This has been a busy summer for me outside of the blog, but I was very lucky to receive an invitation to visit my friend’s family in Caraquet, New Brunswick to celebrate the Acadian fête nationale, 15 Août (August 15). In the Acadian community, this is the very definition of a community celebration. People come home from away, vacations are taking and meals are planned well in advance. There are festivals and parades, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Short version: what is an Acadian?
Disclaimer: This summary is very short and glosses over hundreds of years of often-contentious history.
The Acadians were the first French (and European) settlers in present-day Canada, arriving in the early 1600s and establishing farms and communities in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, known as L’Acadie. Successive wars between the French and British saw this territory change hands, and in the mid-1700s, the British deported the Acadians, known in the community as Le Grand Dérangement (the Great Upheaval). While the Acadians were permitted to return about 10 years later, the community was changed forever; scattering along the eastern seaboard of the present-day United States and establishing itself most notably in Louisiana, where they you know Acadian descendants as Cajuns.
The Acadians returning to present-day Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick re-established communities, generations of new Acadians followed sharing a language and cultural tradition. Today’s Acadians are a fiercely proud group who have worked hard to have their heritage recognized for its contribution to Canada. This recognition came in 2003, when Canada’s Parliament declared August 15 la Fête nationale de l’Acadie, National Acadian Day.
Much like New Year’s or Mardi Gras, 15 Août is a celebration where there is no “too much.” You cannot wear enough symbols of your Acadian identity, and, being one-quarter Acadian, I was up to the task. My friend took me to several shops to get suited up: t-shirt, accessories, hats, headbands, temporary tattoos. You can also buy Acadian flag-coloured hair extensions, nail polish, face paint, and much, much more. One of the more interesting aspects of Acadian patriotism, to me at least, is its clan-like nature. People will gladly decorate with Acadian flags, but you’ll often see items festooned with their family names, like these headbands.
My family’s Acadian name isn’t very common in this part of L’Acadie, so I had to settle for non-personalized gear. It wasn’t a problem; for my first 15 Août, I aimed for “blending in” versus “standing out,” in case anyone tried to speak Acadian French to me.
The workshop, Atelier de Tintamarre
This wasn’t a huge part of my adventure, but it reminded me so much of my time in Barcelona during La Mercè, I wanted to include it.
In the days leading up to the festival, people can visit the local grocery store and take advantage of the “workshop” where people (fine, children), can work on costumes and festive decorations for the Tintamarre on 15 Août. Unlike the gegants i capgrossos of Catalunya, I couldn’t get a handle on whether or not Les Grosses têtes du Tintamarre presented were parts of stories or otherwise culturally relevant, but I had a lot of fun getting to know them anyway.
Le Festival Acadien
August 15 arrives and people quickly dispatch of the day’s tasks to get down to the real business of the day: 15 Août celebrations. There are festivals all around L’Acadie, and I was jazzed to get my Acadian gear on and see what the day was all about. There was food and music, as well as markets for last-minute buyers of Acadian paraphernalia. My greatest discovery of this part of the day was Épines de dragons, dragon spine-themed waffles on a skewer that were promoting a local medieval festival. Not Acadian, but still an essential part of the celebration.
Le Grand Tintamarre
The centrepiece of Caraquet’s 15 Août celebration is Le Grand Tintamarre, or noise parade. These parades occur in Acadian communities across the region, but I’m told the one in Caraquet is the biggest – and by extension, the loudest – drawing 20,000 people for the one-hour walk up and down Boulevard Saint-Pierre Ouest. The only requirement is that you bring something, anything, that makes noise. Some people wear costumes, but there isn’t any theme. There’s an “anything goes” flavour that makes each tintamarre completely different, from town to town and year to year.
For my part, I got suited up in my Acadian shirt, bracelets, and lei, topping off the look by tying an Acadian headband around a white satin burlesque hat I found on the sale table at a local pharmacy. To make a dizzying amount of noise, I brought a qraqeb, a loud, jangly metal percussion instrument I bought on my travels in Morocco.
At 6:00 pm sharp, SHARP, the bells of Saint Pierre-aux-Liens start ringing to signify the beginning of the Tintamarre. The bells are quickly drowned out by the clanging of the crowd.
This is one parade where I’d recommend participating over observing. There were lovely crowds on the side of the street, but all of the action (and chaos) was in the heaving mass of the brightly coloured crowd.
I’ve learned that people go pretty hard on 15 Août. So much so, there are a fair number of jokes about 16 Août being, well, simply awful. I suffered none of these ill effects. We mostly spent the day touring around a seeing more of this extraordinary corner of the Earth.
I fully intend to celebrate 15 Août again next year, but will go much, much bigger, now that I have the basics in hand. I saw a lot of “100% Acadien” t-shirts that day and have considered getting my own “25% Acadienne” one printed up, just for fun. Stay tuned, or better yet, dust off your high school French and join me!
For more of my 15 Août on social media, I Storify’d the experience for my amusement and your entertainment.
Have you ever experienced 15 Août? Which one should I experience next?