Bayview’s Bastille Day

The French national day is a small but festive affair in Toronto

Call it a certain je ne sais quoi.

Celebrating her adopted nation of Canada’s national day this month, Juan Schmitt says it’s a warm feeling of national pride that she loves so much.

“I am not originally Canadian, but when go to Queen’s Park I feel that atmosphere, the air there, that spirit. It’s really uplifting.”

This July 14, Juan will celebrate another national holiday: Bastille Day.

Le 14 Juillet, as the French national day is also known, is celebrated in the Schmitt household because Juan’s husband Thierry is from France. Although the French community in Toronto is very small—our city of neighbourhoods doesn’t have a Little France—the Schmitts, who own Pâtisserie La Cigogne on Bayview Avenue, celebrate Bastille Day in fine form.

“We put out the French flags and inside the store we have the flags too. We play La Marseillaise around one week before. On July 14 we’ll play that music all day,” said Juan Schmitt, whose husband Thierry, a Paris-trained pastry chef, could be said to be one of our city’s foremost ambassadors of French culture.

“It’s just for the fun of it. To feel the atmosphere.”

For the French community in Toronto, that proud French national atmosphere can be hard to find and so many turn to this small bakery on Bayview to grab a buttery crescent-shaped piece of home on Bastille Day.

The first thing to draw them in is the waving tricolors, France’s national flag, outside.

“The French people feel happy to see that, especially when we give them a little treat, a chocolate or a Madeleine, they feel good.

They’ll feel part of that, feel that they are French,” Juan said.

For the non-French visitors on Bastille Day, stepping into the Schmitts’ bakery can feel like stepping into another world.

“(People) will ask about the French national day and what it’s about and so we’ll tell them the Bastille history. They sing the songs together with us and everybody’s happy on that particular day. No matter if you’re French, Indian, middle-eastern—from any country—they just feel a very warm feeling in the store,” Juan said.

“This is what we’re trying to create, like a small community or family.”

Later in the evening, the Schmitts plan to attend an event hosted by the French Consulate in Toronto at Glendon College. It’s an invite-only affair so those French or Franco-curious who haven’t made the guest list may have to look a little harder to catch that national feeling.

“For the small people like us, we haven’t heard of many other events,” Juan said.

Though Pâtisserie La Cigogne may be the only bastion of Frenchness to be had in Bayview on Bastille Day, there are indeed other pockets of French culture in the city.

In Yorkville, the popular café Crêpes à Gogo will host their annual fête. The Citroën Autoclub of Canada, a group of devotees to the French car, will be in attendance at that event. A more casual event is being planned by a small French ex-pat group that connects on the website Torontois.com. They plan to meet at High Park for an afternoon picnic.

Although French president Sarkozy has cancelled his own Bastille Day party in Paris as a demonstration of his nation’s need for financial austerity, it would seem that Toronto’s French haven’t lost their joie de vivre.


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By: Christopher Reynolds
Posted: Jul 6 2010 5:10 pm
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto
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