They came with bells on, bearing pots and pans, whistles, washtubs and rusty old buckets. Some had metal sheets and cowbells, and some blew ceaselessly on plastic horns.
Whatever they had to make noise with, they used.
It was a Tintamarre, the traditional Acadian parade that for the 2014 World Acadian Congress was planned to be one of the biggest ever, and which wound its way down Main Street in Madawaska making the biggest racket possible.
It made an amazing amount of noise — and it certainly was one of the biggest ever, with preliminary estimates from World Acadian Congress organizers putting the total number of people in the parade between 10 and 12,000.
“We’re all proud to be Acadian, but today it’s evident, it’s out in the open,” said Don Levesque, a Grand Isle native living in Saint-Basile, New Brunswick, and a member of the board of directors of the 2014 World Acadian Congress. “It’s the most wonderful feeling that all these people came together for this.”
The parade started near Bicentennial Park in Madawaska, made its way down Main Street and finally wound its way up towards the Multi Purpose Center, towards the gates to the Acadie Fille D’Amerique concert, which featured Canadian and Louisianian bands all night. The parade and concert capped off a full slate of celebrations for National Acadian Day, Aug. 15, the single biggest day of celebration for the entire World Acadian Congress.
Don Cyr, director of the Musee Culturel du Mont-Carmel, explained the two leading theories of the origin of the Tintamarre, both of which stretch back into the 18th century.
“I’m told it originated near Moncton, New Brunswick,” said Cyr. “Between Moncton and Nova Scotia there are open marshlands called the Tantramar Marshes. In the spring and the fall, geese by the millions land there, and they make the most unbelievable noise. That’s one theory.”
The other theory about the origin of the Tintamarre comes straight out of the old country — France, from where thousands of people in the 17th century emigrated to what was then New France. That area is now known as the Maritimes, parts of Maine and parts of eastern Quebec.
“In France, when you have something to celebrate or to be upset about, you make a lot of noise. It’s an old Acadian tradition, like on the Feast of the Three Kings, after Christmas, when you play card games, and if the kid gets a bad hand, they’re allowed to make as much noise as they want,” said Cyr. “It’s a cheap way to have fun, and a way to let off steam. It’s like a pressure valve for a cauldron.”
Either way, parade marchers and spectators alike donned a wild array of red, white and blue costumes decked out with yellow stars to symbolize the Acadian flag, and went proudly — and loudly — in Madawaska, hooting and banging away. The big heads — giant papier mache masks worn by several parade marchers — also made an appearance in the forms of moose, bears, Acadian men and women, and even a nun.
“It’s about coming together, having a good time, and getting to meet your neighbors,” said Louise Beaulieu of Madawaska. “I know I’ve met my neighbors today. That’s why I’m here — to meet my neighbors from all over the world. I think we’re making friends for life over here.”
The Tintamarre is a celebration unique to the Acadian people, be they in Maine, Canada or Louisiana, from which a fair number of festival-goers hailed. It symbolizes much of the spirit of Acadia — from the roots in France, to the great diaspora, after being deported by the British from Canada in 1755.
“We were deported as a people, we landed all over the world. This symbolizes so much of what we are. We don’t have a country. We come together to show that the deportation didn’t work, because here we are. The noise we’re making is a celebration of the survivors,” said Judy Ayotte Paradis of Frenchville, formerly a state representative for Madawaska. “And we’ve bloomed where ever we’ve been planted.”