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Sharing the Francophone Experience Across Canada

Q&A’s with André Marchildon and Ian T.D. Thomson

Check out the Beyond Riel podcast here! Apple Spotify

Where are you from? What place do you currently call home and why?

André: I was born and raised in Winnipeg. I grew up speaking French and all of my education was in French until I started my engineering degree at the University of Manitoba. While at the U of M I was involved in student politics and this is how I got to know Ian. In 2017 I moved to Toronto to pursue a master in aerospace engineering at the University of Toronto. I completed my masters in 2019 and started my PhD at that time.

Ian: I was born and raised in Winnipeg as well, growing up there and attending the University of Manitoba where I studied Psychology and Philosophy. I then pursued a Master of Public Policy at the University of Toronto from 2016 to 2018. Now I am now pursuing a JD in Law at the University of Toronto. Regardless of my current location, Winnipeg will always be home.

What community/communities are you part of ?

André: I am a proud Franco-Manitoban. The Franco-Manitoban community has a rich culture and a history that predates Manitoba as a province. Being fluent in Canada’s two official languages has been very advantageous and I am thankful that I grew up in a community that celebrates bilingualism. Now that I live in Toronto I miss attending the events organized by the Franco-Manitoban community. This includes le Festival du Voyageur, which is a large winter music festival in Winnipeg that celebrates Manitoba’s French history.

What are you passionate about? What are your hobbies?

André: My favourite way to get around is to bike. It’s a great way to exercise and to explore new places. I commute to school by bike throughout the year, which is easier now that I live in Toronto with its very mild winters. I also love to read, particularly books that allow me to learn new topics. I am also very passionate about the aerospace sector, my field of study. A core focus of my research group is the sustainability of the aviation sector. My research involves developing an optimization tool that can be used to perform aerodynamic shape optimization, which can help make plans more efficient and thus consume less fuel. During the pandemic I began my training to receive my pilot’s license and I passed my flight test last year.

Ian : Right now, I am pursuing a JD in Law at the University of Toronto. So free time for hobbies is regrettably now in short supply! In addition to playing and writing music, I have an overall passion for learning. This could be from learning new legal doctrines in my program, to learning and hearing unique lived perspectives. Beyond Riel certainly helped in exploring the latter.

How did the idea for this project come to you?

Ian: André and I are both now alumnus of the University of Manitoba. We were both fairly involved students at the same time when we were there; I was the Chair of the Manitoban, the student paper at the U of M, and the chair of the student union’s Policy and Bylaws Committee. André was the President of the Engineering Students’ Association. In February 2020, we reconnected at a U of M young alumni event here in Toronto. During the pandemic, we both moved back to Winnipeg. However we stayed in touch and continued talking about public policy and politics.

One area that intrigued us both was Francophone affairs. André was aware of many of the challenges, but wanted to learn more and reconnect with the topics. As a Winnipegger and non-Francophone, I found myself initially unaware of the issues and challenges of the Francophone community that André would bring up in conversation.

It occurred to us that there was a good chance that I wasn’t the only non-Francophone aware of the challenges facing Francophone minority groups in Canada. People know about Louis Riel, but there is so much more to minority Francophone communities across Canada. With Beyond Riel, we saw an opportunity to shed light on these Francophone topics to a non-Francophone audience. That is also why the show is in English as opposed to French so we can reach this audience.

What was your motivation behind this project?

André: There are a lot of existing resources in French that explore the culture and challenges facing minority Francophone communities in Canada. However, Ian and I realized that there were far fewer resources in English that covered these topics that would be accessible to non-Francophones.

How did your community react to your project? Have they been encouraged to get involved in any other ways?

André: The goal of producing the podcast Beyond Riel was to share with non-Francophones the rich culture of Francophone communities in minority settings and also to highlight some of the challenges that these communities face. This mission resonated with the Société de la francophonie manitobaine (SFM), which is the official voice of Manitoba’s francophone population. The SFM provided us with a grant, in addition to the one we received from Taking It Global, to support the production of Beyond Riel.

This message from Beyond Riel also resonated with Francophone communities outside of Manitoba. Following the release of the podcast, interviews were held with the local radio stations of Radio-Canada (French CBC) from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and BC. In addition, André was also invited to speak about the Franco-Manitoban community on the podcast “Pas seulement au Québec,” which translates to not only in Québec. This podcast explores Francophone communities across Canada and around the world.

In retrospect, what was the impact of your project?

André: The reception of the podcast from the Francophone communities across Western Canada was fantastic. Ian and I were blown away that Radio-Canada from all four Western Provinces reached out to us for interviews. One aspect that left Ian and I somewhat disappointed was the reception amongst the anglophone media in Manitoba. The podcast was produced in English since our target audience were non-Francophones. Unfortunately, the podcast was released at the same time that the 2021 federal election was taking place, which likely played a role since news organizations had a lot to cover.

How has the project impacted you in your everyday life?

Ian: This project has certainly had an impact on me. Hearing directly from those in the Francophone community was a necessary learning experience to discover the unique challenges and history of the Francophone community. Every conversation explored a new dimension to the community that I previously had no idea about. I think most Canadians may not be aware of these challenges as well.

From a pragmatic perspective, podcasting also comes with several useful skills that continue to serve me well. This includes topic research, conducting an interview, and project management.

Were there some bumps along the road or things you may do differently in the future?

André: This podcast was produced during the pandemic, which presented some obvious challenges since we couldn’t get together with our guests for our interviews. However, everyone’s expertise with Zoom became an advantage. We performed all of our interviews for the podcast over Zoom, which worked extremely well.

What would you say to a youth who is thinking about doing a #RisingYouth project?

Ian: In terms of advice: This may be corny, but first you need to find a topic for which you have a passion. Getting a podcast completed can sometimes be a long process requiring much of your free time; it goes a lot smoother when you have a genuine fervour in the topic at hand.

Second is to determine who you want to talk to. Everyone has a story to tell. Podcasting involves listening and a great feature of podcasting is to help facilitate unique stories and perspectives.

Third is to temper expectations. There are a lot of podcasts out there, so the likelihood of gaining fame/money or “making it” is slim. Do the podcast because you want to pursue your passion, not for any extrinsic motives.

That said, podcasting is a rewarding activity. It is now fairly affordable to get the necessary tools to start up and get running; you just need a reasonable mindset.



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