The state of Vermont has a rich and long-standing connection to French culture.
Take the name of the state itself: Vermont, or “Vert Mont”, means “Green Mountain” in the French language. This unique cultural history is what people came together to celebrate at downtown Winooski’s annual French Heritage Day.
This year’s activities included live music, crepe-making, and a meat pie competition.
Dana Baron, president of the Lake Champlain Region’s Alliance Francaise, says his organization is eager to co-sponsor the French festivities.
“This French heritage festival is really what we’re all about,” Baron said. “We found it important to sustain this, to support this, and make sure it continues to happen.”
Baron also says that the French have had a significant presence in the region’s history.
“There’s a lot of French in our background that continues until today,” he said.
The French were the first Europeans to set foot in Vermont. In fact, Lake Champlain is named after explorer Samuel de Champlain, who first led an expedition here in 1609. Later in the mid 1800s, there was a large influx of French speakers from Canada, bringing their language and culture with them to New England.
The Vermont Genealogy Library is one organization that helps Vermonters trace their ancestry, many of whom may find that they are descended from French Canadians.
“Cities like Burlington and Winooski and all of the towns along the border had very substantial [French-Canadian] populations,” said Ed McGuire, the Genealogy Library’s president. “In Vermont still, there’s at least somewhere around 30% of the state that still has French-Canadian ancestry.”
French-Canadian traditions were at the forefront of Heritage Day, including the famous tourtière — or meat pie. The annual tourtière baking competition had two entries this year. Linus Leavens, a South Burlington resident, won the contest for the first time after six years of competing. He cites his French-Canadian ancestry as inspiration for his participation.
“I’m trying to keep what traditions I can alive,” Leavens said. “I think history is important, and knowing where you’ve been and where you’re from is important.”
And all throughout the day, live French music serenaded passersby. Jean-Jacques Psauté, singer for the Déjà Nous band, says he hopes their songs can unite people under an appreciation for French stories.
“I would hope that people recognize themselves between America and France — that we have the same story,” Psauté said.
As French heritage remains strong in Vermont, the state is seeing more and more diversity in those who speak the language.
“Immigrants from West Africa — from the Congo and other West African countries — are coming to Vermont and speaking French, and looking for ways to be able to continue to speak French,” Baron said.
And, according to Baron, events just like Winooski’s annual French Heritage Day are a great way to support these Francophone communities.
Although it’s only been several years that this event has been held in Winooski at the Farmers Market, its organizers hope it will continue for many more.