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French-Canadian festival near Huot, Minn., celebrates culture

HUOT, MINN.--Even though the wind picked up and it started to rain, most didn't appear to notice as the Asham Stompers clogged on stage at the Chautauqua and French-Canadian and Metis Festival.

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Wendell Landon makes brooms the old fashioned way at the Chautauqua and French-Canadian and Metis Festival Sunday afternoon. He has also showcased his craft at East Grand Forks Heritage Days. Photo by Anna Burleson/Grand Forks Herald

HUOT, MINN.-Even though the wind picked up and it started to rain, most didn't appear to notice as the Asham Stompers clogged on stage at the Chautauqua and French-Canadian and Metis Festival.

In a small clearing along the Red Lake River called Old Crossing and Treaty Park near Huot, Minn., about 100 people came and went throughout the overcast, windy day to experience French-Canadian food and culture, including the Stompers.

Virgil Benoit, president of the group that has held the event for 33 years called the Association of the French of the North, said its purpose is to celebrate French-Canadian and Metis history as there is a large population in that area of Minnesota.
"We commemorate the history of French-Canadians which isn't commemorated a lot in the United States," he said. "In this area we're the largest collective ... there were several communities of French-Canadian origin from the late 1800s so there's a need for this."

At about that time, explorers from Canada had began searching further south, exploring and eventually creating trade routes and settling in what is now northern Minnesota.

Many at the event walked around holding thick slices of white bread slathered with butter and honey from the tent where Marjorie LaCoursiere stood in an old fashioned dress monitoring the wood-burning stove where the loaves baked.

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Wendell Landon was also there making homemade brooms as the Wolven Band from Manitoba played upbeat dancing music in a tent nearby. Landon said the number of brooms he makes in a day varies with how his hands feel.
"It's a quintessential American craft and it's something we should be doing for ourselves," he said, weaving string between the straw of the broom.

Sunday was the third and final day of the event. AFRAN Treasurer Gerald Amiot said more people had come out in prior days and in recent years the festival has been bigger than ever thanks to a renewed interest in arts grants. The event was partially funded by a $9,000 grant from the Northwest Minnesota Arts Council.

"We just want to make people proud of their French-Canadian heritage and remember their what their forefathers did in developing and settling this land," Amiot said.

The festival's location also had special meaning as it's where a treaty that was signed in the mid-1800s with Ojibwe tribes, when known as Chippewa. The historic Pembina Trail for Red River ox carts to cross the river also used to run through the area.

"We continue to remind people the impact the French-Canadians had in settling this area, the early pioneers who came here from Quebec," Amiot said.

Even though she grew in in the area it was Carol Olson's first time there.
"I'm totally in awe" she said as she sat at the AFRAN membership table. "I just didn't know French-Canadians were settled here. I just thought there were Norwegians and Swedes and Polaks, so it's interesting."

Related Topics: FESTIVAL
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