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For 1 small Ontario town, it’s déjà vu when it comes to French cuts

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There’s a storied history of fighting for French services in Sturgeon Falls, Ont., but you wouldn’t know it just driving through town.

The tiny West Nipissing community, tucked between Sudbury and North Bay, looks like many other small towns around the province, anchored by one main street lined with fast food restaurants and strip malls. It’s one of the province’s larger francophone communities; 62 per cent speak French as a first language. 

There’s no obvious mention of the fierce battle that took place here in the early ’70s known as the Sturgeon Falls school crisis. That’s when the town’s francophones fought for a French-speaking high school. Almost five decades later, that battle is drawing parallels to the current one for French services — spurred by the province’s proposed cuts and subsequent partial backtrack.

The PCs have reinstated the French language services commissioner position they planned to scrap and roll into the ombudsman’s office. They have also promised to make the Office of Francophone Affairs a ministry. 

But Ontario will not be restoring funds for a French language university they had promised. And that doesn’t sit well with Edgar Gagné, who sees another fight brewing to protect his culture.

He was in his first year teaching at the bilingual high school when the school crisis escalated and he headed the association asking the school board and the province for a French school. 

Edgar Gagné sits in his kitchen in Sturgeon Falls, hours before the PCs backtracked on some of their French service cuts. He expected it to happen, just not that fast. (Haydn Watters/CBC)

When he finished teaching for the day, he shifted into an organizing role, getting demonstrations and protest fliers ready. Students went on strike, locking out fellow students, teachers and parents.

« We were brought up not to fight against another person’s culture. We were brought up to defend our own … I always say, if francophones don’t stand up for their own rights, the anglophones certainly won’t, » he said.

« It’s not an issue for them. They have never had to fight for their cultural rights. »

‘Watch out, we’re coming’

The Sturgeon Falls fight took years, but francophones eventually got their French high school: École secondaire catholique Franco-Cité. It’s still in operation today. 

École secondaire catholique Franco-Cité was at the centre of the schooling crisis in the 1970s. Now students there have been plotting out their own protests to oppose the cuts to French services. (Haydn Watters/CBC)

Back in the ’70s, the province was supportive of francophone issues. It was the local school board in nearby North Bay that didn’t want the French school built.

Gagné says it’s different this time around.

« They’d like us to get in line. The boss speaks and [we] say yes. The boss jumps. We should say how high. Well to hell with the boss. We’re not going to jump, » he said.

The Franco-Ontarian flag flies over École élémentaire catholique La Résurrection, a French elementary school in Sturgeon Falls. (Haydn Watters/CBC)

« I’ve always said that to mobilize the francophone community, we always need a crisis. Well, we’ve got one now. We’ve got a new one now. And watch out, we’re coming. »

‘We need to mobilize’

Gagné is 75 now, so he’ll be sitting this fight out from an organizational standpoint.

He’s counting on young activists to lead the charge, like Alexandre Aimée Rivet.

Artist Alexandre Aimée Rivet works at the local museum. She said it is important to be polite while protesting. It is something she was taught at a young age. (Haydn Watters/CBC)

She’s an artist who works at the local museum and has travelled the province, teaching art workshops in French schools.

Rivet is particularly saddened about the cancellation of the university. She struggled when she was taught in English at university and was hoping future students would be able to learn in French.

French is thriving in Sturgeon Falls, a community in West Nipissing. An estimated 62 per cent of the community speaks French as a first language. The population is 14,115. (Haydn Watters/CBC)

« Working in French schools, we’re always having to defend that we’re French, » she said. « We are feeling a lot of pain that we’ve been feeling for a very long time … we need to mobilize. »

Inspired by protesting predecessors

That’s exactly what is happening at Franco-Cité.

Students there are taking inspiration from their predecessors in the ’70s. When the initial cuts were announced, they texted each other and planned an impromptu green, white and black day the day after — their first sign of protest.

Daphnée Veilleux-Michaud, a grade 12 student who sits on the school’s student council, has been busy organizing rides to Saturday’s rally in front of Finance Minister Vic Fedeli’s office in North Bay. He’s the MPP for the area.

Grade 12 student Daphnée Veilleux-Michaud sits on the student council at Franco-Cité. She also is involved with FESFO, a group for young Franco-Ontarians. (Haydn Watters/CBC)

The rally is part of a larger province-wide protest day, with around 40 demonstrations taking place in front of MPP’s offices.

Veilleux-Michaud said some of her friends have been scared to speak out, so she’s encouraging them to start small.

« You don’t need to do big stuff to demonstrate that you aren’t happy with what happened. You can just for example wear a pin with a small Franco-Ontarian flag on your shirt, » she said. « Little stuff may seem insignificant but it does a big impact on the big screen. »

Francophone protest day

  • Saturday, December 1
  • Around 40 demonstrations planned in front of MPP offices around the province — and not just at PC MPP offices
  • Protests continue despite the province’s partial backtrack

She’s knows she is far from Queen’s Park, where the decisions are made, but she’s eager to make a difference. She’s been using social media to coordinate protest and have her voice heard beyond her small town. 

« A lot of people don’t know where Sturgeon Falls is, » she laughs. « Even though we are a small community, we are going to rise up and just let the people know our voice. »

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Anglais

‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year

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In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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Anglais

MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal

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MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.

STUDIO SHORTAGE

The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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Anglais

Birdhouse Wingerie & Bar is the Latest to Hatch in West Island’s Bubbling Restaurant Scene

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Wings are the thing at the latest restaurant to make its mark on Montreal’s West Island: Birdhouse Wingerie & Bar.

At the buzzy new Dollard-Des Ormeaux eatery, the bird limbs come aplenty, with a menu listing eleven “wet & messy” wings, including smoked apple habanero, sriracha lime, and cherry cola BBQ; and four — cacio e pepe, ketchups chip, Nashville hot, and the garlicky, lemon pepper “vampire slayer” — dry rub flavours. They come 10 for $18 or 20 for $34, plus the option of ranch, parmesan, or blue cheese dipping sauce.

Tacos, nachos, poutines (one made with bone marrow, another with tater tots), smashed burgers, salads, and a classic buttermilk fried chicken dinner are just sampling of the other dishes that round out the offering. On the drinks side, there are cocktails, sangrias, and spiked milkshakes in popular chocolate bar flavours: After Eight, Skor, Bounty, or Reeses.

Opened on July 5, Birdhouse is among a recent influx of restaurants to grace the island’s western end, including birria taco slinger Tacos Don Rigo and barbecue joint Smoke Box — a double whammy in the same Pierrefonds area strip mall. That comes in addition to plans for Fairview Pointe Claire’s incoming “District Gourmand” (slated to usher in Tommy Café), and, of course, a number of the area’s longer-standing stalwarts — from southern belle Bistro Nolah to old-school casse-croûte Smoked Meat Pete — that have helped bolster the West Island’s culinary credentials.

The brand-new Brunswick Boulevard restaurant is the brainchild of Montreal entrepreneur Lorne Schwartz, restaurateur George Massouras (of Madisons and Arahova Souvlaki), and among the other partners involved, Brahm Mauer, son of the founder of beloved buffalo hot wings expert Wings ‘n’ Things. Mauer has tried his hand at reviving the original Wings ‘n’ Things recipe — the restaurant originally opened in 1986 — over the years, including with a Royalmount Avenue location in 2012, then as a roaming summertime food truck and NDG pop-up. That same truck has now been made over with a Birdhouse-branded livery to be deployed for private events.

A likely draw to many, Birdhouse is reprising the “famous flavours, untouched” of the once-upon-a-time NDG staple, represented on its menu as “The Legendary WNT Buffalo” chicken wing.

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