PASSION & HISTOIRE BLOG – Michelle Gervais, pioneer of francophone tourism

Kenza Zaoui - Translated by Thea Wortley

Since Michelle Gervais has just received a prestigious national tourism award from the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, we also wanted to pay homage to her in our own way on this blog.

Michelle is the pioneer of francophone tourism in Manitoba.  As such, she has worn many hats:  tour guide, founder of the Ô Tours company, director of Tourisme Riel, member of the Travel Manitoba and Tourism Winnipeg boards of directors, manager of bilingualism and even Festival du Voyageur princess.

When I asked Michelle how she introduces herself to someone in the tourism industry that she had never met, she mentioned right away her mission, promoting the francophone attractions of Winnipeg and Manitoba, and its longevity.

Understandably, during her thirty-year career, Michelle has witnessed an evolution.  Before, conversations necessarily started with questions to which we have probably all had to provide an answer at some point in our lives: Where’s Winnipeg? And Manitoba, where’s that? What’s there to do over there? 

Now, Manitoba is on the Canadian and International tourist maps thanks to the polar bears, the Winnipeg Jets, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.  Its attractions no longer have to prove themselves, but are valued instead.

And we’re sure that Michelle’s energy and engagement contributed greatly.

In fact, Michelle is a passionate person.  Of all the roles she has held, tour guide is the one that she prefers, being able to progressively see the negative perception visitors might have transformed throughout their visit and discoveries.  A guide has to welcome their visitors the same way they would themselves want to be welcomed.  As such, Ô Tours has presented the city to thousands of travellers, vacationers crossing Canada by train, professionals on business trips, French Canadians searching for other francophones, exchange students, Americans on fishing trips.  No matter the origin or reason for visiting, all visitors remember their time in Manitoba, partially thanks to Manitobans.

Our discussion was not lacking in anecdotes.  The long journey towards a recognition of the importance of the francophone market.  An eye-opening experience of francophone tourism in Louisiana.  Issues surrounding the sale of her business, that had been able to fill a void and offer a service that didn’t exist elsewhere, the sale of which could have triggered the disappearance of the French language. The challenges surrounding this francophone question. The creation of training in tourism at the start of the 2000s in what was then still referred to as the Saint-Boniface College.  It was impassioned.

Thirty years after her very first professional experience at the Festival du Voyageur, Michelle leaves us a nice legacy.  There is a considerable rise in the number of people who continue her mission to make Saint-Boniface, Winnipeg, and Manitoba known in and out of our provincial borders.

Retirement is not a state of mind for Michelle and I’m certain we’ll see you again, in Saint-Boniface or elsewhere, very soon!