People & Culture

Tintamarre: Inside the raucous Acadian parade in Clare, N.S.

The tintamarre showcases the vitality of the Acadian culture  — and some supersized papier-mâché heads

Left to right: Zoe Deveau, Martine Boudreau and Tori Comeau join writer Darcy Rhyno at Acadian celebrations in Clare, N.S.
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When I don the giant head, I become an instant celebrity. A woman puts her arm around me to have her photo taken. Children gather at my feet and gaze up, half curious, half scared. One reaches up to touch the beard to see if it’s real. Everywhere I turn, people are snapping my picture. Others wearing giant heads are equally popular. The attention has me feeling like someone else entirely, someone larger than life. And, I think, that’s the point.

I’m outside l’Université Sainte-Anne in the municipality of Clare, N.S., where an energetic Acadian band is playing traditional tunes that have people dancing on the grass. Even with the weight of the massive papier-mâché head threatening to topple me, I feel compelled to dance, too. More arms around me. More photos. Acadian flags everywhere. The French tricolour with the distinctive yellow star painted on faces. Tricolour socks. Tricolour wigs.

Aimée and Arthur Thériault ready to begin the parade.
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This lawn party marks the culmination of a fortnight of festivities that includes today’s tintamarre, a raucous parade held every August 15 in Acadian communities throughout eastern Canada. In Clare, participants drive along a 35-kilometre coastal parade route, their vehicles decked out in Acadian colours, while drivers honk their horns and passengers shout and wave Acadian flags. Onlookers, just as noisy, line the route, banging enthusiastically on pots and pans — whatever makes the most racket. It ends here at the university in the shadow of Église Sainte-Marie, the tallest wooden church in North America. 

But back to my giant papier-mâché head and its role in this colourful cacophony. Its lineage runs centuries deep and reaches across oceans, its outsized presence speaking louder than car horns to the significance of the tintamarre for French Acadians.

Giants pop up in folklore the world over — there’s the Cyclops of Greek mythology, the Wendigo in Plains and Great Lakes First Nations lore, the giant in Jack and the Beanstalk. These fictional, supersized pseudo-humans manifest our fears or, alternatively, our yearnings. We tell stories of dangerous forces slain by our puny selves as in the legend of David and Goliath. In other tales, we project our deepest desires through giants that effortlessly achieve what we wish we could, like the super-sized lumberjack Paul Bunyan.

Arlene Blinn and Shirley Comeau, locals cheering on the parade.
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And so, when Acadians here celebrate, they pull out the giant heads. The grosses têtes represent key historical figures, including the fictional Evangeline and Gabriel, the famous characters created by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who romanticized the story of the Acadian deportation. Giant likenesses of more contemporary Acadian heroes are also popular, as are heads that simply resemble local residents. 

Local guide and proud Acadian Danny Blinn shows me around the Acadian Interpretive Centre inside the university. Here, the heads on display form one colourful part of a comprehensive overview of Acadian history. There’s a cheery likeness of the late Herb Leblanc, who was the front man for the Acadian folk band Tymeux de la Baie. In the 1970s, he kickstarted an Acadian music movement that continues to this day. Another giant head depicts French explorer and navigator Samuel de Champlain. In 1604, Champlain gave the name Baie Sainte-Marie to the body of water between this stretch of mainland Nova Scotia called the French Shore and the long peninsula called Digby Neck. “For Acadians, we’d rather say we’re from Baie Sainte-Marie than from Clare, named after County Clare, Ireland,” Blinn says.

Through the 17th and 18th centuries, French settlers built homes and farms and established communities throughout the Maritimes, then known as Acadia. They survived, then thrived, aided in this new world by the generosity of the Mi’kmaq people. But with the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 between warring European nations, French Acadians became subjects of the British Crown, creating a tension that eventually led to le Grand Dérangement, or deportation. From 1755 to 1763, the British forcibly expelled Acadians living in the present day Maritime provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. Farms were confiscated and more than 10,000 Acadians deported, with large numbers landing in the English colonies along the eastern seaboard, others in France or the Caribbean. It’s estimated that at least 5,000 died of disease, starvation or shipwrecks during the Great Upheaval.

In Clare, N.S., tintamarre participants drive along a 35-kilometre parade route cheered on by enthusiastic locals.
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“Arriving on the eastern seaboard, all they had was what they could carry,” says Blinn of the exiled Acadians. He stops, choking up, apologizes, then tries again. “They couldn’t speak the language…” Again, he pauses. The Acadians who survived the wretched conditions aboard the ships that transported them wandered homeless among people who shared neither their language nor their religion. And though this all happened more than 260 years ago, Blinn feels their hardship like it was yesterday. 

When the British permitted some Acadians to return beginning in 1764, they were forced into remote areas with poor soil. Once farmers, Acadians learned to make their living from the forests and the sea. They kept their distance from the English as they built new communities, ran theirown newspapers and founded French schools such as l’Université Sainte- Anne in 1890. They established the Société Nationale de l’Acadie, which declared August 15 (the Catholic Feast of the Assumption) a national holiday in 1881. Three years later, they created the Acadian flag and introduced a national anthem. National Acadian Day became an official Canadian holi- day only in 2003.

In spite of these early developments, many Acadians remained reluctant to express pride in their heritage and culture. That all changed on the 200th anniversary of the deportation. In 1955, Monseigneur Norbert Robichaud, the Archbishop of Moncton, N.B., called for Acadians to take to the streets with every noisemaker they could find and make a great din, a “tintamarre,” to mark the bicentennial.

When Acadians think of tintamarre, they usually picture the event in Caraquet, N.B. — population 4,500 — which attracts a gathering of tens of thousands who march noisily through town every August 15. In Clare, the tintamarre is a newer phenomenon, more modest but growing by the year. It dates back to the summer of 1996 and one woman, Jene Dugas, who was the lone participant in Clare’s very first tintamarre.

The geography of the municipality of Clare — it stretches along 55 kilometres of coastline — makes a standard parade through a town impossible. Undaunted, Dugas decided to drive the coastal route on Aug. 15, 1996, waving an Acadian flag out her car window and, in the process, demonstrating how Clare could mark tintamarre in its own way. That first year, Dugas remembers how a friend explained that her father had warned her against noisy expressions of Acadian pride. “I think it was the history of being deported,” says Dugas. “We won’t bother you, and don’t bother us.” 

Map: Chris Brackley/Can Geo; Data credits: download-telecharger.cfm?lang=e
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The following year, she repeated her parade, this time with her daughter. In the third year, she took advantage of her new job at a local radio station to spread the word. Thirty cars joined her. It only grew from there. Dugas has driven in every tintamarre, except one when she decided to watch. She tells me she cried that day as the noisy procession passed. “One day in the year, you can make a lot of noise to show how proud you are to be Acadian.”

The tintamarre starts at 6 p.m. Dugas hops in a car, sirens wail from three fire trucks, and we’re off. I ride in the municipality’s truck with the three young employees of the municipality who will later don three more giant heads. They’re listening to local Acadian music ranging in style from traditional folk to hip hop. Each wears a T-shirt with a different phrase from one of their favourite tunes. 

Summer student Zoe Deveau says National Acadian Day is her favourite holiday, even ahead of Christmas. “My parents are the proudest Acadian people I know,” she says, repeating what they tell her: “Be proud to be Acadian. Never hide your culture. Always express it.” She’s never known Baie Sainte-Marie without a tintamarre. She waves an Acadian flag from the window and shouts to strangers and friends alike. Behind the wheel, recreation manager Tori Comeau blows the truck horn over and over.

People wave and shout, bang pots with wooden spoons and ring cow bells. One man fires a small cannon. I count 22 people in front of one house. We pass a seniors’ home where dozens line the street in lawn chairs. More vehicles decorated to the hilt and loaded with noisy, proud Acadians join the procession.

The parade pulls into the university parking lot, where we don the giant heads. When I first put it on, I half expected people to laugh. But now I understand — these giant heads are magnifications of Acadian pride. I make my way through the crowd, joining in dance and celebration. People greet me like an old friend, like Herb Leblanc, who’s now a larger-than-life legend.


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This story is from the May/June 2023 Issue

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