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LEAPer Feature: Celebration Takes the Form of a New Museum and Event Space

Entrepreneurial Spotlight on Tyler ‘Awaazhko Bines’ French

Just outside of London, Ontario, if you travel briefly down Longwoods Road, you will find yourself within a peaceful clearing in the heart of Chippewas of the Thames First Nation. Within this clearing, is the vision for a one-of-a-kind gathering space – something entrepreneur Tyler French has dreamed up and has been working persistently on for the last three years to bring to life.

French is a graduate of the Business Fundamentals Entrepreneurship Program through the Lawrence Kinlin School Business at Fanshawe College. He graduated in December 2019 with the dream of finding a way to share his Indigenous culture and family’s history. He holds an interest in anthropology and archaeology, and has worked on several archaeological projects across Southwestern Ontario. It was during one of these assignments that French realized that the artifacts he discovered were an important part of his people’s heritage. His strong desire to return these pieces home so their past could be shared publicly became the spark that ignited his entrepreneurial fire.

French’s desire of sharing the rich history of his people took shape when he proposed the idea of building a museum that could house and showcase Indigenous artifacts, while simultaneously creating a space that could accommodate celebratory events. As it turns out, he didn’t have to search very far when seeking out a location that could host such a facility. In fact, it was discovered right on his family’s property.

The concept of the space has been named “Celebration: Event Facility and Museum,” which will be an Indigenous-owned and operated gathering space that is the perfect backdrop for large events, weddings, and any other celebratory experience you can dream up. The space will sit on 12 acres of exquisite property located on Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, Indian reservation number 42. It is a piece of land that the French family has owned for generations.

While building an event facility may seem like no small task, French expresses he is up for the challenge. He recently won a $10,000 non-repayable grant as part of the Ontario Tourism in Travel Small Business Grant in July 2021. He is also currently a semi-finalist for the Pow Wow Pitch, a pitch competition for Indigenous entrepreneurs across Turtle Island to help them grow their ventures to the next level. Contestants have a chance to win a grand prize of $25,000 in funding, which French expresses would go a long way towards construction costs for his facility. All funds French has earned so far will be going towards the assembly of an Eastern white pine timber pavilion at his venue space. French has been working on the property for the last few years, and he is eager to break ground with construction this Fall. He expects the facility will be ready just in time for the 2022 wedding season.

Though starting a business at the beginning of a pandemic has had its challenges, French expresses that there have been a lot more ups versus downs, and he feels incredibly grateful for the opportunities he has been able to benefit from. He also feels that the creation of such a facility is all part of the process of giving back. “In our teachings, we celebrate all stages of life. [The space] is here for everybody to enjoy. It’s about sharing our land and giving back to the community... We want to show our history while also showing the way we celebrate.”

Jiikakamigad (jiik-akamig-ad) in the Ojibwe language stands for “there is a celebration.” French’s ancestors gathered and celebrated on this land for over 9,000 years, and he believes it is his mission to now return the land to a state of joy and excitement through the creation of Celebration: Event Facility and Museum. He invites everyone to come and see its beauty.

More about our LEAPer Feature: Tyler ‘Awaazhko Bines’ French is a Fanshawe College graduate, and an honoured LEAP Junction entrepreneur. He is an official partner with the Ontario Indigenous Tourism and the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada. He is also the recipient of the Fanshawe College Research and Innovation Day: Entrepreneurship Award in 2020. Celebration: Event Facility and Museum is currently showcased on WeddingWire Canada. French is also a proud registered band member with Chippewas of the Thames First Nation.

There is still time to vote for French as the recipient of The People’s Choice Award for the annual Pow Wow Pitch competition. French’s pitch can be found under “Tyler French-Celebration: Event Facility and Museum.” The voting for this award ends September 25, 2021, and we encourage you to cast your vote here:

If you would like to help support Celebration: Event Facility and Museum, you can do so through their official GoFundMe campaign:

Follow Celebration: Event Facility and Museum on social media @Jiikakamigad

written by Amanda Oppedisano at LEAP Junction

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