The smell of fresh French pastries fill the air as a theatre troupe rehearses for an upcoming stage performance. In nearby rooms, students of all ages learn the language as they’re introduced to French culture and history, with a variety of games and activities.
In an open area, artists bring their inspirations to life as musicians play.
That’s the sort of thing Thomas Gallezot envisions when he talks about efforts to establish a French cultural centre in Guelph.
“I know just from intuition that this will be a great thing,” he said. “Every town in Ontario should have a place like this.
“This is not a project that is meant for the francophone community (specifically),” he added. “There is a francophone community (in and around Guelph), sure, and it’s active … but this is supposed to be a house for everybody.”
Without support and interest from anglophones, Gallezot said the centre will never become a reality as the local francophone community is simply too small to go it alone. Besides, a driving force behind it is to expose more people to French culture.
While not an entirely new idea, the concept has been gaining momentum as of late, with people sharing ideas and showing support on Gallezot’s Facebook page titled “Une maison de la francophonie à Guelph?”
"It just sounds like a really great community-building activity," said Margot Irvine, director of the school of languages and literatures at the University of Guelph, who is a member of the Facebook group. "There's a lot of interest in learning French in the elementary and high schools in Guelph already. This would give another occasion to hear French, to be familiar with French culture.
"It sounds like a great idea for promoting dialogue between... English and French."
The effort is in its early stages, Gallezot explained, with plans in the works to create a committee of people interested in the idea and willing to push forward with it. He anticipates that committee will lead to the formation of a non-profit organization, fundraising efforts and community conversations about what should be included in the centre, followed by more formal planning and a search for a location.
“It’s taken off fast,” he said of the level of interest he’s seeing.
Gallezot’s Facebook group has 477 members, some of whom hail from Kitchener, Toronto, New Hamburg and more, though many call Guelph home. The page was created in late November.
He hopes it leads to the creation of a centre similar to ones found in Toronto and Vancouver which would appeal to people throughout southern Ontario and beyond.
While government grants may be sought to build the centre, Gallezot envisions it as a self-sustaining venture featuring private businesses and community space rentals to support its operation – something along the lines of the Italian Canadian Club of Guelph.
Gallezot has lived in Guelph for about a year. A native of France, he moved to Canada about 14 years ago.
“I think immigrants view Canada in a different way than people born and raised here,” he said, pointing to perceptions of conflict between French and English-speaking communities, including bilingual requirements on product labels and various government forms, etc.
“It’s not something horrible that Canada has to deal with,” he said, noting Canada exists as a nation because anglophones and francophones came together for its birth. “We should be more interacting with each other, more sharing of culture with each other.”