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  • Jasmine Heesaker

French Across Canada (Part 1)

Updated: Jan 21, 2020

More than just Quebecois? C’est pas vrai!


As a French to English freelance translator, you could say I'm a bit of a francophile... and living in Canada has really solidified my love for the French language and unique French culture that comes with it. As many of you may know, Canada is widely considered as a bilingual country. A quick trip to the grocery store will show you just how much it actually does permeate our everyday lives. However, when most people think of French and Canada their mind immediately goes to Quebec. I mean, I don't blame them, Quebec certainly is the epitome of French-Canadian culture, BUT there are in fact French speakers and unique French-Canadian cultures scattered across the country.

Today, I'm going to shed a bit of light on the beauty of the French language and culture in other provinces throughout my charming and diverse country. This is just a small taste of what French culture is like in 5 other Canadian provinces out there in the icy abyss. I might just have to cover the rest of the provinces in another blog post! Comment below if you would like to see me tackle something like that.

1. Manitoba

Situated right smack dab in the centre of Canada, this little piece of prairie has a French culture all its own. Not only is French language education taken pretty seriously here, seeing as French Immersion classes are offered in most schools starting in elementary right through to high school, but Manitoba is home to the Université de Saint-Boniface, the oldest and the only French-language post-secondary educational institution in Western Canada. Manitoba also boasts Western Canada's largest winter festival, Festival du Voyageur, which celebrates Franco-Manitoban culture, including French music, food, history and culture all wrapped up in 10 days of bilingual bliss. Nestled in the heart of Manitoba's capital city of Winnipeg, is the neighbourhood of Saint-Boniface—essentially "little Quebec." Not only will you see French street signs but French store fronts, restaurants and government institutions. Franco-Manitobans are also extremely proud of their Métis heritage. Louis Riel figures prominently as a symbol of French culture in the province and is celebrated on Louis Riel Day in February every year. Winnipeg is also home to a French theatre company called Cercle Molière that puts on several well-attended French theatre shows every single year. The CCFM, Alliance Française and the SFM all promote, celebrate, encourage and foster French-language expression through various different means. Manitoba’s Francophone lines run deep in small rural communities in the south eastern part of the province like Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes, Saint-Claude, Saint-Pierre-Jolys, Saint-Anne-des-Chênes, Saint-Adolphe, Saint-Alphonse and Sainte-Agathe, just to name a few. The ruins of the old French Trappist Monastery in Saint-Nobert and Fort Gilbratar in Saint-Boniface are real cultural gems and are an ode to the French culture that still permeate this province's history.

**Check out this infographic on Franco-Manitoban culture released by the Government of Canada to get an overview of some of the points mentioned above.

2. Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan, Manitoba's friendly next-door neighbour—where French language and culture is alive and well! Did you know that french speakers in Saskatchewan are called Fransaskois? This term was coined in the early 1970s out of a need for provincial identification within francophone communities across Canada. Saskatchewanians don't mess around with their French education. Saskatchewan’s French communities have long been committed to the preservation of the French language within the province and fought successfully for their own French School Board Conseil des Écoles Fransaskoises which has now been in existence for over 20 years. Despite their numbers, Fransaskois celebrate their vibrant culture regularly with folk arts, visual arts, fine arts and performance arts, which all feature prominently in French language festivals, such as "Fête Fransaskoise, Nouvelle Scène, Fransaschante, Coup de cœur francophone, Rendez-vous Fransaskois and the Francophone pavilion at Saskatoon’s multicultural festival, Folkfest. Saskatchewan also has its very own professional Francophone theatre group La Troupe du Jour, which has been putting on French theatre shows in Saskatoon since 1985. Famous notable Fransaskois include Colorado forward Blake Comeau and beloved children's entertainer Carmen Campagne, among others. A Francophone community brimming with talent, the Le Chenail Cultural Centre, is an organization that celebrates French culture throughout Saskatchewan by hosting writing workshops, conferences, research groups, public lectures by invited speakers, dances, concerts, other artistic performance events and so much more. I would also highly recommend browsing the Fransask-moi website. It is a collaborated work aiming to gather the various contributions of members of the Fransaskois community. The site's main objective is to accumulate all forms of projects and medias from users to emphasize the rich Fransaskois history. As in Manitoba, French speakers once again find themselves the majority in several rural communities throughout Saskatchewan including Gravelbourg, Albertville, Duck Lake, Ponteix, Zenon Park and Bellegard.

**Check out this infographic on Fransaskois culture released by the Government of Canada to get an overview of some of the points mentioned above.

3. Ontario

Francophone culture and the use of the French language have a long and important history in Ontario. Ontario has the largest number of Francophones outside Quebec, with over 600,000 people identifying as Franco-Ontarians, meaning that they speak French as a first language. The Festival Franoco-Ontarien in Ottawa, La Francofête in Toronto, La Nuit Sur l'Étang in Sudbury, La Festival du Loup in Lafontaine are just some of the biggest French festivals in Ontario. These festivals range from music to art⁠—to food and dance. Both the Théâtre français de Toronto and the Théâtre du Nouvel-Ontario promote Franco-Ontarian culture through theatre productions that support local playwrights, actors and artists. The Vanier Museopark is the only francophone museum in Ottawa and one of the few museums dedicated to Francophonie outside of Quebec. In 2018, a monument was erected in Queen's Park in Toronto to "recognize the key role that Francophones played in shaping Ontario’s history and building a modern, open and inclusive society." Franco-Ontarians also highly value French-language education and have fought for the creation of 12 French-language school boards. In 2010, September 25th was officially dubbed Franco-Ontarian Day, which "recognizes and celebrates the contributions of the francophone community to the development of Ontario’s culture, history, society, economy and political structure." Of course, this brief introduction to French Ontario wouldn't be complete without mentioning the important role that French farming communities play in keeping the language and culture alive. In rural communities such as Kapuskasing, which reflects a unique blend of French Canadian, European and First Nations cultures, more than 70% of the population is bilingual (English and French).

**Check out this infographic on Franco-Ontarian culture released by the Government of Canada to get an overview of some of the points mentioned above.

4. Newfoundland and Labrador

Don't count the Maritime provinces out! French has played an important role in the early exploration and settlement of the maritime provinces, including Newfoundland and Labrador. In fact, Newfoundland was the first region of the North American continent to be visited by Francophone fishermen at the beginning the 16th century. Franco-Newfoundlanders, or Franco-Terreneuvians in French, represent merely a handful of the population of the province, but their culture continues to live on. French-speaking people can be found throughout Newfoundland and Labrador, but most are located in the eastern and western regions of Labrador and on the extreme eastern and western reaches of the island portion of the province. Each area has its own distinct way of speaking French that is a historical reflection of their economic and geographical conditions. St. John's is the capital of French culture in the province and is where most of the French-speakers in the province live. The Association communautaire francophone de Saint-Jean plans activities for the francophone community of the St. John's area and promotes the French heritage on the Avalon peninsula. Not ones to shy away from the winter cold, the Jeux d’hiver franco-labradoriens have been held every year since 1984 and feature a wide variety of activities for people of all ages. Not to mention, the Festival du Vent is an annual celebration of the francophone culture, local artists... and the wind! It takes place in November and includes an art, wine and cheese event, concert, music, visual art exhibition, food tasting, family activities, cinema and so much more. The French Shore Historical Society, located in Newfoundland, is a non-profit organization that was founded to preserve the natural and French cultural heritage of the communities of Conche, Croque, Grand Oies/St. Julien’s and Main Brook. In 2004, celebrations commemorating 400 years of French presence on the island took place, which helped revitalize the beautiful and diverse culture within the province. Last but not least, Memorial University offers French‑language programming for teachers who want to improve their knowledge of the French language, literature and culture. The campus also has a Centre d’études franco-terre-neuviennes, whose collection of archives preserves the findings of ethnographic research and the Francophone oral memory of the province.

**Check out this infographic on Franco-Newfoundlander culture released by the Government of Canada to get an overview of some of the points mentioned above.

5. New Brunswick

Welcome to "Nouvelle Acadie!" Native French speakers represent one third of the province of New Brunswick's population. It is the only Canadian province that is officially bilingual and is home to Canada's largest French-language university outside Québec, Université de Moncton. NB also hosts a whole slew of French cultural festivals and events, including Festival Acadien de Caraquet, Festival international du cinéma francophone en Acadie, La Froire Brayonne and Acadian Day just to name a few. Craving a taste of Acadian culture and joie de vivre? Check out the Pays de la Sagouine, Village Historique Acadien or the Kings Landing, where the history of French and Acadian people is on display for all comers! The Theatre L'Escaouette allows the public to enjoy a diverse mix of Acadian and French-language theatre performances, and the Restigouche Gallery celebrates the province's diversity through art, culture and history. The Acadian French spoken in many parts of NB has a very different flare from much of the French spoken across Canada, and has also led to a very specific dialect called "chiac." It is spoken by many Acadians in southeastern New Brunswick, especially among youth near Moncton, Dieppe, Memramcook and Shediac. Chiac can be described as the love child between English, French and Acadian heritages as it employs English and French simultaneously, side by side. It is so much more than "joual" or "franglais," it is a beautiful, interesting and unique language all its own!

**Check out this infographic on the French New Brunswick culture released by the Government of Canada to get an overview of some of the points mentioned above.

I hope you enjoyed this brief sneak peek into the different Francophone cultures in various Canadian provinces! I am always looking to learn more about my beautiful and diverse country.

Comment below and let me know what French culture is like where you're from!

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