Joe Gendre’s summer vacation on France’s west coast was one for the record books.
The Stettler County councillor, his wife Circun and their four children participated in what was the biggest family reunion ever staged in the world.
On Aug. 18-19, 4,750 adults from the Porteau-Clautour family gathered at the town of Saint-Christophe-du-Ligneron. The event was registered for the Guiness World Records, which previously recorded the largest family reunion going to an American one of 2,585 adults.
More than 5,000 people actually attended the France reunion, but only adults are counted for Guinness.
Gendre will never forget this reunion because of its sheer size and the jovial attitude amongst everyone.
The event was held on the fairgrounds decorated with tents, food concessions, a bandstand, bouncy playhouses for children, and games including “six-foot long javelin-type” size pick-up sticks. One woman in her 90s sang French folk songs.
Others, dressed in traditional costume from a century ago, made rope and wicker baskets in front of passersby.
Thirteen Canadians — including Gendre’s family, plus his uncle Leon Gendre of Red Deer and his two sons — attended. The reunion’s cost was free to them.
“Because we came from Canada, we were like honoured guests,” said Gendre, 51. “We had these Canadian tags on and people would surround us. They were curious as to where we came from and the first thing they’d ask is, ‘what part of Quebec were you from?’”
The Canadian troupe was given a historical tour, plus they learned more about the Gendre geneology going back 11 generations.
“These relatives were all on my dad’s side,” said Gendre.
Gendre first heard about the reunion a couple of years ago through fourth cousin, organizer Jean-Michel Cheneau. He’s been interested in geneology (study of families and their lineages) since age 11.
“He decided he was going to go for the gusto and have this big cousin reunion,” said Gendre.
Cheneau and 22 of his colleagues from university helped work on this big task. One of them was writing a book on priests that left France during the Revolution, which began in 1789, and the subsequent separation of church and state of the early 1900s.
Gendre’s great-uncle was a priest, plus his uncle was a brother in the Catholic Religious Order. Through these family connections, Cheneau learned about his relatives in Canada. He then got a hold of them to tell them about the reunion.
The reunion was held for the descendants of George and Madeleine Porteau who lived in the 1600s.
They have more than 23,000 known descendents — the names of which appeared on a family tree banner displayed at the reunion.
“When you stretch out a banner (about 750 metres long) — it’s just incredible,” said Gendre.
Gendre said he’s not sure of plans for another reunion.
“I wasn’t going to miss this one,” said Gendre. “And I’m sure the kids will have lots to remember.”