WATERVILLE — Older residents at the 11th annual Franco-American Family Festival today said it gives them hope to see young faces scattered among the sea of aging attendees.

After helping judge the tourtiere contest, Cecile Vigue, 90, leaned on a cane next to her husband, Alcee, 93, and said she worries that the region’s French culture is being lost.

“I’m afraid the language is dying. It’s sad,” she said.

She lights up, however, when she mentions her two grandchildren who are learning French in school and write letters to her and Alcee in French.

“It’s great. They write us letters and we write them back,” she said, smiling.

Cecile said she comes every year to the festival, which celebrates the cultural heritage of Canadians who settled in Waterville many years ago and helped shape the city.

This year’s festival, organized by the Franco-American Heritage Society of Kennebec County, featured a French food, a smoke house demonstration by the Waterville Fire Department, a tourtiere contest and a classic car show among other events.

About 100 people turned out from noon to 4 p.m. to mingle with each other and listen to the bands LeFamille LeBlanc and Blistered Fingers perform at Head of Falls off Front Street in Waterville.

Karen Rancourt-Thomas, festival coordinator and president of the Franco-American Heritage Society, said her children and co-workers were among the younger generation of volunteers that the festival organizers are counting on.

Rancourt-Thomas said she never learned French when she was growing up in Waterville. While her parents both spoke fluent French, they were told by public school officials not to teach her French because it would hurt her learning ability.

“And now the schools emphasize how important it is to be bilingual,” she said.

Rancourt-Thomas’ son, Nate Thomas, and his girlfriend, Tiffany Bishop, both 18, were among the volunteers at the festival.

Bishop is fluent in French and said she is glad the students in her hometown, Caribou, learn the language and about Franco-American culture.

“The kids get to see their heritage and where they came from, and it’s sort of an inspiration to them,” she said.

Thomas said he has been studying French, and he and Bishop can converse in the language.

“I wrote her love letters in French,” he said proudly.

“They were actually pretty good,” Bishop said.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252
[email protected]