A new photography exhibit on display this week at city hall offers a glimpse at some of the faces of people who come from places all over the world who are keeping the French language alive in Sault Ste. Marie.
The photography expo, titled Un clin d’oeil sur la diversité francophone, is on display in the lobby of the Ronald A. Irwin Civic Centre until Friday in recognition of National francophone Immigration week.
The exhibit was created as a partnership between the Sault Community Career Centre, Sault Ste. Marie and Area Local Immigration Partnership and Rolling Pictures.
“The faces in the frames are just some of the people in this great town who keep the French language alive, regardless of their culture or their place of origin,” said Robert Peace, photographer and director of community relations for Rolling Pictures, during his remarks.
The francophone people who were photographed for the project each shared a bit about themselves and their journey to the Sault from all over the world, in French and English.
“I am always heartened and encouraged when I see multicultural images that represent our community,” Mayor Christian Provenzano told SooToday. ”I was surprised by the very multicultural nature of the pictures, but I think that goes back to internal biases that we have. You think French-speaking, you think French Canadian and Quebecois, but it goes way beyond that.”
Dania Kuzbari is an employment advisor at Sault Community Career Centre and also one of the subjects in the exhibit.
“Everybody has a story to share, their personal life experiences, what the French language means to them and how they have adapted in Sault Ste. Marie,” said Kuzbari of the exhibit.
Kuzbari was born and educated in France to a mother originally from Syria.
”When I moved to Sault Ste. Marie I thought it was more of a Francophone city, especially because the name sounds French, but I found out that no, it is very Anglophone,” she said.
She learned about the French Language Resolution, a motion passed in 1990 by the city council of the day that declared English to be its official language.
“As an immigrant I was interested to know what was the history and the reasons that the Francophone community was feeling the way it was feeling,” said Kuzbari.
Sault Ste. Marie was not the only municipality in Ontario to make such a resolution at the time, but it was the largest.
Provenzano told SooToday that he feels strongly that the city is past that part of its history.
“I know it is there and it has come up a number of times,” said Provenzano of the backlash from the resolution. “But in my opinion that was a piece of our community’s history that is long past and there was leadership of the community at the time that made a really big mistake.”
“Our community is very different now and has changed significantly. I frankly think the French Language Resolution is a thing of the very distant past. I am sure they’re are some people who still have negative feelings about it, and that is understandable, but we are looking ahead and moving forward,” he continued.
Manisha Dave is an administrative research assistant at the Local Immigration Partnership and also stood in front of the camera for the project.
“Doing that picture was actually me coming out of my comfort zone because I am actually very camera shy,” said Dave. “But I thought maybe I have to be seen for my story to be heard and for people to get to know me a little better.”
Dave said the project is helping people to share their stories.
“You are showing people their face and hearing their words and it adds a little personal touch and builds a connection with the community, which is extremely important,” she said.