PASSION & HISTOIRE BLOG – Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day in Saint-Boniface

Kenza Zaoui - Translated by Daneige Edey

As soon as we show interest in French-canadian culture and traditions, Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day will quickly come up in the conversation. Celebrated on June 24th, let’s review  the history of this festival together, what it represents for the francophone community, and how we can celebrate it this year in Winnipeg. 


The history of Saint-Jean-Baptiste

The very first mention of Saint-Jean-Baptiste dates this festival back to the beginning of the 17th century. Because the festival is so close to the summer solstice, this day allowed for a celebration of the end of winter and at the same time, the lighting of bonfires for the new season. 

In 1834, inspired by the Irish proudly displaying the celebration of their culture on Saint-Patrick’s Day, Ludger Duvernay decided to organise an event to celebrate his own culture: French Canadian. He then founded a patriotic, francophone society called La société Saint-Jean-Baptiste.

The festival was born. Several communities followed suit by either forming associations or societies all over Québec, but also out west; the first Saint-Jean-Baptiste in Manitoba Association was founded in Saint-Boniface in 1871.

Everywhere the festival followed the same itinerary: a mass, a meal, and a large gathering of francophones. This allowed participants to solidify their linguistic and cultural identity. 

Celebrations in 2019 at the Saint-Boniface Cathedral

Over the years, the religious aspect has dwindled even though some communities will still hold a mass. Today, Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day is an opportunity to gather, celebrate, and listen to live francophone artists.


A festival for French Canadians 

June 24th was declared Québec’s national holiday. However, we should not forget the francophones all across the rest of the country! For 150 years, this day has been just as important outside of Québec. In fact, Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day has been celebrated for more than 120 uninterrupted years in La Broquerie, Manitoba. 

These values of reunion, sharing, and learning can be applied to every francophone community. This is why Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day is so ideal to put history and culture at the forefront of the celebration. There is also opportunity to explore the history and culture year-round, like taking a guided tour of Saint-Boniface from Tourisme Riel, or book a free viewing of At the Heart of Manitoba’s Francophone Community

Saint-Boniface has been hosting celebrations for Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day for years, first in Provencher Park, and then at Whittier park. Since 2018, the events have been regrouped under the Saint-Boniface célèbre festival. That year, “Tout pour la musique”, a franco-manitoban concert was held at the festival to be aired on Unis TV, Radio-Canada, and TFO (the Ontario French-language television network), and with that, celebrations ensued from coast to coast.


Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day 2021

Just like last year, this edition of Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day in Saint-Boniface will be online. 

Saint-Boniface Célèbre will broadcast their concert online on the Franco-Manitobain Cultural Centre’s Facebook page. Performances will be by Johnny Cajun, Jocelyne Baribeau, and Justin Lacroix. For more information, you can visit their website and make sure to mark your calendars for 7pm on Friday, June 25th!