WATERVILLE — The city’s annual Franco-American Family Festival celebrating French Canadian music and culture is expanding this year to include other cultures as well, say organizers.

The festival, renamed Festival at the Falls, will include Middle Eastern music and will feature Irish, Scottish and Finnish folk tunes in addition to the usual Franco-American food and music, according to Karen Rancourt-Thomas, president of the Franco-American Heritage Society of Kennebec Valley, which organizes the event.

The city has budgeted $4,500 to help fund the festival.

“The change had to happen because the festival itself was dying,” said Rancourt-Thomas, who also is a city councilor representing Ward 7 in the city’s South End.

“There weren’t that many young people coming anymore. What we’re trying to do is pull in people from other parts of the state,” she said. “Hopefully, this will turn out to be a really big success. I think it’s going to be fun. I think it’s going to have a totally different feel to it.”

The Recycled Shakespeare Company, a local theater troupe, will recite sonnets and sing from 12:30 p.m. to 1 p.m. Sept. 7. Middle Eastern music accompanied by belly dancing will be performed from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. and the Great Northern Orchestra will play traditional music and dance.

Former Franco-American Heritage Society president Pearley Lachance, of Winslow, said he supports the change in the festival to include other cultural groups.

“It’s time that we turn in a different direction, and I’m really thrilled that that’s what we’re doing,” Lachance said Monday.

Lachance and his wife, Alice, were named the Memere and Pepere of the festival a decade ago. He said he and others started the Franco-American Heritage Society 12 years ago to recognize the contributions of Franco-Americans who many years ago came to Waterville from Canada and settled in the South End.

The Heritage Society launched the Museum in the Streets, a walking tour of the city’s South End. The tour focuses on the people and some historic buildings in the area.

The society also has sponsored concerts, contributed funds for scholarships and started the Franco festival.

“But Franco-Americans were not the only ones who contributed to Waterville; other nationalities did, too,” Lachance said. “They have their stories to tell, just like the Francos. My hope and Karen (Rancourt-Thomas)’s hope is that more and more nationalities will participate. They all contributed to the success of the development of Waterville.”

Lachance’s mother, Evelina Larochelle, was born in 1898, the youngest of 18 children, and started working at Hathaway Shirt Co. on Water Street in the South End when she was 13, he said.

“She worked 12 hours a day, six days a week and for two weeks’ pay earned $4.25,” he said.

His father, Joseph Lachance, also worked at Hathaway. After they married, they opened a grocery store in Winslow and ran greenhouses. Joseph Lachance also drove a school bus and worked in the shipping department at the paper mill, lifting heavy rolls of paper which led to his physical decline and eventual death at 58. Evelina died at 93, according to Pearley Lachance.

The festival at Head of Falls Sept. 7 will include the annual toutiere pie bake-off contest at 1 p.m. Dynamites, ployes, kibbe, hummus, taboule, salads and baklava will be featured at the event. The Knights of Columbus will serve Italian sausages and hot dogs. St. Joseph Maronite Catholic Church will also sell food.

Crafters and artisans are welcome to sell their wares and are asked to bring their own tables, Rancourt-Thomas said.

The Waterville Senior High School football team will sell T-shirts to raise money for the team.

“We’ll hand out helium-filled balloons to the kids,” she said.

Rancourt-Thomas’ daughter, Ailie Rancourt, 9, who for the last two years was Acadian Princess of the Festival, will lead the pledge of allegiance when the festival opens.

A large tent will be set up for people to sit under and chairs will be available, Rancourt-Thomas said.

The events will get underway at Notre Dame Catholic Church on Silver Street at 4 p.m. Sept. 6 with a traditional bean supper. The cost is $6 for adults, $4 for children and $20 per family. The festival itself, which is open to the public free of charge, will be noon to 4 p.m. Sept. 7 at Head of Falls off Front Street with food, music, dancing and vendors selling crafts.

If it rains, the festival will be held at Alfond Youth Center on North Street.

Those wanting more information are asked to call Rancourt-Thomas at 314-0015.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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