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Tradition keeps thousands returning to French Festival in Cape Vincent

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CAPE VINCENT — Feathered colonial hats along with period suits with patterned kilts and knee-high wool socks were in vogue Saturday in Cape Vincent.

The rich sound of bagpipes announced the arrival of bands that marched down the streets at the 44th annual French Festival. Throngs of spectators 10 to 15 people deep craned their necks to see a performance that boasted a lineup of 53 parade units and 16 bands.

Riding a horse and waving a sword, a short man led the parade dressed in a light blue suit mimicking French commander Napoleon Bonaparte — a tradition paying homage to the arrival of French families to the north country who immigrated during the early 19th century.

“A lot of people who live here are descendants of French families who immigrated here,” said Marilyn H. Peters, who hosted a party for family and friends at her house on the parade route. “The French hated the British and supported the American Revolution, so (Americans) here bought land from the Indians and sold it to the French.”

Parade favorites included Antwerp’s Original Yanks Drum & Bugle Corps, the River Rat Rhythm Project steel drum band and the Island Band of Syracuse. The latter band members, who were dressed in glitzy Hawaiian shirts, blared their trumpets, coronets and tubas to the crowd’s delight, and their performance was punctuated by boisterous applause. High school bands from the Thousand Islands, General Brown and Heuvelton school districts also performed.

Parade organizer David A. Parker of Cape Vincent said the French Festival is in a league of its own when stacked up against other parades in the region. Mixed with the north country crowds were French-speaking Canadians who made the trip south. Mr. Parker said many of the towns and villages, including Cape Vincent, were named by the French, such as Chaumont and Gouverneur.

One of the main highlights Saturday was a group performance after the parade made the six band pipe groups, who played classics such as “Amazing Grace.”

“Over a hundred members play at the same time” in front of hundreds of people, he said. “Seeing the huge crowd in a small town like this is special.”

Most of the parade participants, who sauntered down streets for more than an hour, were soaked in sweat when they finished.

Ted E. and Karen R. Kenealy, the flag bearers for the Came Fife and Drum Corps, did their best to cool down after the long march. Plus, the roughly 10,000 people who lined the streets gave them motivation to forget about the scorching heat while their band played “God Bless America” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” All that sweat couldn’t stop the couple from smiling.

“We’re having fun,” said Mrs. Kenealy, whose hair was drenched beneath her colonial hat. She said her grandmother, who lives in Clayton, has French ancestors.

“This parade draws people from a longer distance” because of its tradition, she said.

The French Festival Committee hosted the event.







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