2018-06-28 / Front Page

Center celebrates city’s cultural diversity

By Abigail Worthing
Staff Writer


Raoul Goulet of the Franco-American Genealogical Society of York County and Diane Cyr, president of the Biddeford Cultural and Heritage Center, were present throughout the weekend to answer questions about Biddeford’s past and Franco American culture. (Abigail Worthing photo) Raoul Goulet of the Franco-American Genealogical Society of York County and Diane Cyr, president of the Biddeford Cultural and Heritage Center, were present throughout the weekend to answer questions about Biddeford’s past and Franco American culture. (Abigail Worthing photo) BIDDEFORD– La Kermesse has long been a celebration of Franco-American heritage in Biddeford, but this past weekend, the Biddeford Cultural and Heritage Center provided a tent to celebrate all cultures and the long history of Biddeford.

La Kermesse originated in 1982 and celebrated its 36th year this weekend, starting Thursday, June 21 with the block party, and ended Sunday June 24.

The Biddeford Cultural and Heritage Center has created the Biddeford Hall of Fame, and hosted the induction following the opening ceremony for the festival on Friday June 22.

Hosted by Biddeford Mayor and board member Alan Casavant, the center honored eight inductees: Sam Cohen of the Sam L. Cohen Foundation, Capt. Richard Vines, considered the founder of Biddeford, explorer Samuel de Champlain, Revolutionary War Captain and hero Jeremiah Hill, Rita Reilley, founder of Maine’s first food pantry, Robert McArthur, founder of the first Biddeford Public Library, Francis Spencer, creator of the Vellux blanket, and Samuel Batchelder, who is considered industrial founder of Biddeford. Families of those honored were presented with a plaque.


Photos and information about the eight inductees into the Biddeford Hall of Fame were displayed all weekend, as well as the framed informational synopses of each person, which will be displayed at City Hall along with the plaque. (Abigail Worthing photo) Photos and information about the eight inductees into the Biddeford Hall of Fame were displayed all weekend, as well as the framed informational synopses of each person, which will be displayed at City Hall along with the plaque. (Abigail Worthing photo) “Having the center there is a natural fit, this is what the founders first envisioned. Celebrating our diversity as a city,” said Denis Litalien, board member for the Biddeford Cultural and Heritage Center.


Displayed in the Biddeford Cultural and Heritage Center tent is the Biddeford Hall of Fame plaque destined for City Hall, with the names of this year’s eight inductees already engraved. In the background is the La Kermesse 15th anniversary quilt. (Abigail Worthing photo) Displayed in the Biddeford Cultural and Heritage Center tent is the Biddeford Hall of Fame plaque destined for City Hall, with the names of this year’s eight inductees already engraved. In the background is the La Kermesse 15th anniversary quilt. (Abigail Worthing photo) In the introduction for the original bylaws for La Kermesse, founder Joseph Plamondon wrote, “After giving serious consideration to a strictly Franco-American festival, I have decided to go for a combination Franco-American and Ethnic plan.”

He went on to detail that while the city was predominantly of Franco-American descent, there was still a strong presence of other “ethnic groups,” such as the Irish and Jewish communities, and he wished for a more unifying event. Plamondon also hoped that this would be a multi-community event between Biddeford, Saco, and Old Orchard Beach.

“I feel that all groups wishing to participate should be given the opportunity to do so. It will be a total community involvement effort and program,” wrote Plamondon.

Throughout the years, the festival has become primarily a celebration of Franco-American culture, with poutine, crepes and corton sandwiches available for purchase, live French and Canadian music, and Catholic mass with prayers in French held in the tent on Sunday morning.

For many years, the Franco-American Genealogical Society hosted a tent where families could find their ancestral coat of arms. Now, as the city becomes more diverse, the Biddeford Cultural and Heritage Center is working to provide familial and community histories for everyone.

A functioning nonprofit since Nov. 2017, the Biddeford Cultural and Heritage Center had a small tent packed with Biddeford history during the festival.

The tent included the 15th La Kermesse anniversary quilt, yearbooks from Biddeford High School (the oldest dating 1940) and a 1952 St. Louis High School yearbook, that featured St. Joseph Church priest Father Ron Labbare, and information about each inductee into the Biddeford Hall of Fame, along with a plaque that will be housed at city hall. Each honoree is inscribed on the plaque and a framed description of their contributions to the community will be on display as well.

“This year we focused on the ceremony and had our small tent, but we’re hoping to expand next year,” said Biddeford Cultural and Heritage Center President Diane Cyr.

Also present in the tent was Raoul Goulet of the Franco-American Genealogical Society of York County to support the center.

“It’s important that we don’t forget where we come from, and we start with the young ones too,” Goulet said.

“We’re losing our culture,” Cyr said. “We should all be proud of our history here in Biddeford.”

According to Cyr, the Biddeford Cultural and Heritage Center hopes to find a permanent location, but now functions primarily online.

The center plans to regroup in July to discuss the response to the tent and how to expand for next year. Those who would like to share their family histories or stories about growing up in Biddeford can do so at the center website, www.biddefordculturalandheritagecenter.com.

Contact Staff Writer Abigail Worthing at news@inthecourier.com.

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