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70 years of CFRG: the epic of francophone radio in Saskatchewan

A hostile context

At the beginning of the 20e century, the first radio stations in Saskatchewan were at first private and mainly English-speaking. It was not until 1933 that bilingual programming was broadcast in Saskatchewan thanks to the Canadian Broadcasting Commission (CCR).

However, the division of the airwaves between English and French is not done without clashes.

According to historians Richard Lapointe and André Lalonde, two of the authors of the book 50 years of radio : So many things to saygroups such as the Orangemen, the Sons of England and the Ku Klux Klan CCR“,”text”:”se mettent à protester contre les émissions françaises ou bilingues du CCR”}}”>begin to protest against the French or bilingual broadcasts of the CCR.

Despite the arrival of CBC/Radio-Canada in the province in 1939, the vast majority of the programming broadcast there remains in English.

The fight for French-language broadcasting was then led by the spearheads of French-Canadian society in Saskatchewan. Among the latter, we find in particular the head of the secretariat of the Franco-Canadian Catholic Association, Antonio de Margerie, and Abbé Baudoux, of Prud’homme.

They said to themselves: if Radio-Canada doesn’t come here, we’ll give ourselves a radio! »

A quote from André Moquin, former CFRG employee

Determined to hear their voices on the airwaves, Francophones are taking matters into their own hands.

From Assiniboia to Wauchope via Bellegarde and Ponteix, fundraising campaigns followed one another in 1945 and 1951. The objective: to collect enough funds to enable the opening of two stations to cover Saskatchewan.

CFRG radiates

It’s finally the 1er June 1952 that CFRG, Saskatchewan’s first French-language radio station, was born. A few months later, in November, it will be the turn of CFNS, in Saskatoon, to open its doors.

The inauguration of CFRG made the front page of the newspaper La Liberté et le Patriote. (Archives)

Photo: Radio-Canada / Matt Howard

The Prime Ministers of Canada, Louis St-Laurent, of Saskatchewan, Tommy Douglas, and of Quebec, Maurice Duplessis, as well as the representative of the Pope in Canada offer their homage to the Francophones of southern Saskatchewan.

CFRG, promote our French speaking! This is your primary mission. Make the French verb vibrate in all our homes. Make it appreciate and love! Teach our grandchildren, above all, to be proud of it! »

A quote from Antonio de Margerie, head of the secretariat of the Franco-Canadian Catholic Association
The exterior of the Villeneuve building, in Gravelbourg.

The Kendon block, in Gravelbourg, was renamed Édifice Villeneuve after CFRG moved there. (archives)

Photo: Collection of the Gravelbourg Museum

CFRG settles in Gravelbourg. On the first floor of the building, there are the studios, a vast nightclub and the offices. Apartments are found on the upper floor.

Map of CFRG offices

CFRG acquired his building for the sum of $9,500 in 1952.

Photo: Collection of the Gravelbourg Museum

The transmitter and antenna are installed a few kilometers east of the village on land donated free of charge by farmer Roland Pinsonneault.

A cultural engine

The CFRG transmitter was initially limited to 250 watts before seeing its power increased to 5000 watts in 1956.

The actual scope of CFRG at the time, however, remains unclear.

According to Fransaskois Guy Préfontaine, a former CFRG technician between 1960 and 1966, the station could be heard outside the province’s borders. : jusqu’au Manitoba, en Alberta, aux États-Unis, au Montana. Plusieurs gens parlaient français là-bas aussi.”,”text”:”On générait beaucoup de signal: jusqu’au Manitoba, en Alberta, aux États-Unis, au Montana. Plusieurs gens parlaient français là-bas aussi.”}}”>We generated a lot of signal: as far as Manitoba, Alberta, the United States, Montana. Many people spoke French there too.

However, Fransaskois author and sociologist Wilfrid Denis explains in the book 50 years of radio : So many things to say that CFRG’s radiation is deemed inadequate, reaching only a radius of about sixty kilometres.

Maryvonne Kendergi in front of a CFRG microphone.

Maryvonne Kendergi was a host at the CFRG radio station and an artistic initiation teacher at Gravelbourg before leaving for Montreal in 1956. (archives)

Photo: Collection of the Gravelbourg Museum

By tuning into CFRG, the listener could hear local news broadcasts, but also cultural and educational content.

Jeanne Beauregard hosted a program for children, Maryvonne Kendergi offered cultural programs and Marie-Antoinette Papen was at the microphone of a program on the lives of women in the modern world.

It was the voice of the communityrecalls André Moquin, a Gravelbourg resident and former CFRG employee. It was a very high level of language, even if it was the western French-Canadian accent that we heard.

CFRG's transmitter after its takeover by Radio-Canada in 1972.

In addition to original programming, it broadcast programs produced in the East, such as the radio drama “A man and his sin”. (archives)

Photo: Radio-Canada / Radio-Canada Archives

Fransaskois Michel Vézina explains that some of the programs broadcast on CFRG were taken from the Radio-Canada network.

Possibly the most listened to program at the time must have been hockeyhe says. : CFRG diffusait le chapelet en famille.”,”text”:”Le côté religieux était très présent aussi: CFRG diffusait le chapelet en famille.”}}”>The religious side was also very present: CFRG distributed the rosary in family.

It was a kind of cultural engine. CFRG organized shows, brought artists to Gravelbourg. We killed two birds with one stone: we interviewed them for the radio and then there was a show in the community. »

A quote from Michel Vezina

And this is how Félix Leclerc visited Gravelbourg in 1963. It was thanks to CFRG who brought him hereexplains Mr. Vézina.

Chronic financial worries

An announcer at the CFRG microphone in the 1960s.

At CFRG, employees often held several roles: facilitators are also often technicians or office workers. (archives)

Photo: Collection of the Gravelbourg Museum

To survive, the Gravelbourg station had to sell advertisements. A representative traveled the province to sell airtime to companies wishing to advertise their products and services.

Sociologist Wilfrid Denis notes, however, that sponsorships will never make up the deficits.

Even if fundraisers are organized, the financial problems of CFRG perpetually threaten the survival position,” explains Mr. Denis.

It was ultimately Radio-Canada that came to its aid at the end of the 1960s. More than half of CFRG’s revenues at that time came from the state-owned company, says Wilfrid Denis.

Acquisition by Radio-Canada

The Federal Broadcasting Act of 1968 gave Radio-Canada a new mandate, that of contribute to the development of national unity and constantly express the Canadian reality. A change that opens the door to the establishment of production offices in all provinces.

Between 1968 and 1972, several scenarios were evaluated by CFRG administrators.

From his office, Dumont Lepage stares intently into the camera lens.

Dumont Lepage was the manager of CFRG from 1951 to 1972. (archives)

Photo: Collection of the Gravelbourg Museum

They are thinking in particular of Radio-Canada taking charge of broadcasting, the station becoming no more than a producer of local content.

Another scenario is the sale of CFRG to the public broadcaster.

It is ultimately this last option that will be retained.

In 1972, Radio-Canada bought Gravelbourg radio. CFNS in Saskatoon will also be sold to the public broadcaster.

Rosario Morin, representatives of Radio-Prairies Nord;  Jean Blais, director of French radio, Mr. Jean-Jules Trudeau, director of Planning;  Maurice Demay, Radio-Prairies North;  Leo Remillard;  at the reception that followed the official signing of the deed of purchase by Radio-Canada.

Representatives of French-speaking radio stations celebrate after the signing of the deed of purchase by Radio-Canada. (archives)

Photo: Radio-Canada / Radio-Canada Archives

The profits from this sale will be invested in a new organization, the Fondation de la radio française, which promises to offer scholarships to Francophone students and cultural organizations in Saskatchewan. In 1997, this organization changed its name to Fondation fransaskoise.

A fear for jobs

The sale of CFRG is not unanimous, particularly in Gravelbourg where job losses are feared.

We thought we were going to lose a lot of people in Gravelbourg. We employed about fifteen people at CFRG at that time. »

A quote from Guy Préfontaine, technician at CFRG from 1960 to 1966
An animator at the microphone of CFRG.

CFRG’s workforce changes often. Faced with the difficulty of recruiting advertisers in Western Canada, managers hired young people from Eastern Canada. (archives)

Photo: Collection of the Gravelbourg Museum

Paul Arès, then municipal councilor of Gravelbourg, goes so far as to assert CRTC than the sale could mean the death of Gravelbourg, cultural capital of the francophones of this province.

The importance of this station for us goes far beyond the $50,000 in salaries it brings us annually. »

A quote from Paul Arès, municipal councilor of Gravelbourg

Radio, a local medium

Ever since Francophones settled in Saskatchewan, there has always been this question of the survival of language and culture.says Michel Vézina.

A CFRG microphone in front of a station emblem that reads

Profits from the sale of CFRG were invested in order to be able to distribute scholarships to Francophone students and cultural initiatives in Saskatchewan.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Raphaële Frigon

For him, it is absolutely necessary to develop all possible means, from radio to television and the Internet, because we do not have an environment that favors French.

It’s still important to have a radio station, and not just a francophone radio station, but a local radio station. »

A quote from André Moquin, former CFRG employee
The antennas of CFRG became those of Radio-Canada.

The antennas of CFRG became those of Radio-Canada.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Raphaële Frigon

We live in a sea of ​​English speakersexplains André Moquin. The radio enables people to come together, to hear each other, to bridge this distance. It’s important and increasingly important because of social media.

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