French-speakers were the first European settlers in the Central Okanagan, but the demographic tide of history saw them lose that place of prominence.

Those who cite French as the first language they learned at home now account for less than two per cent of Kelowna’s population, census figures show.

“We are very conscious we are a minority here,” Claudie Valque, executive director of the French Cultural Centre, said Monday.

So when the group hosts events, as it did in downtown Kelowna last Saturday to mark St. Jean Baptiste Day with a celebration called FrancoFete, members are keen to incorporate as much English as possible so passersby can join in.

“Our community is actually very proud of French, English and everybody being together,” Valque said at a press conference to mark federal funding for B.C. events that celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary.

The government has given $1.5 million in support of sesquicentennial events taking place between June 21 and Canada Day across B.C., said Kelowna-Lake Country Liberal MP Stephen Fuhr.

Additional federal funding has been given to local events such as the Festivals Kelowna Canada Day celebration in Waterfront Park and other sesquicentennial programming ($100,000), Westside Daze in West Kelowna ($5,000), and the Lake Country Rotary Club’s July 1 celebration in Swalwell Park (1,500).

“Our theme is celebrating our past, present and future together,” said club spokesman Dave Colquhoun.

The French-Cultural society’s FrancoFete also received a grant of $2,400.

“This is a massively important year for us,” Fuhr said at a press conference held at the Rotary Centre for the Arts.

In addition to the Canada Day events, Festivals Kelowna will announce on July 5 other sesquicentennial-themed activities, said Renata Mills, executive director of the non-profit society.

“We’re kind of leaking the information a little bit at a time so you don’t get overwhelmed,” Mills said.

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