Paul Gallant and daughter, Adrienne
Artistic Director, Paul D. Gallant leaves a legacy in our Acadian region
-by Rosie Aucoin-Grace
There have been countless people who have made monumental contributions in Chéticamp and area and are remembered through various stories, activities, books, songs, buildings, etc. One person who has certainly made an epic difference in this region is no other than artistic director, Paul D. Gallant. He played a vital role in developing the Acadian region in the arts and culture sector. Sadly, he is battling cancer and other health issues, and is moving back to his native home, Prince Edward Island, where he will be closer to his family.
I thought it would be interesting to turn back the pages of time and look at Gallant’s journey and how he came to be among us. Born on April 15th, 1958, he stems from Mont-Carmel in P.E.I.'s francophone region. Yes, the very popular song Quois’qu’un gars de Mont-Carmel is based on real people, real life. Gallant is mostly a self-taught musician, who was playing the bass and guitar in bands at the early age of 13, mostly country rock. He remembers taking dancing workshops with instructors of Le Conseil de Folklore Canada. His passion for writing also started quite early on, composing his first songs at age 16. He was but 20 years old when he took on the position of artistic director for numerous productions. His first composed hit was titled Calgary, performed by Gameck. In 1980, he graduated in community development which served him well in his future undertakings. In 1985, he became artistic director of Le Conseil des arts Évangeline with the very successful production, La cuisine à Mémé. He lived and worked on the island until the mid-1990s promoting Francophone culture, writing and producing live music, CDs and theatre for several local acts including Panou, Gameck, La Cuisine a Mémé, performer Marcella Richard, Les Danseuses Évangeline, Acadian festivals and more.
Gallant recently spoke of how he came to be a permanent resident in this area, “In 1992, I received a call from Ronald Bourgeois who spoke to me about an interesting project. He invited me to contact a great community leader, Monique Aucoin of Saint-Joseph-du-Moine and after a few discussions, was asked to come deliver a series of workshops to displaced fishery workers and others. As many of you know, Le Théâtre des Moineaux was born and it was great while it lasted. Like so many other projects, funding decreases make it quite difficult to operate. I cherish the memories of those special nights at la hall du Moine.” He added “I returned in 1993 and worked for a while and that same year, decided to move here for six months, just to give it a try and 25 years later, I am still here.”
For those not familiar, during the early 1990's fishery crisis, several diversification projects were introduced to our local fishing communities. As a result, one in particular that stands out, which took place in Saint-Joseph-du-Moine is Le Théâtre des Moineaux - La Cachette à Marianne. Amazing supper theatres featuring local talent, that will not soon be forgotten. It was nothing but magical to see these young entertainers come out of their shells, acting for the first time, performing beautiful ballads and traditional material, captivating audiences and had them bursting at the seams during these comical soirées. They even recorded a live concert, a CD played by many Francophone radio stations.
Over the years, Gallant often said “This place captivated my heart, my soul, from the moment I arrived. I fell in love with its charming beauty, the entourage, and the people.”
Gallant worked on a wide range of projects and one that he holds dear to his heart is The International Dance Festival. In 1997, he created La Swing du Suête dance troupe. “This is one of my proudest achievements, as La Swing is still quite strong and other dance troupes have been conceived such as La P’tite Brise and even an adult group, Encore du Vent. This provided an opportunity for many who always dreamed of dancing in front of an audience. It is amazing to see this development.” He ended with, “La Swing du Suête dance troupe was passed on to Nicole LeBlanc in 2014 and Encore du Vent dance troupe to Jérémie Poirier and Ashley Roach-Poirier in 2017. They are now on their own now and doing wonderfully. It simply warms my heart to see something like this happening on stage. That to me, is what it’s all about. It hurts a little less, my leaving; when I see that this genre of traditional dancing and music will continue on.”
“If I can demonstrate to the youth and adults what I know, sharing some of my expertise and they in turn proceed to show newcomers, continue the performances, and keep this part of our culture alive and thriving, then I have achieved what I set out to do. There is no better feeling,” says Gallant.
In November 1999, Gallant’s dream of creating Le Conseil des arts de Chéticamp affiliated with École NDA School became a reality. As a result, they have a state of the art theatre, have presented hundreds of shows, have educated the students in various areas of arts and culture, have developed and revived the talents of many locals, have created partnerships with other schools and associations, have gone on tour to other parts of Canada, the United States, and abroad, and so much more. Gallant expressed, “Le Conseil des arts started out as a vision and has come such a long way. It has certainly enriched the people of this community in various ways. I think of how our productions often brought the village together with over 200 participants. For instance, Le Grand Cercle. It was incredible!” He continued, “I think about performers who started on this very stage that continued on in theatrics, music, arts, etc; Nathan LeLièvre, Elyse Delaney, Émilien Cormier, Alexandre Poirier, Ryan Doucette, Stephanie (Aucoin) Craig, Glen Bourgeois, our departed friend, Marc Boudreau, Christopher Babineau, just to name a few. Also, to the many who stayed here but music is still very much a part of their lives. There are too many to name but I am so proud of all of them! So happy to see how they are keeping our Francophone traditions, our culture, vibrant and sharing it with others!”
“Paul Gallant created Le Conseil des arts de Chéticamp, dance troupes: La Swing du Suête, La P’tite Brise, and Encore du Vent. If it wasn’t for Paul, many of us would not be where we are today,” says Jérémie Poirier. “He taught us so much about arts and culture and a great deal more.”
École NDA student, Lilianne Cormier, spoke very positively, “Paul Gallant is an incredible man. With his encouragement, he helped me build up the confidence in myself, to step on a stage, share my passion and stories through theatre and music, giving it my all during every performance.” She added, “He is the one who opened my eyes to the possibility of pursuing a career in the performing arts. I owe it all to him and I will be forever grateful and proud to call him a colleague, mentor, and most of all, a friend.”
In September 2013, Gallant took on a new position with CSAP at École NDA School as School and Community Outreach Development Officer. Gallant spoke of his recent resignation, “It was a very trying time for me. I was on a personal leave with vicious rumours running wild. It was heartbreaking to say the least and I will not go any further than that. At about the same time, I was diagnosed with colon cancer and also blood clot issues in my lungs. Resigning was not an easy decision to make. My health does need to come first and foremost. I have since been operated on, am feeling better each day. I am in the recovery stage, but will still need some preventive chemotherapy treatments to make sure they got it all. It is best for me to go back home with my daughter Adrienne and grandson Xavier, my brothers and sisters.” He ended with, “When you go through something like this, you need spiritual, mental, and medical support. I was blessed to have received more than ample amount from the health team in Chéticamp and Sydney, as well as many friends and my family. For this I am forever grateful. I believe it carried me through this ordeal.”
Artistic Director Paul D. Gallant is no stranger to the musical and theatrical world. Author of over 100 performed theatrical plays and over 800 songs with 115 recorded since 1980. He is well known for his artistic direction, television productions, script writing, song writing and arrangements, tour management, sound, light and set conceptualization, community development, group dynamics, leadership training, and planning and feasibility studies for arts and culture projects. Gallant has been presented with countless awards, which only sparked more inspiration to continue his mission to preserve la culture acadienne.
Chéticamp and area has no doubt been enriched by his talents and expertise over the years. Gallant’s fine works have made a very positive impact on Chéticamp. Through these projects, and of course with the efforts of other organizations, they have put Chéticamp on the map so to speak when it comes to our Acadian culture. They have formed links with various places in the world, somehow breaking this distance between our many cousins, Acadian lineages.
The following productions will always bring back special memories for so many of our youth, our community. Here are some of them: Annette et les Sournachettes, La Swing du Suête, Le Grand Cercle, Soirée chez Gélas, Soleil, Un Suête dans la cabane, Le vieux bus bleu, En directe de la campe, Gélas 2 – les Noces, Soleil 2 – la reunion de classe, Jeanne d’Acadie, les filles de la factorie, Il était une fois au Cap Rouge, The Phantoms, Vert la démocratie, La wake à Gélas, Dans ma maison, and the list goes on. Some will also remember the choirs spearheaded by Gallant, performing in churches and other venues.
Gallant is a leader in every sense of the word. He was implicated not only from a cultural point of view but also for the betterment of the community, the Acadian region. No task was impossible with Gallant at the helm, along with other partners. He spoke of how amazing Chéticamp was to work with, “The leadership and organizations in this community are exceptional. They work so well together, all with a common goal. It is not like this in all rural areas. This was certainly the key to the success of Le Conseil des arts de Chéticamp. The countless volunteers, La Société Saint-Pierre, Radio CKJM, Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Société Mi-Carême, and many more.” He ended with, “Chéticamp is seen as a model for other Francophone communities. We have an incredible link between Le Conseil des arts with the school, which in itself is quite unique. For instance, when I head back to la région d’Évangeline, one of my new tasks will be to develop cultural arts for that region. I will share with them what we have accomplished in this small quaint Acadian village affiliating the school and the community. To all of you, it is something to be quite proud of! I am going to miss working regularly with such support, great partnerships.”
“Sometimes you try something new, not sure where it will go, but no matter what you do...try,” says Gallant. “Sometimes it works out great, sometimes it surprises you at how successful a product can be and sometimes, there is disappointment...but you just keep on trying. This is all part of developing, learning, and hopefully enjoying the experience. This is how you learn patience, build confidence and character.”
“Nobody can deny the good Paul Gallant has done in the arts and culture scene in the Acadian region of Chéticamp. His tireless energy moved us forward when the easier route would have been to give up. He is an artist and the wheels are always spinning. I, along with the rest of the team at La Société Saint-Pierre, have worked on many projects with Paul. We have not always seen eye to eye, but we always came up with solutions based on mutual respect,” says Lisette Bourgeois, executive director of Les Trois Pignons. She added, “We are proud of some of the projects we have realized over many years. We wish him good health and many more years of creativity. We have appreciated his contribution and we hope the future will bring us many more collaborative projects.”
Ambassador musician, Scott Macmillan also spoke highly of his colleague, “I had wonderful experiences working with Paul Gallant. He is a gifted songwriter, able to write anthems that seem timeless. Also, he has a wonderful way of motivating young people, getting them all to go in the same direction in a production. He is a talented, caring, and loving man,” He ended with, “I hope to work with him again soon.”
“I have never met a person with such dedication and passion for the Acadian culture, language, and its youth. Chéticamp would not be the way it is today, if it wasn’t for his vision and knowledge of the importance of working with children, as they are the only way to preserve and grow the Acadian culture,” says Executive Director of Le Conseil des arts de Chéticamp Joeleen Larade.
In 2018, Gallant approaching his 60th birthday, brought another project to fruition, another item checked off his bucket list. He embarked on a new venture with his daughter, Adrienne. They produced their own CD Ballades’ un projet père et fille and performed together, a dream come true for both of them. “I never had the desire to produce a CD for myself even though I have felt some pressure to do so. But after having heard Adrienne sing my song, Je te reviens during the Acadian Festival 2017 in P.E.I, I had an epiphany! It is Adrienne who must record a CD with my songs! The father and daughter project was born that night! A wonderful experience, a memory which I will cherish forever!”
“I have always been involved in the preservation of language and culture. Songs and plays galvanize people and strengthen culture,” says Gallant. “It is a real struggle. Survival of our Acadian culture – there is no easy solution, but doing something today. Maybe in 50 years time, maybe somebody will be singing our songs.”
We talked about the future and Gallant responded with, “I need to get my health back. When I do feel up to par, I am looking forward to embarking on new business ventures such as my role with the Acadian Congress 2019 in P.E.I. I also will be rebranding productions; La cuisine à Mémé, L’Évasion, and Gélas les Noces. I will have a full plate, but I cannot let myself go back to the way things were.” He added, “I am not getting any younger and this cancer and blood clot issues have been a wake-up call for me. Major life style changes are in store for me, if I want to survive and live a long healthy life.”
As our discussion came to an end, Paul wanted to share this message, “I want to thank Chéticamp; for receiving me from the very beginning, working along side with me, and developing amazing productions, sharing our creations with the rest of the globe and always being full of Acadian pride. You will always hold a very special place in my heart, and I am grateful and blessed for the memories, the good friendships.” He continued, “This is not goodbye, but just until next time. I will be back to beautiful Chéticamp for visits and you never know, maybe with future projects with this community. If you are ever in my neck of the woods, please drop in for a visit. Until then, take care...Merci et à la prochaine!”
Gallant is to be commended for his amazing contribution to our Acadian region for over two decades, resulting in immeasurable spin offs, an economic and social impact, which will be felt in various ways for years to come. Wishing him a quick and full recovery, as well the best of luck in his future endeavors.
(Some of this information was derived from a live broadcast with CKJM Radio Host, Daniel Aucoin.)
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