Franco-Ontarian artists: A national cultural gem
More and more Franco-Ontarian artists are emerging in drama, literature, music, dance, humour and the visual arts. Many of them are recognized on the French Canadian scene for the quality and importance of their work. Thanks to a number of Franco-Ontarian cultural organizations, these artists’ works and products can be found in most regions of Ontario. Franco-Ontarian television is also well developed, the Télévision française de l’Ontario (TFO) channel having been created in 1970. Three cities in three different regions play a key role in the development of artists, artistic activities and cultural events: Toronto in the south, Ottawa in the east and Sudbury in the north. Ontario’s Francophone community, numbering almost half a million, is the largest in Canada outside Quebec. These Francophones contribute to the vibrancy of the Franco-Ontarian artistic and cultural sector.
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The importance of theatre to the Franco-Ontarian identity
The first professional Francophone theatre company in Ontario was founded in Toronto in 1967. With the creation of the Théâtre du Nouvel-Ontario in Sudbury in 1971, Franco-Ontarian language and reality took shape for the first time in landmark plays such as Moé j’viens du Nord, ‘stie and Lavalléville. Since then, Franco-Ontarian theatre has taken root in every region of the province.
Several professional theatre companies (Théâtre du Trillium, Théâtre de la Vieille 17, Théâtre la Catapulte, Théâtre la Tangente, Théâtre français de Toronto, Compagnie Vox Théâtre and Créations In Vivo) regularly produce plays by Franco-Ontarian authors (Jean-Marc Dalpé, Brigitte Haentjens, Robert Marinier, Claude Guilmain, Michel Ouellette, Patrick Leroux). The plays Les murs de nos villages, Hawkesbury Blues and French Town have garnered both public and critical acclaim, and French Town by Michel Ouellette won the 1993 Governor General’s Award. Several amateur companies also produce a variety of plays.
Rich and diverse literature
Since the 1970s, French Ontario has boasted a vibrant and diversified literature. And since the creation of the first Franco-Ontarian publishing house in 1973, Sudbury’s Éditions Prise de parole, Franco-Ontarian authors have had the privilege of publishing in their own province. They even have a choice when it comes time to submit their manuscripts, because Ontario now has the largest number of French-language publishing houses outside Quebec: Prise de parole, L’Interligne, Vermillon, David and GREF. The Regroupement des éditeurs franco-canadiens, an organization dedicated to promoting French Canadian literature, is based in Ottawa. The French-language book fairs in Toronto, Sudbury, Hearst and Eastern Ontario, as well as the Salon du livre de l’Outaouais in the Ottawa region, also promote Franco-Ontarian literature.
Franco-Ontarian authors publish stories, novels, plays, short stories, youth literature and poetry. Franco-Ontarian literature took off in the 1970s, spearheaded by successful poets like Robert Dickson, Patrice Desbiens and Jean-Marc Dalpé, who is better known today for his plays. Other poets, including Andrée Lacelle and, more recently, Éric Charlebois, Tina Charlebois and Sonia Lamontagne, have won multiple awards. Ottawa’s Daniel Poliquin is undoubtedly the most well known Franco-Ontarian novelist. His talents as both a novelist and a literary translator have earned him numerous awards and distinctions since the 1990s, when Visions de Jude was published. Other novels, including La quête d’Alexandre by Hélène Brodeur and La vengeance de l’orignal by Doric Germain, have become Franco-Ontarian classics. La vengeance de l’orignal, published in 1980, was the first Franco-Ontarian bestseller, with more than 10,000 copies sold. Authors Didier Leclair, Andrée Christensen, Marguerite Andersen, Michel Dallaire and Margaret Michèle Cook have all won awards for their work. Despite its youth, Franco-Ontarian literature is extremely diverse and of exceptional quality.
An impressive musical repertoire
Music also plays an important role in Franco-Ontarian culture. Paul Demers’ song Notre place, written in 1989, was named the official anthem of Franco-Ontarians in 2017. Like Franco-Ontarian literature, Franco-Ontarian music has its roots in Sudbury. In 1973, the first edition of La nuit sur l’étang, a landmark event in the history of French Ontario, took place amid a resurgence of Franco-Ontarian identity and cultural activity. Musicians, poets, playwrights and visual artists participated. By 1979, the event was devoted almost exclusively to music, and a number of Franco-Ontarian singers and bands have performed regularly over the years. CANO musique (CANO stands for Coopérative des artistes du Nouvel Ontario, a group of multidisciplinary artists to which the musicians belonged), active from 1975 to 1985, was one of the most popular bands of the time, along with Garolou, whose repertoire was based on traditional music. In the 1970s and 1980s, Robert Paquette’s songs were popular in Quebec and Europe. In 1986, the Ontario Pop competition (now Rond Point) served as a launching pad for emerging Franco-Ontarian artists. In 1990, the Association des professionnels de la chanson et de la musique afforded artists greater visibility and access to better distribution of their music.
Since the 1990s, Franco-Ontarian music has seen impressive growth. The bands Swing, Deux Saisons, Brasse-Camarade, En bref, Konflit Dramatik and Afro Connexion, and singers Marcel Aymar, Damien Robitaille, Stef Paquette, Andrea Lindsay, Tricia Foster and YAO have been extremely successful. Franco-Ontarian music has become more diversified, and Franco-Ontarian artists now perform across Canada and around the globe. Singer Véronic Dicaire, known for her talent as an impressionist, performs regularly in Europe and the United States. Younger artists are also doing well; most promising are Mehdi Hamad, Mélanie Brulée, Céleste Lévis and Gabrielle Goulet, as well as the bands Georgian Bay, Moonfruits and Pandaléon.
The diversity of media and performing arts
Thanks to TFO, Franco-Ontarians have access to French-language television content created by and for Franco-Ontarians. Television productions for preschool and school-age children are particularly popular around the world, thanks to TFO’s multiscreen initiatives (television, Web casting and mobile applications). Visual artists receive support from the Bureau des regroupements d’artistes visuels de l’Ontario (BRAVO), with four regional offices. Sculptors Laurent Vaillancourt, Maurice Gaudreault and Laurette Babin, painters Clermont Duval, Shahla Bahrami and Marc Charbonneau, and multidisciplinary artists Sylvie Bélanger, Yvan Dutrisac, Joseph Muscat and Ginette Légaré are only a few of the 300 professional visual artists working in French Ontario. The Galerie du Nouvel-Ontario in Sudbury, Jean-Claude Bergeron in Ottawa and Le Labo, a Francophone media arts centre in Toronto, play an important role in the visual arts. Lastly, a few Franco-Ontarian comedians are now widely known in Quebec, where there are numerous performance opportunities: Ottawa’s Patrick Groulx, Saint-Bernardin’s Katherine Levac and Hawkesbury’s Julien Tremblay.
L’écho d’un peuple, an example of the impact of festivals and cultural events
From 2004 to 2008, a collective artistic project in Eastern Ontario, L’écho d’un peuple, was extremely successful. This multidisciplinary megashow highlights the role of art in the Franco-Ontarian community by raising funds to prevent the closure of Hôpital Montfort, the only Francophone hospital in Ottawa. Several festivals and cultural activities also take place in French Ontario each year: Franco-Fête de Toronto, Franco Fierté, Francophonie en fête and Ciné-franco in Toronto ; the Festival frano-ontarien in Ottawa; and La nuit sur l’étang in Sudbury. Saint-Jean-Baptiste day is also celebrated with a show and a variety of festive activities in many Francophone communities. There are also a number of festivals in Franco-Ontarian schools: the Festival de Théâtre Action, the Festival de danse, Vision’Art (visual arts), and Quand ça nous chante (popular music). The Franco-Ontarian school system also has an improv league (L’AFOLIE).
French Ontario, a dynamic arts community
With its various institutions and organizations, the Franco-Ontarian community can be proud of its many resources that foster access to cultural and artistic products created in the province. With eight professional theatre companies, some fifteen amateur companies, eight publishing houses and several cultural centres and annual festivals, Franco-Ontarian arts and culture are well represented. In Toronto, Ottawa, Sudbury, Hearst, Windsor and the other regions of Ontario where Francophones live, the arts scene is alive and well and holds a promising future.