Celebrating Francophone art and culture in Alberta
Most Franco-Albertans are of French Canadian descent, but the community has become more diversified with the arrival of large numbers of Acadian workers and international immigrants. Francophones can be found for the most part in the metropolitan areas of Edmonton and Calgary, as well as scattered throughout other parts of the province, in Bonnyville, Plamondon, Saint-Paul, Saint-Isidore and Falher, for example. The community’s population is growing rapidly, and its vitality is supported by a number of cultural centres. Bonnie Doon, Edmonton’s French Quarter, is bursting with cultural and artistic activities. Theatre, which has always been important for Franco-Albertans, is as popular as ever, and Franco-Albertan singers benefit from a highly organized network. Almost all of the other artistic disciplines are also well-represented by Francophone creators. Famous author Nancy Huston is without a doubt the best-known French-language author from Alberta on the international scene.
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Discover the Cité Francophone in Edmonton
In Edmonton, where most Franco-Albertans live, several cultural events take place each year, especially in Bonnie Doon, where Francophone art is booming. This neighbourhood is home to Alberta’s French-language institution of higher education, the Saint-Jean campus of the University of Alberta, as well as the Cité francophone, a cultural centre comprising a number of Francophone organizations, including the Association canadienne-française de l’Alberta, the Regroupement artistique francophone de l’Alberta, UniThéâtre, La Girandole, Francophonie jeunesse de l’Alberta and an art gallery. Saint-Jean campus is also a cultural venue where numerous events popular among Franco-Albertans are held. Edmonton is also home to the Association des compagnies de théâtre de l’Ouest.
The importance of theatre in Alberta
While Franco-Albertan theatre per se is still relatively young, the passion for theatre in the Franco-Albertan community goes back as far as the late 19th century. The mid-20th century saw the performance of the great French classics, such as the plays of Molière. Today, the creation of Franco-Albertan works, in particular those by playwrights André Roy and Franco-Manitoban Marc Prescott, who wrote about Alberta, demonstrate the community’s artistic vitality. In 1992, two theatre companies, the Théâtre français d’Edmonton (1967) and the Boîte à Popicos (youth theatre company in existence since 1978), merged to form UniThéâtre, the only Francophone professional theatre company in Alberta. The company mounts an average of four professional productions each year. It has been very successful across the country, with plays such as Cowboy Poétréby Kenneth Brown and Fort Macby Marc Prescott, which were also performed at the Zones Théâtrales festival at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.
The annual Festival de théâtre jeunesse gives young Francophone and Francophile actors the opportunity to get up on stage and learn the trade from professional artists. Several companies also tour the community, in particular in Plamondon, Legal, Saint-Paul, Bonnyville and Rivière-la-Paix. In Calgary, the Théâtre à Pic, a cooperative theatre company founded in 2009 to revitalize Francophone culture in Calgary, took over from the Société de théâtre de Calgary, which had been active since the 1980s. The Théâtre à Pic mounts plays, hosts monthly improv meets and offers training for young people and adults. Lastly, the Association des théâtres francophones du Canada organizes writing residences at the Banff Centre.
Dynamic literature despite the lack of institutions
Several women writers share the literary limelight: novelists Marguerite-A. Primeau and Stéphanie Bourgault-Dallaire and poets Pierrette Requier and Josée Thibault, not to mention the famous Calgary native Nancy Huston. Huston won the 1993 Governor General’s Award for Cantiques des plaines, first written in English under the title Plainsong, then translated into French by Huston herself, who learned the language at school. Since then, Huston has written in both French and English, and now lives in France. She has also won several other literary awards. Roger Dallaire is well known for his storytelling talent. Since Alberta has no Francophone publishing houses or literary awards, many Franco-Albertan authors publish in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario or Quebec, including Guy Armel Bayegnak, Paulette Dubé, Jocelyne Verret-Chiasson, Nadine Mackenzie, Tchitala Kamba, Gisèle Villeneuve and Eileen Lohka.
A support network for a new generation of musicians
Several competitions and festivals showcase young musical talent in Alberta, including the Festival Edmonton chante, La Chicane albertaine and the Gala albertain de la chanson, better known as Polyfonik since 2010. Polyfonik is the provincial component of the Chant’Ouest competition dedicated to promoting young singers in Western Canada and the territories. A few well-known artists, including the band Postcript, Crystal Plamondon, Ariane Mahryke Lemire, Josée Lajoie, Raphaël Freynet and Les Twés, frequently tour Alberta and the rest of Canada. At the Saint-Jean Campus of the University of Alberta, the Saint-Jean choir, founded in 1937, is one of the oldest active choirs in Western Canada. In 2011, it was inducted into the Edmonton hall of fame in honour of its efforts to promote Francophone culture.
Other artistic forms alive and well in the community
Several traditional and contemporary dance groups share the stage in Alberta, including the Zéphyr company in Edmonton, Les Plein Soleil in Saint-Isidore, Les Blés d’or in Saint-Paul and Les Vol-au-Vent in Bonnyville. La Girandole, an association based in Edmonton, offers dance classes in various genres in French.
Established in Lethbridge, Société cInéMAGINE, an organization responsible for the promotion and development of French-language film in Alberta, organizes workshops and tours for young people, as well as the Rendez-vous cInéMAGINE and La Nuit des courts-métrages. Far West Productions, a bilingual production company, creates video and photographic content for a number of organizations. It also collaborated on a few projects with TFO (Télévision française de l’Ontario).
In terms of visual arts, the Société Francophone des arts visuels de l’Alberta promotes Francophone art and culture. Its Centre d’arts visuels de l’Alberta distributes, promotes, exhibits and sells works by Franco-Albertan artists. Sculptor Herman Poulin of Saint-Paul has created several works of public art, the most famous of which is a statue paying homage to Alberta’s Catholic nuns, which is exhibited in front of the Alberta Parliament building.
Community cultural activities and organizations
Several cultural activities and festivals take place each year in Alberta’s Francophone communities, including the Fête franco-albertaine, the Carnaval de Saint-Isidore and the Festival des sucres de Calgary. For the past few years, the Flying Canoë Volant festival in Edmonton, inspired by the French Canadian legend of the Chasse-galerie, which also pays homage to the First Nations and the Métis, has been extremely successful. Cité Francophone in Edmonton and Cité des Rocheuses in Calgary also organize several cultural and artistic activities. Elsewhere in Alberta, these types of activities are promoted by the regional service points of the Association canadienne-française de l’Alberta.
Francophone artists representing the community in Alberta
The Franco-Albertan community is dynamic, thriving and increasingly diversified. Its many cultural and artistic institutions and organizations promote Francophone culture and provide entertainment for the community. Whether in theatre, dance, literature or music, artists are the proud ambassadors of Franco-Albertans.