'We're still here': Regina's 21st Francothon both a showcase and a statement

The Francothon, an event which celebrates its 21st edition tonight, started as a way to hear a voice that had not often been heard in Western Saskatchewan's history.

Prior to the expansion of Radio-Canada's broadcast services in the 1950s and onward, there weren't many places where the French community in the province could be heard, or hear itself, says Michel Lalonde, a former Radio-Canada producer and the Francothon's artistic producer.

He told CBC Radio's Saskatchewan Weekend that voice, or lack of, is what inspired him and his colleagues at Radio-Canada to start the first Francothon — a charitable fundraising endeavour for a foundation which provides scholarships and helps fund community projects for the province's Fransaskois community.

"The Francothon happened about 20-some years ago when we had a bunch of cuts here and people realized how important it was to see yourself on television, to hear yourself on radio. So we put on this big event," he said.

"It's a showcase but it's also, I guess, a statement. Once a year, people say, 'We're still here.'"

Gaeton Benoit, a former producer for Radio-Canada Saskatchewan who now works in Edmonton, said the Francothon is a way to build community.

Since its inception, the event has grown in scope, attracting sponsors over time.

Amid funding cuts, the Francothon went ahead anyway, costing more money than it raised for years, according to Lalonde.

"In a way, the important thing was to have it," Lalonde said.

Saturday's event starts at 5 p.m. and will run until 8 p.m. CST at the CBC/Radio-Canada broadcast centre. Radio Canada/ICI Saskatchewan will broadcast the event on radio and television. There will also be coverage online.

The goal for 2017 edition is to raise $60,000.