If a person believes in his or her culture, they will be surprised what they will get in return, says Danielle Blais.
According to a news release from the province, which honoured the Sudburian this week with a Young Francophone Award, Blais represents the new generation that is redefining French language and culture in Ontario with a personal touch and a renewed commitment.
This is one of the reasons she was given the award, one of three that honour citizens who, through their conviction, determination and generosity, have made progress possible and played a key role in fostering a stronger Francophone community in Ontario.
“I'm really honoured to receive this award,” she told Northern Life. “I'm really involved in the community, but it's not something I do for the recognition. It's something I feel I have to do, I like to do it, and it's a part of me. I like to help people.”
Blais, one of only three people in Ontario to be recognized, travelled to Toronto on Sept. 25 to accept the award. Madeleine Meilleur, minister responsible for Francophone Affairs, presented the award. In return, Blais presented the minister with a jar of homemade ketchup. She said it's a Northern Ontario Francophone tradition to bring something homemade when you're invited someplace.
“When you go somewhere to eat, you bring wine, a salad or a dessert,” she said. “In the French community in Northern Ontario, anyway, we usually bring something homemade.”
The minister was surprised, she said, but “I think she really liked it. Everyone in the crowd had a good laugh.”
Blais defines herself as an actor. Growing up in the small Northern Ontario town of Hearst, Blais was very active in the Francophone community there, where she helped disadvantaged people, raised funds for the local French community radio and created an environmental club.
It's something I feel I have to do, I like to do it, and it's a part of me.
Recipient of the Young Fracophone Award
It seems her passion for helping others followed her to Sudbury. At the provincial level, she sits on several boards, notably Théâtre Action, La Nuit sur l'étang and ACFO du Grand Sudbury.
Even though she works for the pure passion of it, she is no stranger to the spotlight. A graduate of Laurentian University, Blais received several scholarships and awards during the course of her studies, including the Hélène Gravel scholarship, the Laurentian University Leadership Award, the Germain Lemieux award in honour of the renowned French Ontarian folklorist, and the Conrad Lavigne Bursary. Her resume also includes being president of Cercle du patrimoine oral franco-ontarien (CPOFO).
Right now, she is working with her finacé to establish a French-language travelling theatre troupe that will venture from community to community in Northern Ontario putting on plays for Francophone theatre-goers.
Just as she loves to communicate her passion for the world of theatre and folklore, and as much as she works tirelessly to promote the rich heritage of oral French literature and Franco-Ontarian culture, she encourages others to get involved.
“Believe in your culture, and you will be surprised by what you get in return for your commitment,” she said.
Every two years, the Ontario Francophonie Awards honour Francophones, Francophiles (people who, while not Francophones, promote the French language and culture) and young Francophones or Francophiles, who have recently made an outstanding contribution to the political, social, economic and cultural vitality and well-being of Ontario's Francophone community.
“It’s an honour to celebrate the remarkable accomplishments of these individuals who contribute, each in their own way, to the ongoing development of the Francophone community in Ontario,” said Meilleur.
The French presence in Ontario dates back nearly 400 years to the establishment of the Mission of Sainte-Marie-Among-the-Hurons (Simcoe County) in 1639, according to the news release.
Today, after four centuries, Ontario's Francophone community numbers 582,690, or 4.8 per cent of the province's total population (according to Statistics Canada 2006 census). It represents the largest Francophone community in Canada outside of Quebec.
The distribution of the Francophone population in Ontario is as follows: 41.5 per cent of Francophones live in eastern Ontario; 28.7 per cent live in Central Ontario; 22.5 per cent live in Northeastern Ontario; 5.9 per cent live in southwestern Ontario; and 1.4 per cent live in Northwestern Ontario.