Fête Fransaskoise: Saskatchewan’s French Cultural Festival

par Labrecque, Anne-Marie

Fransaskois Flag with the names of all the communities that hosted the Fête Fransaskoise between 1980 and 1994.

For 25 years, from 1980 to 2004, the Fransaskois people came together on one summer weekend every year to celebrate their French cultural presence in Saskatchewan. This festival was called the Fête Fransaskoise. On this occasion, young and old came together to participate in numerous cultural and sporting activities. After it was discontinued, many Fransaskois hoped to revive the tradition, whose main purpose was to ensure the continuity of a living French cultural heritage in the region and to encourage Fransaskois pride. Some time later, it seemed that their wish had come true, for in the spring of 2009, the Association Jeunesse Fransaskoise [Fransaskois Youth Association] announced the return of the festival that had become such an established part of their heritage.

Article disponible en français : Fête fransaskoise

The Festival of the Fransas...what?

The 6th Fête Fransaskoise marquee in Batoche in 1985

In the 1960s, with the increasing Quebec nationalism, as well as the growing power of provincial and regional French language organisations across the country, a growing number of French cultural identities emerged within Canada. French Canadians in Saskatchewan subsequently began to develop their very own sense of belonging to the territory. This also resulted in a greater appreciation for their own historical origins and cultural differences with respects to other groups. Among the differences were numerous shared experiences that distinguished (and still distinguish) this community from other French Canadians. For example, the community is composed of many different French-speaking groups from various parts of North America and Europe. Over the years, this composite French-speaking community had to fight to preserve their language. This sense of awareness among the province's French-speaking community came at a time when the rate of assimilation had reached 50%. And so, something had to be done. Accordingly, drastic measures were used in order to consolidate the emerging sense of identity. The term "Fransaskois" was coined to identify those who in the Province of Saskatchewan were sometimes designated as "parlant français" [French Speaking]. In 1979, the Fransaskois created a new symbol with which to identify themselves: the Fransaskois flag. In the context of this particular cultural climate, they held events such as "On s'garoche à Batoche" [Let's go to Batoche] and eventually the festival Fête Fransaskoise (NOTE 1).


Evolution of the Fête Fransaskoise

Spectators inside the marquee at the 6th annual Fête Fransaskoise in Batoche in 1985

In order to generate pride and a feeling of belonging amongst young French Canadians in Saskatchewan, the first festival was held in the summer of 1979. It was called "On s'garoche à Batoche". This historic event was supported by the French cultural youth association from the four western provinces. The main objective of the festival was to help young French speakers rediscover their roots and develop an awareness of the contribution made by French Canadians in developing the West. Five hundred individuals made the trip to the historic site at Batoche, Saskatchewan to celebrate the presence of the French language in the West. For four days, the spectators enjoyed traditionally-inspired performances put on by young musicians. This was an importantly critical event for many who participated, as they came to realise the importance of revitalising the French language communities of their home provinces.

The following year, encouraged by the success of the first festival, the Association Jeunesse Fransaskoise (AJF) [Fransaskois Youth Association] formed a committee to organise a gathering that would include all Fransaskois. This committee was composed of members of several organisations including the AJF, the Association Culturelle Franco-Canadienne (ACFC) and the Commission Culturelle Fransaskoise (CCF). They set ambitious objectives for the upcoming event among which was the ongoing development of Fransaskois pride. In May of 1980, the importance of this festive gathering was underlined in a Saskatchewan French-language newspaper called "L'Eau Vive" [Living Water]. The newsweekly encouraged participation, stating that: "by standing shoulder to shoulder, sharing in our joys, and acting as one, we will develop the strength we need to survive."


An Event Not to be Missed!

Reception centre at the 8th Fête Fransaskoise at Prud'homme in 1987.

The second edition of the festival was supported by the CCF, which presents itself as an organisation with the mission of speaking for all Fransaskois concerning anything that has to do with culture. In 1984, the festival left Saint-Laurent de Grandin and became a travelling festival, changing location every year. This helped to strengthen community spirit. For the next twenty years, every French speaking community would be mobilised at one time or another to host the festival. Since the Fransaskois people were spread throughout the province, often those who came would never have set foot in a particular community if it had not been for the festival.

The play

Every year, the host community sets up a local organising committee, puts all its creativity to work in order to distinguish their festival from previous editions, as well as to put their town or region on display in an attempt to make it stand out among all the other previous hosts. For example, the Métis culture was showcased during the festival at Batoche. At Prud'homme, the festival coincided with the 75th anniversary of the parish. The festival held in Beaupré had the theme of "Le Géant Beaupré" [an 8-foot tall man who lived in the town in the 1800s]. Each edition of the festival has its own unique flavour. However, traditions still continued to develop over the years as a result of the efforts of the organisers from the Conseil Culturel Fransaskois. This organisation, created in 1974, was called the Commission Culturelle fransaskoise until 1999, when it changed its name to Conseil Culturel Fransaskois. From the festival's earliest days, athletic and leisure activities were at the heart of the celebrations. Many different tournaments were held, but softball was the sport that rallied the most participants. Another tradition that attracted high numbers of people was the Friday night Grand Spectacle [Big Show]. At the earliest editions of the festival, most of the artists were from Saskatchewan. Then, it gradually became an opportunity to discover artists from outside the province, particularly from Quebec. Theatre, although not on the program every year, has always been a great success when included. The Troupe du Jour, a Saskatchewan theatre company, has always been a loyal participant over the years. Traditional music has always been a major component of the festival as well. Two groups that have been often been present over the years are the Danseurs de la Rivière La Vieille from Gravelbourg and Ribambelle from Saskatoon. In order to ensure the festival's success, many of the same Fransaskois partner organisations organise activities year after year. Some examples are the youth festival organised by the Association JeunesseFfransaskoise and the celebration for seniors organised by the Fédération des Aînés Fransaskois.

The festival's original goal was to revive a sentiment of pride and cultural belonging among the Fransaskois, although the degree to which this goal has been reached is difficult to evaluate in an objective way. Nonetheless, the objective of making the festival an annual gathering of great importance has definitely been met, as the positive feedback from local media indicates. A 1991 article from the newspaper L'Eau Vive, reads, "Now, French speakers plan to participate in this week-end every summer"(NOTE 2).


The Meaning of the Festival

Camping is a tradition at the Fête Fransaskoise. Campers at the 23rd Fête Fransaskoise at the Ferme Champêtre [Rural Farm] close to Saint-Denis in 2002.

A summary description of the event would simply write up the festival as an opportunity for people to celebrate amongst family and friends.  However, a deeper look at the impact of the festival on the French-speaking community of the province might prove to be an interesting exercise. When participants were asked what they most preferred at the festival, the answer that came up most often was meeting old friends and family. The many activities and shows are only a backdrop for the encounters that take place. The celebrations provide a festive environment rather than the usual day-to-day meetings that are already a part of community life. On top of this is the fact that everyone present can feel at ease to speak French without fear of being judged or being misunderstood. The favourable climate created by this event also has an important effect on young people. They become aware of their own distinctness as members of the Fransaskois community.

The group Les Zed giving a show during the 13th Fête Fransaskoise at Zenon Park in 1992

The host community also benefits greatly from holding the festival. Not only is it an opportunity for Fransaskois people to come together, but it is also an opportunity to be on display for the English-language community of the region. In fact, English-speaking people often participate in the organisation of the festival whenever their community hosts it.

The festival also contributes to the emergence of Fransaskois music. Since formerly there was no network of event organisers or venues that put on French-language concerts in the province, the festival became an important opportunity for promoting and encouraging Fransaskois artists. The festival brought together Fransaskois artists and other French-language artists from across the country. This interaction proved to be a good way to cultivate an interest for the unique Fransaskois music within the community and was also a good way to help promote it to visitors from across the country. The festival also helps young artists discover their calling. They realise that making music in French is in fact a very feasible possibility.


The Challenges Faced by the Festival

The Fransaskois Flag and the Métis Flag flying in the wind side by side during the 6th Fête Fransaskoise in Batoche in 1985.

In 1998, a substantial reduction in financing from Heritage Canada led the Commission Culturelle Fransaskoise to end its role in organising the festival. At that time, the festival was experiencing a leadership crisis. Until the final edition of the festival in 2004, various community members tried to reach an agreement on the how the event should be organised, so as to ensure its survival. However, their efforts were in vain, for they were unable to define the roles of each stakeholder. The Conseil Culturel Fransaskois wanted to head up the event, but also wanted to avoid financial responsibility. The ACF, an umbrella organisation for the entire Fransaskois community, was willing to accept that responsibility. However, the organisation was accused of encroaching on the work of another organisation in charge of Fransaskois artistic and cultural development. In fact, in 1998, when the ACF was created, some provincial organisations felt that they had lost some of their role (and thus some of their power). The atmosphere that existed was not conducive to productive negotiations. This internal struggle would leave the community alone to support its festival. In 2004, a report mandated by the ACF and written by the Quebec Firm Renaud concluded that the festival was in serious trouble. The report explained what the firm considered to be a serious threat to the future of the festival. It reads, "[...] We must note that the political dynamics of the community could be a serious hindrance to the development of the festival [...] due to a lack of willingness to collaborate on the part of leaders and to quarrelling between various Fransaskois organisations, as well as to a excessive need for cooperation."

The report blames the festival's problems on leadership within the community. However, other people blame them on the community's difficulty in defining itself. Karine Laviolette, in her article called Le Tourisme en Saskatchewan, effectively suggests this hypothesis. She writes that the festival "is supposed to be an ideal environment for the expression of Fransaskois identity and culture" and that the problems encountered are a symptom of the community's identity crisis. Weary from the event's interal conflict, several major community players abandoned the Fête Fransaskoise in 2004. Interviewed in 2008, Annette Labelle, director of the CCF from 1999 to 2001, said, "it was the youth that launched the first festival and they're the ones that will bring it back". Her assumption would prove true when, in the spring of 2009, the Association Jeunesse Fransaskoise announced the return of the festival after a 5-year absence. The evolution of this great tradition remains to be seen.


Anne‑Marie Labrecque

Writer and researcher

Société Historique de la Saskatchewan




Note 1. Roussel-Beaulieu, Frédéric, « De Franco-Canadien à Fransaskois : l'émergence d'une nouvelle identité francophone », Revue historique, December, 2005.

Note 2. «La Fête fransaskoise est devenue une tradition», L'Eau vive, August 8th,1991.


Additional DocumentsSome documents require an additional plugin to be consulted

Document sonore

Back to the top

© All rights reserved, 2007
Encylcopedia of French Cultural
Heritage in North America

Government of Canada