The annual Franco-Ontarian Day celebration and flag-raising at the University of Sudbury took on extra meaning this year, given the recent passing of the flag's co-creators.
Both passed away in 2018 -- Michel Dupuis died at age 62 on Jan. 11, 2018, and Gaétan Gervais at age 74 Oct. 20, 2018.
Gervais was a professor at Laurentian University in 1975 and Dupuis his student when they created the white and green Franco-Ontarian flag, which has since become a symbol for Francophones across the province.
The flag was first raised outside of the University of Sudbury on the Laurentian campus 44 years ago, on Sept. 25, 1975. That day is now commemorated across the province each Sept. 25 as Franco-Ontarian Day.
Gervais' younger sister, Joanne Gervais, attended the event. She's the executive director of the Sudbury chapter of the Association canadienne-française de l'Ontario (ACFO).
She said Sept. 25 has a special meaning in her heart not only because she's a Franco-Ontarian, but because her brother is the flag's co-creator.
“I want to wish everybody a happy Franco-Ontarian Day,” Gervais said, adding that she hopes everyone celebrates the occasion “like you do St. Patrick's Day.”
The Franco-Ontarian Day celebration at the federated university was attended by a number of local politicians (and would-be politicians) and education administrators.
They included new University of Sudbury president Father John Meehan, Collège Boréal president Daniel Giroux, Paul Lefebvre, the Liberal incumbent in Sudbury who's seeking re-election in the upcoming federal election, Beth Mairs, the federal NDP candidate who hopes to win the Sudbury seat away from Lefebvre, the area's two NDP MPPs, Jamie West and France Gélinas, Mayor Brian Bigger and Senator Josée Forest-Niesing.
The event was one of Meehan's first as the president of the University of Sudbury. He started his new job Sept. 12.
Meehan is not a francophone himself, although he speaks French — he said he learned the language as a teen during a sojourn to France — and has Acadian roots (he's from Nova Scotia originally).
He said someone gave him a Franco-Ontarian pin Wednesday morning “and said they adopted me as Franco-Ontarian by adoption, so I'm quite proud of that.”
“This is one of my first duties as president,” Meehan added.
“I get to see how much support there is in the community for what we do here, for how we promote Franco-Ontarian culture. We have a Centre for Folklore here. We have many Franco-Ontarian students. They know this is their home. I'm very happy about that.”