Most readers of this blog are very familiar with the New England mill towns, the Quebec diaspora, language loss, yada yada yada. It’s one thing to talk about these things and mourn the loss of cultural identity, but it’s a very different thing to do something about it.
A young Franco-American from the great state of Rhode Island is taking some action in his community. Calvin Fox is working on a project to bring a St. Jean Baptiste celebration back to Woonsocket, RI.
Last summer he spoke to a local newspaper about his project. In the article, Fox lays out some pretty interesting ideas for the celebration. It sounds like a fair or festival type atmosphere with a focus on the somewhat neglected French-Canadian roots of Woonsocket. Keep in mind, this would all occur post-COVID.
Can it work?
The article drops an interesting stat out there, “By some estimates, as many as 80 percent of the city's population could still trace their origins to Canada as recently as the 1980s.” Is this true? We aren’t 100% sure. However, there is a massive museum dedicated to French-Canadian immigration in Woonsocket. So, whether it's 80%, 50%, or 20%...there is an existing market for FCs in the state.
If we look around the region we see very similar successful events in Maine and New Hampshire. These are the kind of events that are economic drivers for a region.
La Kermese - located in Biddeford, Maine, is going into its 38th year of operation. This Franco-American event is a weekend extravaganza that occurs right around the St-Jean (June 24th).
This event draws thousands of people to Biddeford. It has a parade, carnival rides, and food vendors.
While the festival’s roots are Franco it is very much a secular/event for all.
This is very much in line with Fox’s thoughts from the article where he mentions this, “However anyone wants to celebrate it they could celebrate it. It could be food, family gatherings,” says Fox. “It could be almost like a St. Patrick's Day in a way.”
NH PoutineFest - which occurs annually at the Anheuser-Busch Brewery in Merrimack, New Hampshire, brings thousands of poutiniacs and fans of Franco culture from all over the US to southern NH. This festival focuses on a food that many many people love and also splashes in a lot of Franco-American music and culture. This event is also very much along the lines of Fox’s vision.
That’s just scratching the surface. Fox appears to be striking the iron while its hot. If groups in Maine and New Hampshire can do it, why not Rhodie? If you agree sign the petition to get the work on this event started - Create a Franco-American Holiday, Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day June 24th in Woonsocket, RI