In a few days I’ll be packing the Subaru and headed for Gaspé to work on a recent project in Douglastown called the Douglastown Detour. In the past few months I’ve been in St. John’s, Newfoundland writing my PhD thesis based on my 2015-2016 research in Gaspé. I’m currently describing the overall contours of Gaspesian musical culture from the Second World War until the present. During this timeframe, perhaps the most significant phenomenon in the English-speaking community was the 10-day Wakeham-York Homecoming Festival which ran for 25 years starting in 1978. I’ll say more about the festival in future posts but for now, I want to note that it has been both interesting but also very complicated trying to write about something I never experienced myself (I began coming to Gaspé about six years after the festival folded). Still, many people talk about the festival and I want to give it its due when I write about it. I’ll return to this topic at the end of the post.
The Ray McAuley Memorial fiddle contests were a major draw at the festival. In today’s post we have one of the mainstay contestants, Gérard Durette giving us a powerful rendition of “La grondeuse” (literally, “the grumbler”) from a recording of one of the festival’s fiddle contests. Gérard is sadly no longer with us, having passed away in the fall of 2015. I was lucky enough to get to jam with him at a kitchen party in Douglastown almost four years ago to the day. Gérard was born in Nouvelle in 1937 on the Bay of Chaleurs and moved to Douglastown in the early 1960s where he married Claudia Element. His father Thomas played both accordion and harmonica. Many describe Gérard as having a quintessentially “French” style with his many finger “twirls” and a compelling swing throughout his playing.
This recording was made by fiddler and fellow contestant Erskine Morris, likely at the 1979 contest. There was some controversy about Gérard’s performance. You’ll notice halfway through the recording the crowd starts applauding wildly as Gérard continues playing. Several people have told me that Gérard had his daughter come out and stepdance during his performance which they felt unfairly tipped the crowd (who erupted in applause) and the judges in his favour. Gérard came in 1st place and Erskine came in 2nd place that year. Some felt that on the merits of the fiddling alone, Erskine should have perhaps taken the first place trophy. In any case, you had two very powerful and very different fiddlers at the top of their game competing. Gérard took contests very seriously, which included his attire—something you see in the above photo. He won the festival’s fiddle contest (and many others) several times in its early years.
I’m still trying to write about the festival more generally in my PhD. What I’m trying to figure out is this:
How should the festival be remembered in writing?
I have the privilege of being perhaps the first person to write extensively about the festival for audiences outside the community. What sort of things should I know? How did the festival change the community? What were the most memorable events/years of the festival? What items (whether photographs, cassette recordings, newspaper clippings, VHS tapes) from the festival should be archived for future generations? Festival co-founder and president Albert Patterson has been very generous sharing his thoughts, photos, and clippings with me. But many people make a festival and I want to hear from others who attended or participated in any way.
I would like to take this opportunity to invite anyone in the community who wants to contribute their knowledge or loan a document to do so. I’ll be in Gaspé between May 8 and the beginning of June. I will have the equipment to copy tapes and scan photos and newspapers. Feel free to leave a comment or email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any ideas.
Thanks to Albert Patterson for the photo and information and Brian Morris for his father’s tape. For more festival pictures, see this link at GoGaspé.com put up by Bruce Patterson: http://www.gogaspe.com/ron/festival/festival.htm
fonds: Erskine Morris; Albert Patterson
7 thoughts on “Gérard Durette at the Wakeham-York Homecoming Fiddle Contest”
Hello there… My Father was born in Bridgeville, and moved to Toronto in his mid Teens.
Many of our family members remained in Gaspe, so for our family the homecoming festival was just that… my Father would book his Vacation during that time and we would load up in the station- wagon and drive the 16 to 18hrs from Toronto to Wakeham where my Aunt & Uncle lived… it was a home coming for my Father… and left many special memories in this City Gals mind.
Tammy, thanks so much for sharing this most touching reminiscence of the festival’s importance to your dad, you, and your family. I really appreciate it!
I am very so proud to see this photo of my uncle who was my mother’s oldest brother, so moved while listening to him playing his fiddle , remembering so many precious memories of him playing wherever he was … his fiddle was such a big part of his life and he was a gentleman, always smiling , such a good man! Unfortunately I never had the pleasure to attend any of the festivals due to living in N.B. but so happy to see that he is being recognized in this way. I have some old tapes of him playing the fiddle and plan to get them transferred in a CD , a project I must do soon… Thank you for inspiring me to do so and for your passion in writing about something so important ! 😙
I’m so glad you enjoyed this, Dorothée. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. He was a great player. I have one of his tapes transferred – we even featured one of the tunes from this on the CD: “Douglastown: Music and Song from the Gaspé Coast.” He had a lovely style. I play a few of his tunes. I’d be happy to help transfer the tapes sometime in the future. Feel free to get in touch.
I remember the festival, my father was very proud to participate and win
Thank you for sharing, Ghislaine. I got to play with your father once at Norma and Brian McDonald’s place. He was an excellent player for sure.
Merci Glenn pour cette belle page d’histoire !