FrancoFEST Hamilton: The Largest Celebration of Francophone Art and Culture on the Niagara Peninsula

FrancoFEST Hamilton is a widely anticipated yearly summer event held by the Centre Francophone Hamilton in Gage Park. It’s one of the largest and well-known francophone art and culture festivals in Ontario, and Canada at large.

Le Gros Orteil FrancoFEST
Performers Le Gros Orteil. Photo Credit: Helena Vallès

Part of what makes running a site like We Explore Canada so intriguing and, frankly, such a privilege, is the diversity of this nation. The diversity of language, culture, interests and the list goes on and on. However, it’s never been more clear that protecting and celebrating what makes this country unique is an active pursuit, not a passive one.

That’s why we genuinely appreciated the chance to visit Hamilton last weekend and to meet the team around FrancoFEST, the largest celebration of francophone art and culture on the Niagara Peninsula. FrancoFEST is the flagship event of the Centre Francophone Hamilton, an organization that aims to connect French speakers in the region, and to support local and French-Canadian artists.

About Centre Francophone Hamilton

The Centre Francophone Hamilton offers a French summer camp, seven theatrical shows throughout the year, and two community festivals, the largest being FrancoFEST. They also offer a ton of programming in the form of conversation cafes, book clubs, French language support, workshops, story time and more.

On their site, they note that:

“Activities are designed for all lovers of the French language, irrespective of nationality or language, and also to build bridges between the different cultures that enrich Canada.”

We had the chance to speak with Julie Jardel, the Executive Director at the Centre Francophone Hamilton, and she noted that they really want to fight to preserve the culture and the language in the region, largely because it’s never been easier to lose languages. Her approach to this, though, is very much about building bridges to other cultures.

That’s why she notes that “everyone is welcome” to attend and engage with their events and programming. In fact, FrancoFEST itself is typically attended by roughly half French and English speakers, but the important part is that everyone is there together, having fun, and strengthening bonds between communities.

“A language,” Julie noted, “is an open door to another culture.”

FrancoFEST in Hamilton, Ontario

FrancoFEST Hamilton is an annual event that is truly a one-of-a-kind arts and culture festival in the city. As you might imagine, it attracts some of the top Francophone entertainment and performers in the province.

Beyond just performers, there are also free workshops and activities that are available for the whole family – everything from salsa dancing to African crafts. In trying to create a carnival-like festival, you can also expect ample circus arts, physical theatre and clown play throughout the two day affair.

La FrancoFEST de Hamilton 2022 (FrancoFEST 2022)

First and foremost, it’s worth noting that FrancoFEST will be taking place this year in Gage Park on June 17th – 18th. On Friday, it’ll be running from 5pm – 10:20pm and on Saturday it’ll be running from 12pm – 10:45pm.

For the sake of ease and reference, we’ll add the FrancoFEST 2022 Programme below.

FrancoFEST 2022
FrancoFEST’s 2022 programming. Photo Credit: FrancoFEST Hamiilton

Here are some of the highlights from the 2022 lineup:

  • Stef Paquette: Stef Paquette is a singer and comedian with over 25 years of experience in the arts. He’s known for his own large, impressive body of work, but he’s also known for sponsoring and mentoring other artists and initiatives in French Ontario.
  • YAO: YAO is one of a kind, and if you’re attending, you’ll want to make the time to check out his funky, poetic vibe. He’s a multi-award winning artist who has performed in 10 of the 13 provinces and territories, as well as around the world.
  • Adama Daou: Adama, originally from Mali, is a master of African percussion. He moved to Montreal in 2011, and since then has performed alongside world-class musicians along with executing several creative residencies, receiving several grants, as well as many awards.
  • Hassan El Hadi: Hailing from Marrakech, Hassan is an accomplished composer and singer, and is known particularly well for his talent on the oud. He moved to Quebec in 1995 where he formed the Hassan El Hadi Group. Beyond the oud, he also plays the banjo, the hajhouj as well as several percussion instruments.
  • Breezy: Breezy is a singer, songwriter and musician hailing from Hamilton. He’s a rising star in Francophone music in this province!
  • Le Gros Orteil: They’re a company that’s focused on creating shows, events and workshops for young audiences. You’ll see their presence in full force at FrancoFEST 2022, and how they use improvisation to connect with festival attendees and provide lasting memories for children (and their parents!).
  • Samajam: SAMAJAM has become the largest percussion school in Canada with their teachers often welcoming up to 800 participants each week. In terms of FrancoFEST though, it’s all about creating a show that centres on active participation for kids and families. Naturally, this participation is centred around percussion and percussive dance.
  • Céleste Lévis: Céleste is a proud French Ontarian who grew up in Timmins, Ontario. She rose to fame on the popular Quebec TV version of The Voice, and just released her fourth studio album last year.
  • DJ Unpier: DJ Unpier is focused on putting French-speaking artists over beats that will get the crowd moving. He’s largely described as creatively weaving the sounds of EDM and pop together to create a fun atmosphere.
  • Mimi O’Bonsawin: Her songs are heavily influenced by her Abenaki and French-Canadian roots, and are the source of “love and creativity” in her music. She’s an award-winning artist, and is known for the honesty that shines through her work.
  • Hamilton Beat Harmonic: They do some really interesting stuff in terms of fusing samba, funk, hip-hop, and raggae. They aim to provide performances and music that help people get into the moment, and ultimately to dance and celebrate.
  • Makhena Guérin: Makhena is an Anishianabe-Cree artists that was born and raised in Ottawa. She aims to connect with the audience through dance, and particularly hoop dancing. Her goal is to break down barriers through dance.

We encourage you to look out for these performers if you’re able to attend the festival this year. They’ll all bring something unique to one of the largest Francophone cultural events across Canada. For information on future events, you can visit their website.

Clown Marco

Clown Marco at FrancoFEST
Hanging out with Clown Marco ahead of FrancoFEST. Photo Credit: Christopher Mitchell

Clown Marco, also known as Marco the Clown, has become a household name in Hamilton because of the way that he’s shown up and engaged with the community over the years, and especially at past FrancoFESTs. He’s been clowning for a whopping 28 years.

He is, in short, a true inspiration. He described himself, proudly, to us as “Canada’s only blind clown.” When we had a chance to talk to him he also rather casually noted that he was a three time Paralympian for wrestling.

Watching him engage with kids, and create the most elaborate, beautiful and ornate array of balloons for them is a genuine treat. We had the pleasure of seeing him in action at this year’s Barton Village Festival, also in Hamilton, and can already guarantee he’ll be a star at this year’s FrancoFEST and many more to come.

It was an honour to get a chance to interview him, and we wanted to share the following with you:

“It’s about the smiles on the children’s faces. Laugher is medicine because the moment you crack a smile on someone’s face, it changes everything.

I want to let the future of Canada know, our children, that there are two prominent languages in this country, and being able to speak both is a real asset. I was born in Sudbury, and I speak fluent French and English, and it’s opened up the doors immensely for me.

I started clowning at the age of 10. I’ve got an eye condition called Optic Atrophy. Clowning has taken me all over the place. I’ve mentored thousands of people and tried to motivate people to reach for the stars, whether that’s in clowning or something else they’re passionate about.

The impossible is only the untried.”

We want to thank Marco again, and it’s safe to say that he’ll always have a friend and supporter in We Explore Canada.

FrancoFEST Awaits!

This article is meant to let people know that this event is happening in very short order this year, but it’s also meant to let people know about all the Centre Francophone Hamilton is up to, as well as getting this event on the radar of folks for many years to come.

We should note that even if you’re unable to attend this year, you can still catch some of the live broadcasts of particular performances that will be streaming on their Facebook and YouTube channels respectively. You can find more information about that here.

Their other social channels are also listed at the bottom of that page, and connecting with them there is also a great way to stay information.

If you attend this coming weekend, we hope you have a wonderful time, and can attest to how much work the FrancoFEST team has put into ensuring it’ll be a memorable couple of days. It’ll be fun, but we also fully recognize that this is, at its heart, about celebrating and preserving our collective culture, and we’re all about that.

We want to humbly thank FrancoFEST, Hamilton Halton Brant, and Attractions Ontario for hosting us as media. All opinions are completely our own.

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