Growing Francophone community celebrates St-Jean-Baptiste Day

Children catapulted stuffed sheep into a pool of water as one of the games for St-Jean-Baptiste Day at École Valois School on June 24, 2019. (Jayda Noyes/Daily Herald)

“we kept the tradition alive pretty well all over Canada.”

– Michel Dubé, President of the French Canadian Society of Prince Albert

Prince Albert’s Francophone community celebrated St-Jean-Baptiste Day, or Fête Nationale, on Monday—a day to commemorate their French language and culture.

It was particularly special for École Valois school, which may be moving next year from its location on 10th Street East. That’s according to French Canadian Society of Prince Albert President Michel Dubé.

“We thought it would be appropriate to end the school year on kind of a fun note with the community,” he said.

The French Canadian Society of Prince Albert and École Valois collaborated to host the event. It consisted of games for the kids, an adult versus children soccer game and a barbecue.

Catharine Topping, the student services teacher at École Valois, said it’s touching to see the students and their families participating.

“The fact that they are in a French school and that they’re celebrating that culture with us, too, and they appreciate that and the music and just that feeling of being together as a school,” she said.

Prince Albert’s Francophone community celebrates St-Jean-Baptiste Day by dancing to French music at École Valois School on June 24, 2019. (Jayda Noyes/Daily Herald)

St-Jean-Baptiste Day is a statutory holiday in Quebec on June 24. The day is rooted in a religious story, but is now generally a celebration of the French culture.

It dates back to the 1600s, developing from lighting a fire to mark the summer solstice (June 21). It then became associated with John the Baptist, who baptized his cousin Jesus.

It was declared a provincial holiday in Quebec in 1925 and emerged to a national Quebec holiday in 1977, when the celebrations transitioned to have a more secular meaning.

Dubé said the city is home to about 2,000 Francophones, and that number is only increasing because of newcomers.

“For some of them it’s the first time, so (St-Jean-Baptiste Day) gives them a bit of insight into our past and what’s important to us.”

Additionally, he said French immersion programs are on the rise.

“I think there’s an overall interest and people are realizing there’s an advantage to having more than one language and especially in Canada, it’s an official bilingual country,” said Dubé.

He added the population is likely aging in Prince Albert, but is increasing in numbers nevertheless.

“Because a lot of us are from old Quebec roots and descendants of Quebecers and people who move there, we kept the tradition alive pretty well all over Canada really. There’s something happening in every city and every province in the country today.”

Dubé said some choose to celebrate St-Jean-Baptiste Day on a different day. Saskatoon, for example, marked St-Jean-Baptiste Day on Sunday so they could celebrate over the weekend.