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Coquitlam francophone director bows out after Festival du Bois

Joanne Dumas said she's retiring as executive director of the Sociéte francophone de Maillardville, a Coquitlam-based group that’s best known for its signature Festival du Bois.
Joanne Dumas, left, general manager of the Société Francophone de Maillardville and artistic director of Festival du Bois in Coquitlam, with administrator Rokia Kone. The photo was taken on Nov. 2, 2023, at the Societe offices in Coquitlam.

It’s been nearly three decades since Joanne Dumas took over the reins of the Sociéte francophone de Maillardville, a Coquitlam-based group that’s best known for its signature Festival du Bois.

But after this weekend’s fête at Mackin Park, the executive director said she’ll be winding down.

Following a year with health battles and a reluctance to continue to chase grant dollars from federal, provincial and civic agencies, which are also tightening their purse strings, Dumas said she’ll bow out of the nonprofit but will stay a bit longer as a program liaison for Festival du Bois.

“I’ve done my share,” Dumas told the Tri-City News yesterday, March 5, noting she’ll keep her roles on francophone organizations that assist seniors, as well as the arts and culture in B.C.

“I’m happy with my decision. I’ve been so lucky: It’s been stimulating and frustrating at the same time, but I very much enjoyed working with the community. I feel very honoured about that.”

This year’s 35th annual Festival du Bois, which runs March 8 to 10, is the most expensive to date, costing about $150,000 to stage because of increasing post–pandemic material and labour bills.

Last year, the society boosted its gate prices to offset the escalating invoices “and a lot of people complained,” Dumas said. “But everything has a cost. We’re still the cheapest festival out there.”

Vishten Connexions performs on Saturday and Sunday at Festival du Bois in Coquitlam.

She’s thrilled the 2024 event will offer a taste of Acadian arts and culture in advance of the World Acadian Congress in Nova Scotia from Aug. 10 to 18 — a gathering that happens every five years.

The Acadians are the descendants of 17th and 18th century French settlers in eastern Canada and, during The Seven Years’ War, the British deported 11,500 Acadians, suspecting they joined the French side; one third of the deportees died from disease or drowned during the Great Expulsion.

Each year, on Aug. 15 at 6 p.m., to remember the ethnic cleansing, Acadians take part in the Tintamarre, a tradition of reaffirming their identity loudly by making noise with bells and horns.

“They’re sounding off that ‘We’re still alive,’” Dumas said. “That’s what I love about Acadian culture. They have an incredible spirit and a tenacity to keep going. It’s pride. I find it inspiring.”

Tintamarres will happen at Festival du Bois, too, in between the musical sets, Dumas said.

The noise-making is also a way for francophones in B.C. to sound off their heritage, she said.

“It doesn’t matter what culture you’re from, we all want to honour our family’s roots.”

Besides the Acadian focus, Festival du Bois will feature a Métis Village experience with jiggers — that is, dancers who combine Indigenous dancing with Scottish and French-Canadian steps.

Fergus Dalton and Olivia Lamirande will perform with fiddlers Kathleen Nisbet and Matthew Cook Contois, and other musicians, for a performance on Saturday at 1 p.m. after the official opening.

For the Festival du Bois line-up, you can visit the society website or call 604-515-7070. There is no cost to attend the Friday night party from 7 to 9:30 p.m.; however online registration is required. For general admission tickets on Saturday and Sunday, the price is $32.50/$23/$10 per day (no charge for kids ages five and under). The family package (two adults, two kids) is $75 per day. Entry on Sunday does not include the pancake breakfast.

Missy D performs at Festival du Bois on Saturday, March 9, 2024, at 2 p.m.