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The Heart of Francophone Manitoba
by Katherine Lagrandeur, Library and Archives Canada
Since the mid-1700s, Francophone Manitobans have described their part of the country through travelogues, legends, biographies, novels, historical essays and poems. But it was Gabrielle Roy, one of the most important figures in Canadian literature, who placed Franco-Manitobans firmly in our national literary landscape.
Postage stamp entitled Gabrielle Roy, 1909–1983, October 10, 1996
Born in 1909 in St. Boniface, Gabrielle Roy had a spectacular literary career. Her many honours included three Governor General's awards, one for the English version of her book Rue Deschambault [Street of Riches (1957], a collection of stories about her childhood in Manitoba. This little street in St. Boniface "as virginal as a country path stretching through thickets of wild roses" is so much a part of the collective imagination that the Manitoba government decided to create the Prix Rue-Deschambault to recognize the province's Francophone authors. Visitors to St. Boniface can also visit Gabrielle Roy's childhood home, which received a heritage designation in 2002 and opened its doors to the public in 2003.
Rue Deschambault, by Gabrielle Roy, Montréal: Libr. Beauchemin, 1955
Despite the achievements of this great lady of letters, it was not until the 1970s, when Quebec was affirming its unique character within Canada, and Francophones in other provinces were claiming their own distinctiveness, that Franco-Manitoban literature really began to develop.
Once again, St. Boniface was at the centre of this artistic activity. In 1974, it saw the creation of Éditions du Blé, the first Francophone publishing company in western Canada, followed by Éditions des Plaines a few years later. They became important meeting places and publishing centres for Franco-Manitoban authors. Éditions du Blé enabled a new generation of writers to bring their work to public attention, such as co-founder Paul Savoie, one of the first writers to be published by the company (Salamandre, 1974), Bathélemy Bolivar, the latest winner of the Prix Rue-Deschambault for manguiers têtus (Éditions du Blé, 2005), and J.R. Léveillé, who is heralded not only as one of the most original voices in Franco-Manitoban literature, but also as the literary spokesperson for Francophones in Manitoba and Western Canada.