Candlemas hip-hop, snowhoes and
(c) 2010 Dominique Millette
I attended a Candlemas celebration in Abram-Village, in the mostly francophone region of Evangéline on Prince Edward Island. In French, the day is called La Chandeleur and is often celebrated the next Saturday after the actual date of February 2nd. It isn't mere coincidence this is also Groundhog Day. Many of the peoples of European background who colonized North America, including Acadians, have ancient sayings that if there's bad weather on Candlemas, winter will end soon. If the sun is shining and you see your shadow, winter will continue. Any animal will do, although groundhogs emerged as the weather mascots, probably for some obscure marketing reason.
La Chandeleur is quite an elaborate celebration in the region and this appears uniquely Acadian. I don't recall ever even hearing of it in other French-Canadian communities. The way it was once celebrated reminds me of la guignolée, a door-to-door collection of goods and non-perishable foods for the poor which takes place in December in Québec, by volunteers who also sing Christmas carols. Cajuns in Louisiana did the same type of thing on Mardi Gras. However, in Acadia, "courir La Chandeleur" (“running the Candlemas”) involved riding a horse-drawn sleigh a few days before to canvas the neighbourhood and collect the food. One website explains that “the group was led by an individual dressed up for the occasion and holding a long cane decorated with ribbons of various colours. Where food was given out, the group would dance something called the Escaouette as a way of thanking the householders".
Having fallen into disuse, the tradition was revived in the 1990s and persisted for ten years or so. However, apparently it's tough to find insurance covering horse-drawn sleighs ambling along on local roads. Insurance companies don't give Candlemas discounts: the modern world has spoken. It's also tough to find volunteers to go knock on doors even without the sleigh. Instead, the Chandeleur organizing committee asks people to bring their donations to the school where activities are scheduled. Though less picturesque, this works just as well.
Chandeleur celebrations today have evolved to include bingo, cribbage, window-painting, gumboot demonstrations and hip-hop dance workshops. There's also a traditional brunch of pancakes, sausages, home fries, baked beans and scrambled eggs. This, along with the blessing of the candles by the priest, dates back to the early days of colonization. Gumboot dancing only attracted one very young girl who shied away from even wiggling a toe. The most popular event, aside from the bingo for the older crowd, was the hip-hop dance lesson for teens and young adults. I supposed fortysomethings could have joined in, but most participants seemed under 25. Given the rapid moves and twists involved, this was probably a good thing.
After the celebrations, I took a detour into Baie-Egmont to take pictures of the church which faces demolition there. They've moved the organ, one of the oldest Casavants on record and therefore a piece of Canadian musical heritage, into what used to be the parish hall and will now serve as the church itself. The parishioners are stubborn. They refuse to give up and go down the road to Mount-Carmel. Given the state of roads in winter here in PEI, where they're not even ploughed half the time, let alone sanded or salted, I do not blame the parishioners one bit. Many are over 60 and shouldn't have to drive 37 kilometres there and back to go to church, instead of just under six.
In the afternoon I decided to go snowshoeing, even though it was getting late. I chanced it anyway, headed down Blue Shank Road and found the 109 that, supposedly, would lead to the Dunk River trail. At least I found the first part. Many roads and highways in PEI are broken into sections where you have to turn left or right, then take another left or right to keep going in the same direction. I missed the sign showing which way to turn to pick up the highway again. Admittedly, the sign is very small. Also, in many cases here, the signs telling you to turn for a particular location are tens of meters ahead of the actual intersection. I get annoyed at this, especially when there are several possible turns before the one indicated. Unless you pass by several times, you won't know where the turn really is.
I honked to get the attention of a farmer on his shiny new great big green plough. It was minus ten but he wore only a baseball cap, overalls and a faded blue and grey checked shirt. I asked him about the Dunk River and he told me to turn left at the abandoned Ultramar gas station I'd driven past before coming back. Without his being there I wouldn't have known to do this. However, I am acquiring the instinct of doubling back to check for signs I might have missed before.
The Dunk River was a snowy wonderland. Beside it, the snowshoeing and hiking trail has been set aside courtesy of private landowners giving the public right of passage. Though you can snowshoe anywhere in theory and there are miles of countryside on the Island, it's important to know which property is private and which land you can use for recreation. Even in my snowshoes, I sank several feet down so I got a good workout. I was glad I went.
Next on the agenda was a charity casino night in Charlottetown, at the Carrefour de l'Isle St-Jean, the French community centre. Someone gave me a free ticket. Though I rarely ever gamble, I thought it might be fun and somewhat glamorous. I assumed the casino night would last until 1 a.m. and I could show up as late I wanted. I left at eight and, as usual, got lost getting into Charlottetown. Every single time, I miss whatever signs indicate the perimeter highway, which allows you to get across town more easily. Then, every subsequent exit leading into the city from the perimeter road just says "Charlottetown" and doesn't give you the name of the actual street. You have to guess. So I did, wrongly, and had to navigate around it. Followed signs to community centre. I got lost again and flagged down a passing motorist. This became a habit of mine, I think because PEI motorists have this überfriendly reputation, poor things. The motorist was, indeed, überfriendly, and told me to follow her all the way there, then went on her way.
So I didn't get much socializing done and only chatted with about two people. The dress code was supposed to be semi-formal, so I had dressed up and put a bit of makeup on. When I bumped into someone I'd met previously, the first thing she said was: "Oh, you're beautiful. I didn't recognize you!" I felt kind of bad about this, but I had to laugh because she just blurted it out. I left right at the end of the casino and before the door prizes got handed out, because there was freezing rain in the forecast and I hate driving in it.
Getting back home was more of a risk than playing roulette or crowns and anchors. Some of the snow on a least a dozen stretches of road was three inches thick, for hundreds of metres, having never known a plough. This was three days after the snowstorm. I wonder if it's blown snow from after initial ploughing, because the winds here are powerful and frequent. It made me very glad I've invested in snow tires. However, these are not mandatory on the Island, in contrast to legislation in Québec. Therefore, several motorists in front of me were inching along at 30 km an hour. While I understand and appreciate the need for caution, I got irritated. There aren't many passing lanes on the highways here and with the snow on the ground you can't see the markings at all. If these people were driving like that in Québec they would get honked and cursed at. But we are most definitely not in Québec. Not even close.
Afterwards, I decided to flake out. It was a long weekend, so time to unwind.