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Support grows to bring French cultural centre to Guelph

In this edition of Following Up, Thomas Gallezot from Guelph hopes to increase efforts to bring a Francophone cultural centre to Guelph

Community interest in creating a Francophone cultural centre in Guelph, showcasing French-Canadian culture and talent, is growing, says Thomas Gallezot, who is spearheading the effort.

“Our goal is to build a cultural centre for everyone, not just for the Francophone population. It will be a cultural centre meant for the whole city that is centred in Canadian bilingualism," Gallezot said.

“The root of the idea is to build a theatre. That’s the core of the project, the most important part that we want to focus our efforts on. We want to build a multi-use theatre, a space that can be used for events such as theatre productions, teaching opportunities, and conferences."

So far, Gallezot’s idea has taken off with people showing their support.

"I've been in touch with various community members, educators and the University of Guelph. Various faculty members have shown interest. We are planning a pilot project, but nothing has been formalized yet. This could create the first cultural centre within the university, using existing university infrastructure," Gallezot said. "We could create a strong Francophone centre, and this could open a lot of doors for international students as well."

April Torkopoulos is majoring in French studies at the University of Guelph. As someone who is passionate about the language, she says a shared centre could provide many opportunities.  

“Thomas came to our theatre class in April, and he told us all about it. I knew, immediately, that I wanted to be involved. I have a passion for French and theatre. I think this is something that will benefit everyone and build community around French language and culture,” Torkopoulos said.

“It’s so important because Canada is a bilingual country, but I think we have a division between the English and the French language. We need to break the wall down and come together.”

Gallezot created a Facebook page in 2021, Une maison de la francophonie à Guelph? which now has 767 members from across Ontario.

He says there have been similar projects initiated across the country.

“That is where we are getting inspiration from. This has to be centred around culture. That is at the core of this project,” Gallezot said.

Torkopoulos says the project could be the start of something big, a French environment in Guelph for everyone to participate in.

“That’s so important because it’s not just for the Francophone community. It will be place where all cultures can come together with a purpose to learn and use the French language,” she said.

The project is still in the early stages with plans in the works to create a committee for those who are interested.

Gallezot's vision is for a cultural centre that could one day include a bakery or cheese store, a space where people can watch an award-winning film, have a fancy dinner prepared by a resident chef, listen to an emerging singer from Quebec City or admire the paintings of a resident artist.  

“For the moment, there is nothing concrete. We are still in the first steps of this project,” he said. "This is really something that we thought would be an amazing opportunity. What we are really doing at the moment is community consulting.”

Torkopoulos has joined the committee and says that she looks forward to working with Gallezot and the Guelph community.

“Thomas is open to any of my ideas and anyone’s ideas on the committee. I am hoping to achieve a community where we have a sense of belonging and an openness for everyone to be involved where we can increase diversity, build a community, and embrace and celebrate bilingualism and the French language,” Torkopoulos said.

The next step, Gallezot says, is to create a non-for-profit organization.

“I’m sure after this, the idea will grow. I think there is a lot of support for something like this in Guelph,” he said.

Gallezot hopes the formation of a non-profit organization will then lead to fundraising efforts, community conversations and more formal planning including a future location.

“After this, we have ideas to expand with services such as offering French classes and other multi-cultural events,” Gallezot said.

Gallezot has lived in Guelph for two years. A native of France, he moved to Canada 15 years ago.

He says the cultural centre could offer something for everyone, from inspiring art exhibitions, films showings, theatrical performances, and informative learning opportunities that can bring Franco-Ontarian history and culture to life. 

“I really hope this gets moving so that we can continue to generate attention. My thing is to maintain interest in this,” Gallezot said.

Gallezot says bilingualism is a tremendous advantage when it comes to education and work in Canada. 

"It’s huge. When you have two cultures at the palm of your hand, it’s too bad that they are not used. It benefits everyone,” he said.

Torkopoulos says the centre could offer a fun and relaxed environment to experience French language and culture.

“I think this will be an outlet where we will be reminded in all of the beauty of French,” she said.

In terms of Francophone culture, Gallezot says, it is a big part of what Canada is today.

“We need to share it. We should all benefit from it. The first time I spoke about this project, someone said, 'Well, what’s in it for me. Is it just for the French community?'” Gallezot said.

“No. The idea is to serve everyone. French is part of our common heritage. It belongs to everyone.”