Say oui to a weekend in Historic Downtown Ste. Genevieve, where the 27th French Heritage Festival will whisk visitors away to another time by recreating French Colonial-style celebrations and showcasing skills and arts representative of the period.

Now in its 27th year, the French Heritage Festival is a celebration of French culture and its enduring influence on Ste. Genevieve and the surrounding area.

By Caroline Dohack

The Foundation for Restoration of Ste. Genevieve will hold its 27th French Heritage Festival on June 8–9 in Historic Downtown Ste. Genevieve, Missouri. The event celebrates the enduring influence of French culture on Ste. Genevieve and the surrounding region.

Ste. Genevieve was founded by French Canadian colonists in 1735, making the town the first organized European settlement west of the Mississippi in what is now Missouri. To get a feel for the enduring influence of these early French settlers, you need only to look around at the buildings left standing from that period.

Geoff Giglierano, Executive Director at French Colonial America at The Centre for French Colonial Life, says Ste. Genevieve is home to the largest collection of French Creole structures in the United States.

“The vertical timber buildings of Ste. Geneveive also are significant as they serve as the physical manifestation of the distinctive French Creole culture and way of life that developed in this region during the Franco-Spanish colonial era, and which continues to shape the identity of these communities today,” Giglierano says.

Hallmarks of French Creole architecture include vertical timber walls with clay and straw chinking, steeply pitched roofs, and either wrap-around galleries or matching front and back porches—a concept imported from the Caribbean colonies.

In addition to vertical timber walls—a marked departure from the horizontal log construction common in Anglo-American log buildings from the same period—hallmarks of French Colonial architecture include clay and straw chinking known as “bousillage” in between the vertical timbers, steeply pitched roofs, and the presence of either wrap-around galleries or matching font and back porches—an concept imported from the Caribbean colonies, Giglierano says. 

But these beautiful buildings aren’t the only remaining remnants of French culture.

“Arguably, one of the most notable and meaningful continuing aspects of everyday life that had its origins in the colonial era is the importance of faith—particularly Roman Catholicism—as an element that contributes to the strength and cohesion of the community,” Giglierano says. “In fact, the Foundation for Restoration of Ste. Genevieve holds events around a Colonial French Calendar that keep the community tied to their ancestors. One of the most notable of these is La Guignolée, which involves a group of singers and fiddlers visiting various locations around town on New Year’s Eve, singing a traditional song in the local dialect. Another is the King’s Ball, in which an honorary King and Queen are chosen by finding a baby Jesus figurine in a ‘King’s Cake.’ Both events are very reminiscent of celebrations performed by our cousins to the south in Louisiana during Mardi Gras.”

And so the French Heritage Festival recreates colonial-style celebrations and showcases skills and arts representative of the period.

“As part of that French Colonial calendar of events, the festival kicks off with a ceremony. Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI honor the King and Queen of Ste. Genevieve and take them on a Promenade through the streets,” Giglierano says. “Dance Discovery StL will perform colonial-era social dance in the courtyard of the Guibourd-Valle house, one of our most charming historic homes. Historical skill demonstrations like lace making and paper marbling will take place in the gardens of historical sites like the Felix Valle State Historic Site and the Bolduc House, cared for by French Colonial America. The streets will come alive with mimes, roving fiddle players, plein air painters, and Colonial-era storytellers. Dennis Stroughmatt and his bands will give two performances of Creole music sung in the Paw Paw dialect of the region. Valerie Kiensle-Battle will present on her new walking-tour book of Ste. Genevieve at the Guibourd-Valle house.

This year’s festivities get an extra boost thanks to a Horizons Grant from Missouri Humanities, the Missouri Arts Council, and the Missouri Division of Tourism.

“That’s $25,000 towards adding more cultural activities to our lineup as well as beefing up our wayfinding,” Giglierano says. “We’ve hired the Ste. Genevieve Trolley to run downtown all day between the different sites for those who don’t feel like walking from area to area. Our N. Main St. area, now dubbed Little Bohema, will have a streetside Artisans Faire from 6–9 p.m. Saturday night.”

All photos courtesy of Visit Ste. Genevieve.

For hundreds more events, visit Missouri Life’s Event Calendar.