The Ottawa Franco-Ontarian Festival–Listening to and Expanding Francophone Culture

Every year, in september, the National Capital Region vibrates to the sound of Francophone music generated by the Ottawa Franco-Ontarian Festival. The event, which was created in 1976, has grown over the years and today features inclusive and diverse programming. Franco-Ontarian artists are showcased alongside emerging artists and stars of Francophone music from Canada, Europe and Africa. To prepare the next generation, students from the Ontario Francophone school system have been taking part in this event for many years. The programming of the Festival, particularly the music component, is also based on diverse forms of entertainment, such as the culinary arts, to make this event a celebration that attracts Francophones and Francophiles, as well as the curious from all origins. The Franco-Ontarian Festival marks the beginning of summer and it delights thousands of spectators and hundreds of participants of all ages in the very heart of the Canada’s National Capital.

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Hospitality and openness of Franco-Ontarians

The initial objective of Ottawa region Franco-Ontarians, who, in 1976, created a “Semaine française,” the ancestor of the current Franco-Ontarian Festival, was to celebrate Franco-Ontarian cultural pride. Since then, the event has been fuelled by the changes in Canada and it has also taken on the mission of making as many people as possible appreciate this culture. The Franco-Ontarian community, just like Canada and the City of Ottawa, has become increasingly diverse. Immigrants of all origins are increasingly finding their place and the organizers of the Festival wish to reflect the diversity that exists in the Ontarian and Canadian Francophonie. To reach out to the greatest number visitors possible and residents of the Ottawa region, they have integrated into the Festival a major parade throughout the streets of Ottawa and entertaining activities at the By Market. Thus, participants experience more intensively this inherent dimension of Canadian culture: the richness of its Francophone roots and its contemporary Francophonie that is open to the world.

Transmission of a heritage

The organizers take advantage of the time of the year when the Festival takes place (just before the end of the school year) to ensure the participation of hundreds of students from the Ontario Francophone school network. They pass on to them a love of the French language and give them an opportunity to live an exceptional experience, for example during the Culture en fête–Enraciné vers l’avenir (a culture in celebration, rooted toward the future) show that has marked the beginning of the Festival for a number of years, a few hours before the major opening concert. Thousands of students also come to listen to Francophone artists and enjoy themselves at school matinées.

With respect to the professional succession, the Festival has established, in collaboration with the l’Association des professionnels de la chanson et de la musique (the association of songwriting and music professionals), the Rond Point residence for artists, which allows writers-composers-singers or “emerging” music groups in Ontario, of all musical styles, to develop their talents and perform on the Festival’s main stage, surrounded by a team of professionals.

A major Franco-Canadian event

Since its creation, the Ottawa Franco-Ontarian Festival, has constantly renewed itself to adapt to the needs of the Franco-Ontarian community and to public demand. The Franco, as it is commonly called, is the only large-scale festival that takes place only in French in Ottawa. It slowly found a niche as one of the most important festive events of Canadian Francophonie, particularly since the arrival in 2006 of a company specialized in events management, which focused on the event’s unifying aspect. Since then, the number of activities and participants in the various streams of the Festival has been increasing steadily. Bringing the Festival back to Major Hill Park, close to the Canadian Parliament and two steps away from the By Market in 2012 has something to do with it, as well as its increasingly selective artistic programming, its strong alliances with the Franco-Ontarian school network and the upgrading of the last day of the Festival, which always takes place on a Saturday. The day begins with performances for children and the Grand pique-nique de la francophonie (major Francophonie picnic). This is followed by the 5 à 7 Découverte (5 to 7 Discovery) which offers a gathering of food trucks, advice on how to match food and wine, and music by Franco-Ontarian artists. In the evening, stars of Francophone music close the event. After over 40 years of existence, the Franco-Ontarian Festival is just as young and dynamic as ever.

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