Le Centre culturel Frontenac: la francophonie in the heart of the Limestone City

By Isabelle Bourgeault-Tassé

The Centre culturel Frontenac has always sought to forge links among francophone and francophile communities by promoting arts and culture in Kingston. 

It was 1980 in the Limestone City, Kingston, Ontario.

An era when Franco-Ontarians were defining themselves through their artists, their institutions, and the exercise of their Franco-minority linguistic rights.

A moment in time when nothing was impossible. Including here in Kingston.

Here, a community dreamed, solidaires, invested wholeheartedly in the creation of the vivre-ensemble of an entire community. Born of this shining era of Franco-Ontarian will, the Centre culturel Frontenac has always sought to forge links among francophone and francophile communities by promoting arts and culture in Kingston and the Thousand Islands.

En français.

“It was the desire of the community – who were living in a deeply minority linguistic setting – to have a common place where they could meet, develop projects and help each other out,” explains Marie-Noëlle Cyr, Executive Director of the Centre culturel Frontenac.

Forty-five years young, the Centre culturel Frontenac is firmly rooted in the fabric of Kingstonian society, its gaze trained on the future, the fruit of a vibrant and visible francophonie in Kingston, its scene rich with performing arts, culture and human complicity.


Times have been tough for dreamers and artists (pandemic oblige!) – but, according to Marie-Noël, the Kingston art scene is bursting with renewal: “All of a sudden, we’re back in the community! People are tired of their little cocoons.”

“Tonight, at the OCTAVE Theatre, for example, it is Pandora Topp singing Édith Piaf,” she breathes. “We’re going to welcome spectators with a Parisian café – round tables, the aromas of rich coffee, waiters dressed in café attire – it’s going to be amazing!”

The 2023 artistic season delivers on the promise of Kingston’s dreamers with a dazzling season: Concerts! Theatre! Cinema! Festivals!

En Français!

Last month, the Centre culturel Frontenac partnered with the Reel Out Queer Film Festival (January 26 – February 5), presenting a selection of short films in French with English subtitles, further, announcing a partnership with the Kingston Canadian Film Festival (March 2-5) to present a selection of short films in French (with English subtitles).

In February, the Centre culturel Frontenac welcomes the famous Vaches! The Musical (February 11), which evokes the resilience of Franco-Ontarians in the face of adversity during the 1998 ice storm. They will also join forces with the Live Wire Music Series to present a bilingual double-set performance with Franco-Ontarian and Abenaki singer Mimi O’Bonsawin and Nova Scotian Ian Sherwood (February 24).

At the dawn of the Kingstonian spring, it will be the turn of Mario Tessier (March 4), the comedian and storyteller to keep his audience in stitches. This will be followed by performances by the group Les Bouches Bées (April 14), a quartet with «an almost Cajun approach to support their well-crafted French lyrics,” and Damoiseaux (March 24), a pop-jazz group with “a scent of cinema and poetry.”


In April, the Centre culture Frontenac will present the play Intrusions (April 28), produced by the Théâtre de la Vieille 17 (Ottawa, Ontario) and the Théâtre populaire d’Acadie (New Brunswick), which confronts its spectator with a senior woman’s humour, rage and determination in the face of the health system.

In May, Lua Shayenne will present La calebasse aux cauris (May 27), a timeless African tale dedicated to little ones. The play offers the story of little Yassama who, with the help of an old Baobab and a mysterious calabash, will try to save her community from drought.

With roots in Acadie, Ontario, Quebec, Africa and elsewhere, these artists represent the plurality of francophone Canada. Here in Kingston, we find the francophonie in all its universality and collective good spirits.

“Kingston is a destination of choice for French-speaking tourists,” says Marie-Noël. Wherever a tourist goes, there will be someone who will certainly speak French, or who will regret not having practiced enough French.”

She cites the example of the 5 à 7 Franco, hosted by the Centre culturel Frontenac every second Thursday of the month, where guests are immersed in the complicity and fraternity Kingstonians feel for the French language.

“People here have long understood that it was good to be bilingual, or even trilingual! Quadrilingual! Everyone takes French seriously – we understand the importance of maintaining the French language,” she explains.

“Francophone tourists,” she adds, “whether from Quebec or beyond Canadian borders, rarely emerge unscathed from an exchange with Franco-Ontarians.

Immersed in the Franco-Minority cultural and linguistic realities of Ontario, they develop a new solidarity that extends beyond borders, words and accents. All of a sudden, they get to know us and understand our daily linguistic realities here in Ontario, where we have to defend our linguistic gains,” she says.

Marie-Noël envisions a particularly spectacular summer season. In partnership with the Skeleton Park Arts Festival, the Centre culturel Frontenac will host Ariko (June 24, 2023), a family band from Lafontaine, Ontario, that “radiates the velvety harmonies and fiery violins of the Lefaive sisters.”

In August, the Centre culturel Frontenac will partner with the Kick and Push Festival, named for the famous bumpy train ride in the early 20th century between Kingston-Pembroke, to offer Corpus Dance Projects’ La bulle (August 2023), the story of a lunar Pierrot, presented in open air at sunset.

Its gaze firmly trained on the future, the Centre culture Frontenac is nurturing the next generation of Franco-Ontarian artists, offering summer arts camps for budding young artists.


“To live a culture well, it must be presented and lived in an authentic way,” concludes Marie-Noël. “The summer camp allows young francophones to meet real artists, to realize that they can make a living from their art, to explore and experiment and, we hope, to develop an appreciation of the world of the arts in French.”

See the French version of this story on our French website.