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Azilda's Café-Heritage festival organizers have some big plans

Event at Whitewater Lake Park celebrated its fifth anniversary this year, while eyeing the future

Azilda's Café-Heritage festival celebrated its fifth anniversary over the weekend, but organizers have said they have big plans to expand in the coming years.

“What we're trying to do is tell Canadian stories and tell local stories,” said Gary Michalak, executive director of Café-Musique, which organizes the festival located at Whitewater Lake Park. “We don't bring in the big superstars. What we do is promote local talent.”

Each year, the festival has put on a production that tells a story about Canada's history.

This year's production was about Louis Riel, one of the founders of the province of Manitoba, and a political leader of the Métis people.

Michalak said Café-Musique has a big production planned for Canada's 150th anniversary next year, and wants to expand into more local stories.

Thanks to a grant from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation, Café-Musique has hired a researcher to help tell the story of Rayside-Balfour, and the transition from the fur trade to the railways, farming and forestry.

Those local stories include the life of Azilda Bélanger, the first female pioneer to settle in the region.

Michalak said there is also an important story to tell about the September 1906 train wreck in Azilda that killed a dozen people and injured 40 more.

“The farmers dropped everything and instantly helped the passengers that were hurt,” he said.

Michalak also has ambitious plans to host Aboriginal games during the Café-Heritage weekend, and to put on a long-distance canoe race, attracting teams from around the world.

The goal, said Michalak, is to be more than a “plug and play” festival, featuring a rotation of musical performers.

“It's very important for us to celebrate community,” he said.


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Jonathan Migneault

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