,” she says. “The culture is very varied and very rich. We have writers, we have musicians, we have theatre.”
Big rich pride deserves a big showcase, hence FDV.
“One of the biggest manifestations is FDV… the pride comes from the fact that it’s a rich culture. It’s an interesting culture.”
Published in Volume 70, Number 18 of The Uniter (February 4, 2016)