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Arts and Culture

Over the last 50 years, it can be seen that the Franco-Albertan community of Edmonton has been involved in many cultural activities. As always, the city is a centre which gathers Franco-Albertans from all parts of the province, who have come to the city to study or to work, as well as French-speaking migrants from other parts of the country who have come here to work. From time to time, immigrants from French-speaking countries, as they did at the beginning of the 20th century, come here as well. We also welcome here, as it is done across Canada, refugees from many different countries, of which some are French speaking.

By 1950, the Franco Albertans had long established cultural activities, and these were promoted through the province wide “Association canadienne française de l’Alberta”, a cultural organisation, and the French language newspaper « La Survivance », both established in the late twenties. With the establishment of the CHFA, a French language radio station, in Edmonton in 1949, a new way of communicating became possible for Franco Albertans.

It must be noted that the second generation of Franco Albertans is bilingual, having learned English at school. This cohort involves itself in many activities which are not limited exclusively to French. Baseball, curling or hockey are typical examples, but one could just as easily add musical performances or dancing, or almost any pastime. It is the same for the work environment; where during this time there was little incentive to work in French. This is the case of four renown Edmontonians of French origins, recognized as having contributed highly to the city and who honoured during the Centennial celebrations of the city in 2004, the scientist Raymond Lemieux, the entrepreneur Jean de La Bruyère, the lawyer Louis Desroches and the financier Dr. Charles Allard. In Alberta, bilingualism is essential, and the cultural activities of the Francophones often overlap linguistically in English and French.

So it is that as the majority of Franco Albertans are functionally bilingual, they are also active in all types of activities, but they also remain involved in cultural activities in French. In the fifties, singing is very popular, and with the help of the religious communities, the Association des éducateurs bilingues de l’Alberta (bilingual school teachers of Alberta) and the catholic schools they work in, annual choral competitions are organized. These large gatherings permit school children from across the province to meet and socialize. In Edmonton, several adult choirs are established, of which, the Chantamis, Montéchos, Chant-o-gai, À Cœur Joie, and that of the Collège St Jean, among others. Some of these are still very active. A few of their directors have been Leonard Rousseau, Michel Landry, Laurier Bisson, André Boisvert, Sr. Thérèse Potvin and Laurier Fagnan. Some of these were (or are) music teachers.

During the seventies, the Alliance Chorale de l’Alberta organises choral workshops and concerts, a very popular activity. At this time, one also can see a rising interest in traditional dance, and the impetus seems to come from the establishment of a francophone dance troupe in St. Paul, led by the dynamic Lise Holeton. Her idea is so popular that the Blés d’or are soon giving workshops across the province, as people realize that teaching traditional folk dancing is an excellent way for children to practice their French and gives them a viable social outlet. In Edmonton, the dance troupe, La Girandole has now been in existence for 27 years, and typically of this type of troupe, provides lessons to children of all ages and to adults as well. Other styles of dance are also incorporated into the troupe, and summer workshops often include rap or jazz dance. As well, the influence of Irish dance has also been incorporated.

Youth organisations, such as « La Relève», established in the fifties has a role similar to the one which « Francophonie Jeunesse de l’Alberta » has had since the eighties. During the fifties, the church is still a rallying point, but as with elsewhere in the catholic world, there is some falling away. In Alberta, the Catholic church had played an important role as an institution which provided French services, but not without parishioners fighting for it. Although one Francophone parish has been closed in Edmonton, the other two continue to provide many instances for socialisation, as well as lending their parish hall for special occasions.

Franco Albertans enjoy the theatre, and there are theatre troupes in almost every community. When a play is mounted, the players generally go from community to community to present it. In Edmonton, the Théâtre français d’Edmonton (TFE) is established in 1966; in 1960, the first professional director is hired with funding provided by the Secretary of State (now Heritage Canada). In the early eighties, improvisational theatre became popular, and the Parish of St. Thomas’ first church, was transformed into a mini “ice” arena, complete with bleachers, painted lines and referees with whistles. The players raised the roof with their antics.

During this period, the first professional theatre troupe is established by Suzanne Lagacé-Aubin. La Boîte à Popicos tours across the province, visiting schools, and in this way helping children to better learn French. It is amalgamated with the Théâtre français d’Edmonton in 1992. Another professional troupe established during this time is Le Théâtre du Coyote. When very large events take place, they are held in large hall or theatres, sometimes in the Jubilee auditorium.

Although Francophones come to Edmonton from all parts of the province, there is also home grown talent. In the fifties and sixties, there was much pride in Robert Goulet who successfully made his career as a singer in musicals on New York’s Broadway. There are active opera singers and classical musicians, and the French community also presents French cinema for its members. It is still this way today, but the jazz and pop influences are much more to be seen. As well, special shows are organized for the musical scene to help local artists to achieve professional status. The “Galala” is the most known and is organized by the Centre de développement musical, which represents performing artists from across the province. In 2007, the Galala was held in the Transalta Art Barns, with a base at the “Café des Artistes”, operated by Joanne Blais at the Cité Francophone.

A new tradition is introduced in Edmonton with the « cabanes à sucre », or sugar shacks, in the later forties. The event attracts large numbers, and the largest space in town the « Edmonton Gardens » are being used in 1960. That year, the event’s organiser is Dr. A. Arès; 2000 persons attend to taste the taffy and enjoy the entertainment along with Governor General Vanier and his wife. Even if the syrup is brought in from Québec, the event is popular, and the tradition spreads to french immersion schools and later to french schools, as well as to other community organisations.

After the way, during the fifties, the French Consulate, which had been present in Alberta long before the war, begins again to organize events for the local French population. Small parties were held for the children of French residents of Edmonton at Christmas time. The Consulate moved to Vancouver in the 1990s, but, afterwards, the fourteenth of July events (Bastille Day) which were regularly held previous to this time were much regretted. At their afternoon buffet, the French citizens and the “who’s who” of the city, invited for the occasion, gathered for a few hours to enjoy fine French cheeses and “charcuteries” (cold cuts) and fine wines, served by attending staff.

In 1995, a group of artists, sculptors, painters, weavers, and practitioners of various arts and crafts wishing to avoid expensive fees at festivals to show their work, organized them into the Société francophone des arts visuels de l’Alberta, incorporated in June 1997. Subsidized by the Heritage Canada, and directed by the very able Gisèle Boutin-Desjardins, the society has a gallery and offers workshops in various regions of the province to school children and to adults. The Centre d’arts visuels offers 18 shows a year, and a very popular series, Jazz’Art, where invited visual artists prepare a work of art to the sound of live jazz music. In spite of some financial difficulties, the Society persists. All artists who show their work are either French speaking or of French descent. A surprising number of artists working through this gallery tend to reclaim their French culture and language which had been left by the wayside in the course of events. Web site: http://www.savacava.com

Another cultural group which incorporated itself is the Société généalogique du Nord-Ouest, a non-profit organisation which is interested in genealogy. In its fifteen years of existence, the Society has accumulated in its reading library a large collection of books and documents on the subject of French genealogy, as well as access to on line collections. The group has around a hundred members and all of its activities are managed by volunteers. A half dozen conferences are held each year on various subjects pertaining to history and genealogy, at least one of which is in English for its English speaking members or the general public.

Cultural activities in Edmonton in French continue to multiply, and today, most of these groups have web sites which can be useful for finding information.

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