BATON ROUGE, La. -- Throughout 1999, Louisiana will honor the
tricentennial of its French heritage.
The Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism
(CRT) is the primary agency charged with the celebration. Many
towns are being asked to adopt a French heritage theme for their
Rouge, the state's capital, plans an extensive "Bonne Fete" in
recognition of its own 300th anniversary March 5 through 7. The
three-day spectacular is to feature the arrival of the Bluenose (a
Nova Scotia sailing ship), a laser-light show, a Taste of Baton
Rouge food court, historical reenactments, art exhibits,
dedications and entertainment.
It was in 1699 that French explorers encountered an Indian
village with a large, red-stained pole in its center. The site was
dubbed le Baton Rouge, or "red stick."
Another primary component of FrancoFete is the Congres Mondial,
scheduled for Aug. 1 to 15. It will be a second clan reunion of
Acadian descendants; the first took place in 1994 in Nova Scotia.
The 1999 Congres Mondial will not be limited to one town, city or
parish. Activities will take place across the Acadian-populated
regions of the state.
The first week's festivities will take place in the
Houma-Thibodaux region, east of the Atchafalaya Basin. The second
week, the proceedings will move west to the Lafayette-Lake Charles
Throughout the year, visitors will be encouraged to visit many
landmarks of French heritage, such as the Cabildo in New Orleans'
Jackson Square, where the Louisiana Purchase was signed, and the
town of Natchitoches, where the Louisiana Office of State Parks
operates a replica of the first French outpost in Louisiana.
The tricentennial also will encompass other events that are
being put in place by the CRT. These include an exhibition of works
by the French painter Edgar Degas (1834-1917), whose ties to
Louisiana include paintings he executed within the state during
visits to his family. The New Orleans Museum of Art houses a number
of his paintings, and within a few blocks of the museum, his former
home is open for tours. The museum will have Degas on display May
to August of next year.
FrancoFete also represents Louisiana's celebration of the
millennium and will begin and end with galas. And, come 2000,
Louisiana's officials hope to have strengthened the state's
appreciation for its French heritage as well as added enthusiasm
for the preservation of the French language.
FrancoFete 99, Phone: (800) 870-4959. Department of Culture,
Recreation and Tourism, Phone: (504) 342-8100. Baton Rouge CVB,
Phone: (800) LAROUGE, Web: www.bracvb.com
One of the primary goals of FrancoFete is to increase the
appreciation of the French language in Louisiana, both as a
cultural symbol and as a valuable skill, according to state tourism
By turning the spotlight on the tricentennial, the state's
tourism industry is acknowledging the importance of French in the
array of experiences offered to visitors, especially those from
Canada and France.
In 1699, the French began a process of exploration that
culminated in the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. The French culture
established very deep roots in Louisiana's rich cultural soil. That
culture has tended to absorb other cultures and even today remains
a vital component in the definition of the state's character.
However, in the last 30 years, there has been a great rebirth of
interest in the state's French and Acadian history and heritage.
Leading the way was a recognition that the French language was in
danger of being lost to future generations, and there was a period
during which French was outlawed in the schools. Children who spoke
French at home arrived at school unable to speak any English and
were punished for speaking French.
Along with the injunction against speaking French came a
depreciation of the value of the culture. In 1968, the Louisiana
legislature created the Council for the Development of French in
Louisiana, and the organization remains a vibrant force in the
preservation of French culture in state.
Nearly a quarter of the state's 4 million-plus population claim
Acadian, French or French-Canadian ancestry, according to a 1990
census. More than 260,000 residents reported they speak French at
home, including Creole French.