Five decades ago, the church choirs at Coquitlam's Our Lady of Lourdes and Our Lady of Fatima Catholic parishes wanted to form a secular choral group.
Their aim was to keep the French-Canadian language and culture alive in Maillardville, the neighbourhood populated more than a century ago by Québecois residents with jobs at the Fraser Mills lumber mill and, post–WWII, by French-speaking Prairie people.
Daniel Bouchard was 19 when Les Échos du Pacifique started in October 1973.
A member of the Fatima congregation, he signed up with the fledging community choir to carry on French-Canadian traditions, as well as to learn and share songs.
"Singing and especially choral singing are my passions," said the retired primary French immersion teacher who has familial roots in Manitoba.
The founding member took a break from Les Échos, but 25 years ago, he returned for its silver anniversary concert where past singers were encouraged to chime in for a tune.
Bouchard said the old feelings flooded back.
"There's nothing like singing in four-part harmony," the Coquitlam resident told the Tri-City News.
"When you sing together, it's like all the neurons in your brain are firing at once. We're not just singing; we're producing music."
On May 13, the tenor will be on the stage with 16 others for Les Échos golden year tribute that takes place at St. Laurence Anglican Church (825 St. Laurence St.) under the direction of Marla Mayson — the "magician" who has held the baton for the last 10 years, Bouchard said.
There, in a show titled Le Français a Choeur (translation: French at heart), the group will perform a variety of songs in French, from old French madrigals to Acadian folk songs and jazz arrangements by choir member (and Mayson's husband) Ron Smail, as well as other Canadian composers.
Danica Jovanovic, who is now the executive’s treasurer, said she joined Les Échos 18 years ago after moving from Yellowknife, then Vancouver Island. When she took over a French immersion kindergarten job, the outgoing teacher told Jovanovic to snap up her spot in the choir.
"It was the best gift. I wanted a cultural experience and to be close to my mother tongue," the New Westminster resident said. "It gave me a sense of community with francophones and francophiles."
Like Bouchard, Jovanovic said she's also looking forward to the spring concert to celebrate 50 years of Les Échos because "we want people to have access to music so we can keep the French language growing."
"This program we have for the concert is so fun because it's the beautiful pieces I love and also the pieces by composers I've never heard of," she added.
"We've got spoons and foot stomping, too. There's something for everybody."
Tickets for Le Français à Choeur on May 13 are $20/$15 via BrownPaperTickets; admission is free for children 13 years and under.
Former choir members are invited to email email@example.com for a special invitation to the 7:30 p.m. show.
Les Échos members
- Marla Mayson
- Zsuzsanna Lukacs
- Annie Anderson
- Danica Jovanovic
- Krystal McEwan
- Julie Winter
- Enza Arquilla
- Marion Bigot
- Maryse Ridley
- Diane Tijman
- Daniel Bouchard
- James Kim
- David Rogers
- Ron Smail
- Alex Gowans
- Stephen Mayba
- Shawn Brouwer