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No. 118
The Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris (1970-1995)

by Geneviève Postolec, Government Archives and Records Disposition Division

On November 7, 1965, Canada and France signed a first cultural agreement to develop exchanges between the two countries in culture, science, technology and the arts, and to promote the establishment of close ties between Canadian and French institutions such as cultural institutes or centres. Following the 1967 purchase and renovation of a building at 5 Rue de Constantine in Paris dating back to the Second Empire (1852- 1870),1 the Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris was officially inaugurated on April 2, 1970. Its mandate was to promote, in France, the different facets of Canadian culture. When the Centre was renovated in 1995-1996, the organization’s archives2 were turned over to the National Archives of Canada, and incorporated3 into the collection of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT).4 These documents, dating from 1970 to 1995, therefore illustrate the first 25 years of the Centre and attest to Canada’s cultural presence in France.

Panoramic viewfrom the Canadian Cultural Centre, at 5 Rue de Constantine, Paris.

Panoramic view from the Canadian Cultural Centre, at 5 Rue de Constantine, Paris. Photograph courtesy of the Canadian Cultural Centre [http://www.canada-culture.org/Index.html].

Although the Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris, as an institution, does not belong to the international French-speaking community,5 the fact remains that, given its mandate and its geographic location, it has played an active role in the promotion of Canadian francophone culture. Moreover, some of the collection was generated by DFAIT’s program of cultural exchanges with French-speaking countries. Yet one question remains: Why a Canadian cultural centre in Paris? To answer this question briefly, it is necessary to assess, first, the place of culture in the policies of the Department of External Affairs; second, the place of the Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris in relations between Ottawa, Quebec City and Paris; and finally, the Centre’s place in relation to other provincial and federal agencies operating in the same field in Paris.

The primary mission of the Department of External Affairs is to implement the foreign policy of the federal government. This mission has several aspects: to guide Canadian relations with other countries; to promote and protect Canadian interests abroad; to gather information and documents about matters influencing Canada’s international relations; and to negotiate agreements and treaties with other countries. In the early 1960s, External Affairs intensified its cultural relations with wholly or partially French- speaking European countries, such as Belgium, Switzerland and France, to stimulate bilingualism. In 1966, the Cultural Affairs Division was set up “to formulate and execute Canada’s cultural policies for foreign countries in accordance with directives of the Government and in co-operation with Canadian cultural institutions and agencies.”6

The establishment of the Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris was consistent with the concern to disseminate Canadian culture outside the country, as it was the first Canadian centre established abroad.7 Other Centres would subsequently be opened in Rome, Brussels, London and New York. The Centre was to serve as the hub of Canadian culture in France. There were six components to its mandate: to serve as a reception and orientation centre for Canadian students and artists studying in Paris; to provide a reference library for Canadian researchers and students; to contribute to the dissemination of Canadian culture in France through exhibitions, concerts, recitals, film screenings, lectures and symposiums; to be a gathering place for Canadians living in France and their French friends; to serve as a venue for Franco-Canadian cultural associations; to bring under one roof the cultural and information services of the Canadian embassy in Paris.

In 1980, the Department’s annual report stressed that “[p]ublic attitudes towards Canada constitute an important factor in relations with other countries. Informing the public abroad — particularly persons who are influential in forming opinions about Canada — and stimulating cultural and academic exchanges are, therefore, major tasks of the Department of External Affairs.”8 In September 1983, the Cultural Policy Division was created to enable the Department to systematically develop cultural policies.9 While the cultural relations program was modest in scope in its early days, the Department came to regard it as an increasingly important component of Canada’s foreign policy.10

Footnotes:

  1. Raymonde Litalien (Dir.), Centre culturel canadien/Canadian Cultural Centre. 25 ans d’activités 1970-1995. Embassy of Canada, Paris, 1997, 375 p.
  1. Under the direction of Raymonde Litalien, the archives of the Canadian Cultural Centre were selected and classified by Jocelyne Martineau and Janine Reid.
  1. See notice of acquisition 1997-1998/394
  1. In 1995, the Department of External Affairs acquired a new name. It is now the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
  1. For a list of Francophone institutions, consult the work by Jean-Marc Léger, La francophonie : grand dessein, grosse ambiguïté, Montreal, Hurtubise HMH, 1987, pp. 194-195.
  1. 1970 Annual Report, Department of External Affairs, p. 72
  1. The Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris kept its name until 1987, when it became the Cultural Services of the Paris Embassy.
  1. Department of External Affairs 1980 Annual Review, p. 63
  1. Annual Report 1983-1984, Department of External Affairs, p. 40
  1. Ibid

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