A small town girl had big city dreams for Sudbury. Originally from Hearst, Paulette Gagnon, a remarkable organizer and talented administrator, shepherded the Place des Arts project, the francophone creative space in downtown Sudbury set to open in 2020.
As the director of development for Place des Arts, Gagnon worked for le Regroupement des organismes culturels de Sudbury (ROCS), but her efforts went beyond 9 to 5, and hersupport for the arts was exemplary.
Gagnon worked behind the scenes and preferred to stay out of the spotlight. But she was a star of the francophone arts community and was considered one of the most influential francophones outside of Quebec.
Gagnon suffered a stroke and died suddenly in October 2017, just a few days before the federal government announced $12 million in funding for the Place des Arts project. She was 62 years old.
In 2018 the prestigious Ontario Francophonie Award was presented posthumously to Gagnon. This provincial government award is given to people who make a remarkable contribution to the advancement and vitality of the francophone community in Ontario.
Construction started last fall on the $30-million francophone arts centre at the corner of Larch and Elgin streets. Place des Arts will be home to eight cultural organizations and is expected to host 850 events in its first years.
The funding for the project comes from corporations, community groups. and all levels of government, including FedNor, the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation, the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport, and the City of Greater Sudbury.
Sudbury MP Paul Lefebvre paid tribute to Gagnon in the House of Commons at the time of her death.
“Mr. Speaker, my riding of Sudbury is the future home of Place des Arts, the largest cultural centre that Canada has seen in the past 25 years The very accomplished, clever leader behind this project was a remarkable figure in the cultural community, my friend Paulette Gagnon…Paulette had a very impressive career. She was the head of the Fédération culturelle canadienne-française and of the Association des théâtres francophones du Canada.
“Very few people are as passionate about standing up for the interests of artists and cultural groups as she was. People could not say no to her. She was a formidable leader and an architect of the French-Canadian cultural community, which is now better equipped and better structured because of the work she did,” said Lefebvre.
Gagnon was instrumental in the professionalization of the Théâtre du Nouvel-Ontario (TNO) in the 1980s. Later, she headed La Nouvelle Scène theatre in Ottawa while it was being constructed and during its first years of operation.
She devoted herself whether it was at TNO, La Nouvelle Scène, the Théâtre français du Centre national des Arts, the Fédération culturelle canadienne-française or the Association des théâtres francophones du Canada, where she implemented major projects that helped shape French-Canadian theatre.
When she returned to Sudbury, Gagnon reached out to English arts organizations and was involved in starting the Creative Consortium of artistic directors. She was a founding member of the Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts committee.
When she died, Mayor Brian Bigger said, “Paulette leaves behind a powerful legacy as a dedicated visionary of arts and culture, who thrived on celebrating our community’s successes.
“Paulette’s strategic thinking and inquisitive nature was instrumental in helping us develop our city’s cultural plan.
“Paulette will be remembered for her drive and creativity, and her tireless efforts to support artists and creative professionals across all sectors.”