A festival of fiddles

Photo courtesy of Festival du bois

The cultural heritage of Maillardville, Coquitlam will be fully on display soon at Mackin Park for the Festival du bois (March 23–25), says Johanne Dumas, the festival’s managing artistic director and a festival veteran of over 20 years.

We want to celebrate everything that’s been in Maillardville over the years,” Dumas explains. “We’d be fools not to.”

Now in its 29th year, the Festival du bois was originally created in honour of the French-Canadian families who moved to British Columbia from Eastern Canada. Over the years, the festival has grown more inclusive.

“It’s become a place where all people get together for a weekend of French cultural reality,” says Dumas. “We celebrate the spirit of la Francophonie, and the traditions, through music and food. [But] we also have a component of world music. It’s about families coming together, a sense of community.”

Highlights of the Festival include a Friday night contra dance, a pancake and maple syrup breakfast on Sunday morning, and performances by French-Canadian and other artists.

Lumberjacks and their axes

Johanne Dumas, managing artistic director, has worked for Le Festival du bois for over 20 years Courtesy of Le festival du bois |

The Festival commemorates the history of Maillardville, a community formed of the families from many cultures who worked in the lumber industry.

“Francophones were invited to come because historically the Quebecois are good woodworkers,” Dumas says.

But, she adds, Maillardville was not just Francophone.

“There was a very large Chinese community, Japanese community, and South Asian community that worked at the [lumber] mill. The story was that after many years, those who got paid more were the Anglophones,” says Dumas. “Then it was the Francophones, then it was the South Asians, then the Japanese, and at the end of the list were the Chinese. In the early thirties, the Francophone says, ‘Hey! This is not fair.’ They started a strike, so that everybody would get paid fairly for the work they did.”

The Festival celebrates both the multicultural spirit of Maillardville and its economic mainstay, the wood industry.

“It’s the lumberjack reality,” explains Dumas. “We’re going to have axe throwing competitions. There’s a target and prizes also. There is a little lumberjack area for kids. They’re going to be throwing rubber axes. It’s going to be great fun for the whole family. We do a lot of things lumberjacks would have done. There’s wood sawing too.”

People can dress in lumberjack-like clothing as well, with tuques and checkered shirts. A pre-festival event is the Diner en plaid, a dinner where the dress code is very casual.

“It’s a play on Diner en blanc, but we wanted something less chichi,” says Dumas, laughing. “You can wear your plaid shirt.”

The food served at this dinner and throughout the festival will be, among other treats, the traditional food of the Québecois families who lived in Maillardville.

“The food will be the sugar pies, the baked beans, the pea soup that were part of the reality of French-Canadians, because they are known for having had very large families in the past,” says Dumas. “They were Catholics; they were there to procreate. One way to make sure you could have all those kids was to have lots of things that could be a very extended type of meal. It was a way of making sure those tummies were full at a lesser price.”

The tapping of the feet

French-Canadian band Le vent du Nord has a Celtic sound with a foot-tapping rhythm | Photo courtesy of Festival du bois

Music is a highlight of the Festival, with many well-known French-Canadian artists.

“It’s a very Québecois-Celtic sound. French-Canadian music was very influenced by the Irish reality. There’s always a mix of old French traditional songs and that Celtic sound always comes through,” says Dumas.

Along with the fiddles comes foot-tapping, an integral part of Quebecois music.

“Québecois musicians have podorythmie,” Dumas explains. “While listening, playing the fiddle, they will also tap and make music with their feet. This is something that’s very French-Canadian.”

For more information, please visit www.festivaldubois.ca.