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In the early 1990s, the federal government was experiencing financially difficult times, characterized by numerous budget cuts and various organizational restructurings. Nevertheless, in the spring of 1994, the Department of External Affairs reaffirmed the importance of culture as an essential pillar of the Canadian mission abroad.11 The future of the Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris was redefined. It was to become the only Canadian cultural centre in Europe and a documentation centre geared towards new technologies.
The Centre’s place must be examined in the broader context of the relations between Ottawa, Quebec City and Paris. The relations among the three governments (federal, provincial and French) had never been easy. Insofar as Quebec City and France had always shared a francophone culture that allowed for the pursuit of joint initiatives, the Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris had been, for the Canadian government, an important and unique agency compared to other Canadian cultural centres elsewhere in the world for presenting Canadian cultural diversity in a francophone country. In short, its creation and continuity fit neatly in with both federal-provincial relations and bilateral relations between France and Canada. It should also be kept in mind that its creation was being discussed at the time of General de Gaulle’s controversial visit to Canada in 1967.
The place of the Canadian Cultural Centre must also be placed in the context of the cultural policies of the federal government and certain Canadian provincial governments abroad. In Paris, the Centre is far from the only protagonist of foreign origin12 of Canadian origin, in particular operating in the French cultural landscape. The Délégation générale du Québec à Paris, since the early 1960s, and the Ontario Delegation,13 since 1977, had also been promoting the interests of their respective provinces. In addition, many independent entities, such as Telefilm Canada, the National Film Board of Canada (NFB), Radio-Canada and Maison des Étudiants canadiens, to name just a few, had been very active in their respective spheres of activity.
From 1970 to 1995, over 2,500 events were documented in the Centre’s activities. As Cultural Affairs Minister Emile Martel pointed out in January 1997, the Canadian Cultural Centre “has served in Paris, and for all of France, as a showcase for Canadian culture, a place for exchange and dialogue between designers and researchers, teachers and journalists, musicians and painters, engravers and sculptors, poets and photographers, novelists and philosophers, politicians, industrialists and historians, scientists and athletes.”14 [translation].
The archives of the Canadian Cultural Centre have been classified according to the broad sectors of Canadian cultural activity. The first, called “Performing Arts,” brings together records pertaining to dance, literature, music, theatre and variety performance. The other sectors of activity are visual arts, film, symposiums and lectures, cultural industries, and finally, academic relations. Each reflects an aspect of the Centre’s mandate.
In effect, the richness of these records, which cover artists in all disciplines and their artistic output at a given point in their career, resides in the fact that, taken as a whole, they constitute a kind of microcosm of contemporary Canadian cultural history. Here one finds famous artists in all cultural spheres: for example, in the visual arts, Alfred Pellan, Bill Reid, Jean-Paul Riopelle, Betty Goodwin, Jean-Paul Lemieux, Ozias Leduc and Guido Molinari; in literature and theatre, writers such as Michel Tremblay, Nancy Huston, Margaret Atwood, Robertson Davies, Anne Hébert, Marie-Claire Blais, Antonine Maillet and so on.
Staircase at the Canadian Cultural Centre, 5 Rue de Constantine, Paris. Photograph courtesy of the Canadian Cultural Centre. [http://www.canada-culture.org/Index.html]
These documents about all the artists who were in contact with the Centre, reflect Canadian artistic vitality in France over a 25-year period. They show that, beyond choosing which artists to promote (in itself, revealing of a whole dynamic), there was continuous interaction between the Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris and the French cultural community, in its broadest sense. Over the years, it asserted itself as an active figure in the French cultural landscape. The Centre not only supported the promotion of Canadian artists in France; it also strived to secure the participation of artists in the major festivals (Cannes Film Festival, Festival d’Avignon [theatre], Festival de Bourges [rock music], etc.) those great conduits of cultural dissemination in France or an association with the great French museums (Musée d’art moderne, Musée d’Orsay, Centre Pompidou, etc.). And it seems that over the years, the Centre favoured “extramural” artistic events over performances at 5 Rue de Constantine, and thus opted for a decentralization of activities.
The artists’ records also tell us about the way in which they first made contact with the Centre (through competitions, professional associations, on a personal basis), how guest artists were chosen (closed competition, Paris stopover of an international tour of exhibits mounted in Canada, creation of exhibitions on-site), how the artists came to be known in France (solo or group exhibition, participation at festivals), what financial resources they had, and the critical or public perception in France of their work (favourable, unfavourable or indifferent). Also, there are the occasional sound recordings of performances, concerts or even university lectures, videotapes of public performances, posters, photographs of official events or exhibition installations. Finally, the programming of this institution can be assessed in relation to its mandate: the proportion of francophone and anglophone artists, the weight of Quebec artists among francophone artists, the weight in one artistic sector in relation to another, the demand of the French cultural community for certain artists, support for major artists or for those just starting out and so on.
Other interesting documents about the genesis of the Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris (discussions about its mandate, its name, its financial resources, etc.), documents from Canada House, the Centre’s London counterpart, or even documents about the international French-speaking community can easily be located in the collection of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
In short, the archives of the Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris are a rich source for understanding the contemporary history of Canada, and can shed new light on the links between politics, identity and culture.
- Raymonde Litalien, “Le centre canadien de documentation de Paris : un lieu de mémoire et d’information,” Actes du Congrès de l’AAQ, XXVIe Congrès -- Aylmer 1997, Sillery, Association des Archivistes du Québec, 1998, pp. 235-240
- The United States, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, The Netherlands and Switzerland are only a few of the other countries that also have their own “cultural centre” in Paris.
- It should be noted that the archives of the Ontario Delegation were incorporated into the archives of the CCC before the latter were sent to Ottawa, and therefore do not constitute a distinct category within the collection.