THUNDER BAY – Nathalie Bedard is determined to do her part to keep French-Canadian culture vibrant.
Originally from Montreal, Bedard had one requirement when she moved with her family – there had to be opportunities for her children to gain a French education.
“I remember moving to Thunder Bay and my first question to my husband was whether there were French schools. I was not going if there were no French schools,” Bedard said.
“I have to share my heritage to my kids and it’s an advantage they can be bilingual and keep the French culture with them.”
Bedard, a teacher at École Secondaire Catholique de La Verendrye, attended the fourth Franco-Festival at the Sports Dome on Saturday.
Dressed in a traditional voyageur costume, she celebrated the occasion of marking 400 years of a French presence in the territory that is currently Ontario.
The struggle to keep the culture alive in an area that has become predominantly Anglophone has not been easy.
“The French culture has a huge importance in Canada, and Ontario in particular. We’ve been fighting to keep our rights here and we’re here and it’s good to let our presence be known,” Bedard said.
One of the most popular elements of the festival are the traditional staples of French cuisine, poutine and sugar pies.
It took on a special theme this year, emphasizing the enduring historical significance of the culture.
Event chair Claudette Gleeson says organizers have put a special focus on the past compared to past years, as seen with the formal opening ceremonies.
“We’re looking at the beginning and respecting our history and our relationship we have with the Metis. From there we’ll start from 400 years ago and then we’ll continue on to this day and age,” Gleeson said.
For the close to 3,000 Francophones in the city of Thunder Bay, the event has become an annual highlight and an occasion to promote their culture together.
It has been so successful that it has captured the attention of other Francophones across the region.
“It’s important for us to get together and celebrate together not only in Thunder Bay but with our friends from the entire Northwestern Ontario region,” Gleeson said.
“We’re expecting about 2,000 people last year and out of that I would say about 800 come from out of town.”
Musical entertainment is scheduled to begin in the early afternoon and then carrying in to the evening.
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