The Villeneuves were not new to life in a historic setting when they started volunteering at Fort Edmonton Park: in fact, one might argue that existing in the modern world would be a foreign experience for Claude and Annabelle. Our beloved francophone volunteers joined us in 2014, portraying Furtraders in our 1846 Fort after years of re-enacting and learning historic trades across the country. As a military family, they have moved around a lot, but have always found a new community in historic environments. “While we were in Quebec and in Manitoba, we were personifying a French officer and his wife during the New French Era and while in Winnipeg we were re-enacting, for the 200 anniversary of the War of 1812, the North West Company Corps of Canadian Voyageurs,” Claude explains, “So it is our way to get to know, and involved within in community where we live in and also to give back to the same community who has so kindly welcomed us among them!”
Besides connecting with their community, volunteering is an important opportunity for the couple to connect with each other: “volunteering bring us a lot of personal satisfaction. As a couple, and family, we spend pleasing days together in this agreeable and peaceful environment meeting people of many origins who wish to learn about Edmonton from us whiles learning from them! For a while, we forget our typical life, “wear” our best costume and most beautiful smile, and show our “joie de vivre”! And, all that while weaving great friendships.” The Villeneuves are hard not to befriend, so personable and outgoing, they also have a lot to share! In addition to their incredible and diverse knowledge of history, the couple has skills in York-boat building, black-smithing, sewing, you name it!
Being from a French background, one of the couple’s favourite parts of the experience is sharing their own history: Annabelle is from Belle-île-en-Mer, Britany, France where many Acadians were deported in 1758 and Claude is a French-Canadian whose ancestors arrived in Quebec City in 1636. According to the Villeneuves, “We like sharing our French cultural heritage. It is the same heritage received from those coureurs de bois, and eventually from the French Canadian voyageurs who were so implicated in the fur trade…and who helped forging the Canadian identity.”
As we honour Canada’s 150th birthday, the Villeneuves say that French Canadian story is critical to share. “Many people believe that because Canada is only 150 years old this year that therefore there is not much to say about her!” the couple shares, “Wrong, wrong, wrong! First, we should say that, really, Canada is more like 400 years old! Starting with barely anything during the French permanent settlement of the early 17th Century, through hard work and mistakes but also resilience, empathy, and her desire to be better tomorrow than yesterday, Canada has become one the best place to leave on earth!” They believe that it’s critical to share the stories of these early settlers. Says Claude, “As the renowned French historian Fernand Braudel wrote: “It is necessary to know where we come from to know where we go ‘(Il faut savoir d’où l’on vient pour savoir où l’on va).’”
We are excited therefore, to host the Francophone event, Carnaval des Sucres, in partnership with the AFCA on March 11th, featuring french music, food, stories, maple candy, and, of course, Claude and Annabelle!
Join the Villeneuves to discover our French Canadian roots on March 11th!
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