The importance of celebrating culture was front and centre for French-speaking central Albertans this weekend.
The French-Canadian Association of Alberta hosted the 10th annual Winter Carnival at Festival Hall in Red Deer Saturday.
“We should celebrate diversity and culture every day, whether it’s the language you speak, the country you come from, the colour of your skin, your religious practice or your spirituality,” said Serge Gingras, the Red Deer regional director of the French-Canadian Association of Alberta.
During the Winter Carnival, attendees could enjoy local francophone entertainment, feast on maple toffy on snow and get their faces painted.
The event started a decade ago as a day of activities for students in French-immersion schools.
“It was pretty much exclusively for those students, but over time there was a desire from the francophone community to open it up to the broader public,” said Gingras.
For the past five years the event has been more about the community.
“Part of our mandate is gathering the community together,” he said. “We’re at the point where people are asking about it. They call us at the office and ask if we’re having the carnival this year and if we’re having maple taffy on snow.”
The carnival is usually held in February, but was pushed back so it didn’t interfere with the 2019 Canada Winter Games, which ran from Feb. 15 to March 2. Gingras said the French language was promoted as “part of the Canadian fabric and part of our community” during the Games.
About 50-60 people attended the carnival’s first-ever pancake breakfast Saturday morning – the event had instead featured a “Sugar Shack” dinner in the past, said Gingras.
Gingras said he’s already excited for next year’s Winter Carnival.
“We’ll build on what we’re doing – we always do that year after year. Even before we started the carnival today we were already talking about ideas for next year.”
The francophone community in Red Deer is quite large, Gingras said, adding there are an estimated 285,000 French speakers in Alberta.
Some of this comes from the “migration happening, whether it’s people coming from other countries or other parts of Canada. In the last year and a half I’ve seen people who were living in Quebec who came to live in Western Canada because of work or other reasons. I’ve also seen newcomers in this country who … wanted their children to be bi-lingual.”