French Heritage Festival brings Quebec culture to Woonsocket

French Heritage Festival brings Quebec culture to Woonsocket

WOONSOCKET – Dynamites and meat pies will be in abundance this weekend at the 37th annual French Heritage Festival sponsored by the Northern Rhode Island Council of the Arts at River Island Art Park, Bernon Street, on Saturday, Sept. 7.

The event brings together French-Canadian musicians, local crafters, family activities and, of course, plenty of Québécois food to celebrate Woonsocket’s French heritage. According to Madeleine Riendeau, Quebec native and NRICA board member, you don’t have to be French to enjoy the festival, but it helps to have a love of the toe-tapping French-Canadian songs. Le Vent des Cantons, a group hailing from Canada, and Les Joyeux Copains, a Rhode Island group, will perform at this year’s event.

“They like the beat,” she explained about some of the festival’s younger attendees. “They say, I don’t understand a word they’re saying, but they like the music.”

Along with dynamites and meat pies, hungry patrons can find pâté chinois – that’s Quebec-speak for shepherd’s pie – and crepes prepared by culinary students at Beacon Charter High School for the Arts. For the second year in a row, the event will include a chalk art competition for children sponsored by Dan Guernon, artist and owner of Dan’s Martial Arts Center, with registration for the three age divisions open until 11 a.m. Face painting, balloons and appearances by Paws from the PawSox and Bobo the Clown will round out the family activities.

Once referred to as the French Farmers’ Market, the festival has evolved to feature local crafters selling handmade goods. Shoppers this year can find wooden crafts, jewelry, goat’s milk soap, plants and artwork for sale and learn about the work of local nonprofits as they browse the booths.

“We’ve got 41 vendors and we have more that want to come in, and we don’t know if we’re going to have room for them,” said Marlene Gagnon, treasurer of the NRICA board of directors.

The event also includes a trivia contest with questions drawn from the annals of Woonsocket history. The contest, said Gagnon, is always a favorite, a rare occasion when city residents can actually earn prizes for their knowledge of long-closed businesses or forgotten landmarks.

At night, festival-goers head to the evening soiree at Holy Trinity Parish Hall, co-sponsored by Catholic Financial Life, where Le Vent des Cantons will entertain with traditional French dance music. Dynamites, beer and wine will be on offer while attendees join in the quadrille, the French square dance.

“They tell you all the steps to go by so anyone, even if you don’t know to dance it, they show you how to dance it,” said Riendeau.

The event is one of the longest running from the NRICA, an organization dedicated to keeping the arts, and French culture, alive in Woonsocket. The group also sponsors the city’s annual Mardi Gras celebration and has already begun putting together their Mardi Gras and Quebec-themed float for this year’s Autumnfest parade. NRICA members Wally Rathbun and Tammy Irwin chair the daytime event, while Romeo Berthiaume, Paul Collette and Paul Plante chair the evening soiree.

The French Heritage Festival runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at River Island Art Park. The evening soiree runs from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Holy Trinity Parish Hall, 1409 Park Ave., Woonsocket. A $10 donation per person for the evening soiree benefits Mardi Gras 2020.

Tickets for the Soiree can be purchased at the door. They can also be purchased at WOON, WNRI, Bileau’s Flowers, Piette’s Jewelers, Vose Hardware, Pepin Lumber, Museum of Work & Culture, Timeless Antiques and Club Lafayette.

Marlene Gagnon and Madeleine Riendeau of Woonsocket are two of the Northern Rhode Island Council of the Arts board members behind the French Heritage Festival. (Breeze photo by Lauren Clem)
Le Vent des Cantons of Canada performs during the 2018 French Heritage Festival at River Island Art Park in Woonsocket.