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For the 22nd year, residents and visitors celebrated the rich historic French roots during the French Heritage Festival this weekend throughout the Ste. Genevieve Historic District.

More than 300 years of French history throughout North America was celebrated in the town which holds one of the highest concentrations of authentic French colonial architecture in the country.

The festival was held Saturday in downtown Ste. Genevieve with a variety of events and activities for the whole family to enjoy.

Ste. Genevieve Director of Tourism Sandra Cabot said the turnout was great even with the threat of less desirable weather which ended up staying away from the area.

The festival’s opening ceremony began at 11 a.m. at the Ste. Genevieve Catholic Church featuring Ste. Genevieve Mayor Paul Hassler, the event’s master of ceremonies, and members of the volunteer militia. During the ceremony, Hassler presented a key to the city to Martin Dionne, officer of Consular Affairs for Quebec.

Dionne and his wife Megan, along with J.P. Saucier were at the festival as representatives of the Canadian province of Quebec, which has a very large French population. Cabot said the town draws many visitors from Canada and France as well as from all across the nation.

Following the opening ceremony, a parade proceeded toward Main Street Park where activities awaited festival-goers, including food, vendors, and music.

After the parade and throughout the day, festival-goers could enjoy music, children’s activities, chalk art, face painting, and a Seek and Find contest where participants had to find nine separate Fleur de Lis’ hidden throughout the downtown area in merchant shops. Prizes were awarded at the end of the day to the top three Seek and Finders.

Tours were given of the towns many historical houses including candlelight tours of the Felix Valle House.

The Felix Valle State Historic Site also hosted a demonstration of French folk dancing by the Dance Discovery Dance Troupe. As Cabot explained, the dancing that Dance Discovery was teaching participants was a traditional dance called La Veille done by the French town’s people in the evening at social gatherings.  

“It was always pattern dancing,” said Cabot. “Today you might be familiar with square dancing but 300 years ago they did this type of dance.”

Marty Aubuchon is one of the charter members of Dance Discovery Dance Troupe.

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“Dance Discovery was formed in 2002 to commemorate the dances that might have been done during the era of Lewis and Clark,” said Aubuchon. “Lewis and Clark’s original expedition was known as The Corps of Discovery and that's where the troupe got its name."

Festivities continued in the evening at the Lion’s Club Park with a special concert by Dennis Stroughmatt et l’Esprit Creole. Before the performance, Stoughmatt gave a talk about the old French traditions of Ste. Genevieve during the town’s colonial period.

Stoughmatt and his band have played the festival for the last 15 years. Stroughmatt is a college professor and musician who travels all over the country playing Creole music along with other genres.

The concerts drew a large crowd who enjoyed the Creole music while partaking in beer, wine, dancing, jambalaya, and bratwursts.    

The festival ended at around 10:30 p.m. with a final parade led by Stroughmatt and his fiddle.   

Felix Valle House Site Director Donna Rausch said that the event drew big numbers and a lot of tourists.

“I was extremely happy with the turnout today,” said Rausch. “We had a lot of good folks through. All of our houses were visited."

Local businesses saw a lot of foot traffic as well. The owner of Sassafras Creek Originals, Kandye Mahurin, said that the businesses downtown seemed to do well.

“It started out slow but then ended really well,” said Mahurin. “That happens most of the time.

“They do everything up here first and then get to me after lunch,” Mahurin explained.    

The French Heritage Festival is primarily sponsored by the Foundation for Restoration of Ste. Genevieve. Additional support for the event was provided by the Ste. Genevieve County Community Foundation, Ste. Genevieve Municipal Band, and the Ste. Genevieve Lion’s Club.

For information on future events in Ste. Genevieve, visit https://www.visitstegen.com.

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Bobby Radford is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3628, or at bradford@dailyjournalonline.com.

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