Thunderous applause and cheers of delight filled the upper level of the West Ferris arena Saturday afternoon following the unveiling of the 2024 Bonhomme, a key part of the 61st annual Le Carnaval celebration of the Francophone culture in North Bay.
For the past week Dr. Rick Delisle, who is ex-military, managed to keep his role as Bonhomme, a secret from family and friends which was no easy feat.
“I did very well, I think. If you had seen the look on my daughter’s face you would know she did not suspect this at all,” laughed Delisle.
“We managed to trick my daughter, she’s 16 and my son, he’s 25. My son kept asking ‘Where are you going?’ and I would say ‘I’ve got go to the Base.’ And he was okay with that. My wife did know.”
It was with immense pride that Delisle carried out his duties as Bonhomme.
“It was a great honour, and it was so much fun. I met some fantastic people and worked with fantastic people. I met two-year-olds to 95-year-olds. I danced with all ages. It has been awesome,” Delisle said broad smile.
Very active in both the French and Anglophone communities, a volunteer doctor with the North Bay Battalion along with being a veteran, Delisle was considered to be a good fit serving as an ambassador for Le Carnaval.
“What I was told was Les Compagnons was trying to incorporate the military and the base into this. A lot of people in the past have had a background in education. I’m ex-military, served for 24 years which is what brought me to North Bay. I’ve been retired for ten years now. The person who called me is one of my ex-patients,” shared Delisle.
"I am from Quebec City and Bonhomme is like Santa Claus in Quebec City. So, in my family now, I am a hero.“
Alain Legrand last year’s Bonhomme, assisted with the unveiling.
The unveiling is a highly anticipated element of the cultural event.
“It is a moment that everyone waits to see. Bonhomme is definitely the most important symbol of the entire Carnaval. There is always this game of trying to guess who the Bonhomme is, so people are very excited to see if they have guessed right,” explained Arnaud Claude, executive director of Les Compagnons des francs loisirs, who organized the week-long celebration.
On hand to witness the reveal was Roger Pitre who not only was the first Bonhomme in North Bay but also helped to design the costume, back in 1963.
The suit has undergone some modifications over the past six-plus decades.
Pitre is proud to see the tradition carry on all these years later.
“It is unbelievable,” grinned Pitre.
“At 50 years I thought it was the last time, at 55 again, and now at 61 years that’s marvellous.”
Le Carnaval officially kicked off on February 4 at Lee Park.
The theme this year is "Heart Warming."
“I didn’t think it would be so warm outside. We were thinking snow, comfort in hot chocolate,” laughed Anne Brule of Les Compagnons.
Unseasonably warm temperatures meant having to pivot and make changes on the fly.
“We went through Plan A, B, C, D,” laughed Arnaud Claude.
“It was a bit different this year because of the weather we’re having. We just planned according to the weather. We didn’t have extreme cold and snow so that was really, really nice when it came to the participation of the public. Weather sometimes has a huge impact when talking about outdoor events during the wintertime,” Claude shared.
He credited the “marvellous team and wonderful volunteers” who were supportive and willing to adapt throughout the week.
“We were lucky not to have to cancel the skating at the park, but unfortunately we were unable to have a snow sculpture contest this year so, we found other activities to make sure that people still had fun during the day.”
Organizers were beyond happy over this year’s turnout.
“I am extremely pleased to tell you that participation has been better than ever,” shared Claude.
“All our events have been sold all week. I understand it is easier to participate when the weather is mild and it is nice out. But we’ve also put forward a lot of effort as a team to propose a Carnaval that is first of all more inclusive. All the activities have been bilingual, so more open to the entire public for the celebration of the Francophone community and the Francophone culture. But also, the quality we have put into the preparation and the activities themselves have greatly increased in the past three years.”
Le Carnaval is about making memories.
“The kick-off of the Carnaval with the fireworks at Lee Park has been one of the main highlights. It was something we had never really done before, so I was extremely pleased by the participation. So, that was really great,” said Claude.
Other highlights included an Arts Evening at the WKP Kennedy Gallery.
“Again, we did not expect the amount of people. We had about 100 people come out to see that exhibit. We were pleased by that.”
Singer, songwriter, and entertainer Steph Paquette kept people entertained Thursday night.
“Steph is a really well-known Franco-Ontarian artist living in the Sudbury area, and again a full crew attending, so that was extremely nice,” added Claude.
The activities wrapped up Saturday, with Boreal Day at the West Ferris arena with activities geared towards families.
The final concert was held Saturday night at the Capitol Centre featuring Gregory Charles.
Based on early feedback, it appears the 61st edition of Carnaval hit the mark.
“It has been a huge success, absolutely!” stated Claude.
“We always have buttons that we sell every year and about one-thousand buttons were sold this year. So people were involved and we’re growing a little bit.”