CBC en Français from Saffies in Albert Beach

…by Laura Tutlies

I caught the early morning crew of CBC Radio-Canada enjoying a sumptuous breakfast Saffies Restaurant about a half hour after they had wrapped up the September 3rd edition of radio-réveil. They were in Albert Beach to kick off the first of their "on the road" shows for the new season. According to Stéphane Hawey, producer of the early morning broadcast, "we hope to leave our Winnipeg studio at least once a month and get out to bilingual communities throughout Manitoba. Last season we were in Thompson, Flin Flon and the Pas. As we begin our 2010 and 2011 broadcast year it is our mission to bring CBC en français live from beyond our St. Boniface offices. We are lining up schools and other francophone communities across the province where we can do that."

Personable, engaging and vibrant are just three of the adjectives one could use to describe the early morning moderator of Radio-Canada, Geneviève Murchison. As we talk, she is relaxed and confident of the success of the morning broadcast. She is full of energy and eager to share her take on the morning broadcast and the pleasure of meeting with her audience. "THIS is so cool" says Murchison while gesturing behind her to Saffies General Store and around her, within the bustling restaurant.

Perfectly folded crêpes, steaming coffee and the remains of soft yellow eggs accounted only in part for the satisfied look on the four person team. Murchison explains, "It is different when you get out of the studio and among the people who listen to our program. Plage Albert is a 'Little St. Boniface' and we decided to use this place for our season launch. It feels good to be with the people. Within the studio you tend to forget the faces that are listening. It is so much better when the show is live because the people who attend also become part of the program. Their stories become the best part of the broadcast."

Colombe Fortin agrees - "It is not about us, it is about the area and the people in it." This versatile radio personality is responsible for giving French audiences the news about current weather conditions, however she is much more than 'just a weather girl' her colleagues hasten to inform me. Says Murchison, almost in chorus with Hawey, "Colombe is an outstanding technician and when we are outside the studio, we couldn't do without her expertise". For this particular version of radio-réveil (clock radio) from it's live location in Plage Albert, Fortin provided a history of some of the more notable (violent) weather that have touched the East Beaches area since 1926 when cottage lots on this popular beach were first put on the market.

Across the table I notice the sparkling eyes of Dominique Reynolds, Cultural Columnist for the morning show. I am convinced that the entire crew are well pleased with their visit to this small cottage community 109 kilometres north of the city and nearly an hour and a half of driving away from their home office. "It is a new world - en français", says Reynolds. In some ways, it is a small world. Beside her, Murchison picks up the theme.

"I talked to a number of people who got up early to be with us at Saffies store. This morning there was a young boy in the audience and he had an interesting face so I chose him randomly from the crowd to come to the microphone. I asked him 'why he had got up so early to see and hear our program?' It turns out, this young boy spends every summer at the cottage with his parents but has a special connection to CBC Radio-Canada. You see, his uncle is Marc-Éric Bouchard, our sports columnist. Although Marc was not with us in Plage Albert this morning, his nephew explained their relationship and his personal interest in our program. I think it brought a significant human connection to our broadcast and to our team."

There is much more to this story of the live broadcast of Radio-Canada in Albert Beach. The co-owner of Saffies General Store, Lise Bourassa opened the doors of the establishment at the ungodly hour of 5:00 am to prepare the well positioned internet café for the arrival of the CBC French Radio crew. She said, "I wondered while I got things started, how do people do this every day?" Meanwhile, there had been a sign on the store door that invited all patrons to join the staff at Saffies for the Radio CBC at 6:00 a.m. for the start of the morning show. She was surprised at how many people accepted that invitation.

Jerry Bourassa, husband to Lise and her business partner, manages Saffies Restaurant which is immediately across the street from Saffies General Store. He doesn't usually open until brunch time at about 11:00 am and closes after the dinner crowd have left. The eatery is only open to business from 'May-Long' to 'September-Long' (weekend). This particular/peculiar morning Bourassa had crowds of folks looking for early breakfast. While the show went on across the street, he was well occupied overseeing his staff as they prepared and served an expanded number breakfasts to all the early risers. The restaurant portion of the Saffies enterprise just expanded this summer. The General Store, still called Saffies after the original owners has been the focus of their beloved Plage Albert enterprise since December of 2006.

These days, the store and restaurant are a going concern. During the summer and over the year they employ nearly 50 young people from the area. "Most are students" says Lise, so they only want summer or part-time work. "I could hire someone for less, but I want to give these young people a chance." She adds, "They all work hard and are quite excellent." The Bourassa's are very community minded and the chance to host the broadcast site for Radio-Canada is just one of the many activities that take place in this close knit cottage sub-division. The September long weekend is both the end of the summer season for the restaurant but the beginning of a new year for Saffies General store and for CBC Radio-Canada.


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