Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Unless one has roots in a francophone family or community, the celebration of Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day may not be familiar.
Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day is celebrated in Canada on June 24th, or one day on either side of the 24th is also acceptable and is a traditional French-Canadian celebration held in honour of the Patron Saint of French Canadians.
While it is unclear how St. Jean Baptiste became their patron saint, the history of St-Jean-Baptiste Day goes back hundreds of years. Originally, it was a day to remember the Christian saint, St. John the Baptist, but that changed in the spring of 1834.
A French-Canadian businessman named Ludger Duvernay went to a St. Patrick’s Day celebration in Montreal and afterward felt that French Canadians should have a similar day on which to honour their own heritage. To that effect, he formed the Saint Jean Baptiste Society which celebrated their new holiday on June 24 of 1834.
In the ensuing 189 years, it has become a celebration of the Francophone culture and history. While in bigger communities and in the province of Quebec, there are lots of public events like concerts, parades, and firework displays, smaller communities, families, and neighbourhoods also get together for their own celebrations with picnics, bonfires, and/or barbecues.
The Hamlet of Bellevue located 27 km northwest of Wakaw on Highway 225 held their Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day celebrations on Friday, June 23rd with a barbecue, games, and prizes for the children, and of course music.
Music has been an integral part of Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day celebrations since its beginnings and therefore Bellevue’s celebration wouldn’t have been complete without it. Providing musical entertainment for the celebration was La Raquette à claquettes, a francophone ensemble from Regina.
Created in 1995 for the Francophone pavilion at Regina’s Mosaic Festival, the group ‘who never intended to stay together’ are still performing for audiences around the province. Their promotional biography claims that they are fueled by “the spirit of the Voyageurs who hurled themselves over whitewater rapids with reckless abandon and who sang their songs and played their jugs with the same energy, the band was an instant hit and soon, wherever La Raquette went, the party followed.”
With great toe-tapping melodies and an irresistible beat taken from many traditions, the group has built on its traditional French-Canadian and Metis influences to create its own sound. They have played to audiences in Francophone communities from the east coast to the west, performing in festivals, concerts, and special events for young and old.
The band includes David Lawlor, Michel Chammartin, Michel Lalonde, Gilles Groleau, and Francis Marchildon, and it wasn’t long after they started playing at the bandstand in Bellevue’s park, that the children began to dance along. Slowly but surely, the dancing grew from just a couple of children dancing amongst the tables, to a significant group who filled the open ground space and up the ramp of the bandstand to immediately in front of the performers.
The students who come to École St-Isidore, reside in and around Bellevue, Domremy, St-Louis, Wakaw, Hoey, Tway, Batoche, Rosthern, Fish Creek, and St-Laurent. The pre-kindergarten through grade 12 students, together with residents of the hamlet, enjoyed the warm sunny day and the opportunity to partake in the barbecue/picnic festivities put on by the hamlet’s council and take a break from regular classroom activities.
President of the Hamlet Council, Jennie Baudais said of the day, “I’d like to thank the volunteers without whose help none of our activities would be possible. They are truly the backbone of the community.”