If anyone can keep a secret it is Suzanne Taillefer-Boland.
She was asked at last year’s Carnaval, if she would like to become the 56th Bonhomme.
Taillefer-Boland said yes, which meant keeping her secret for an entire year.
“It has been so hard keeping this secret. My husband didn’t even know until 36 hours ago. I had to tell him to make sure that he was here. And my daughter just found out now,” she laughed.
“My husband was in shock. He really was, because I had told him I was busy all week helping with Le Carnaval, so he didn’t even think twice about me being away so much.”
As is tradition, Le Bonhomme Carnaval is shrouded in secrecy until the closing ceremonies, which took place Sunday during an afternoon of song and dance, at the Capitol Centre.
“It makes people wonder and guess and try and figure out who it is. It is part of the fun and intrigue. It is such an incredible honour to be selected to be Bonhomme. It is the highest honour you can get in the French community. I am so touched and so appreciative that I was able to do this.”
Lou Gagne, programming agent for Les Compagnons says Bonhomme is chosen based on his or her active participation within the French community.
“Suzanne has been an integral part of Les Compagnons and their programming for youth. She teaches tap dancing and has done so for years at the club, and now she has added adults to the classes. And any time we need something, she is there. So, she fit the criteria. It is a thank you for the work that they do, and we put them to work again for a week,” laughed Gagne.
Taillefer-Boland discovered just how great an impact Bonhomme has on the community during a recent visit to Cassellholme as Bonhomme.
“There was a younger man who had a brain injury and was in a wheelchair. When he saw me, I took his hand and he started singing the song of Bonhomme that he knew when he was young. Everyone was just so amazed because he doesn’t really communicate. So that really hit me how important this is to children,” said Taillefer-Boland.
“So I took the time to make sure to reach out to as many children as possible. They love to hug Bonhomme.”
Not afraid of the costume, twenty-month-old Nicholas May gave Bonhomme a big high five during the closing ceremonies.
Mom Renee feels it is important for her family to be part of Le Carnaval.
“We are French Canadian, and we’ve been in North Bay since I was seven, so for over 20 years, we’ve been celebrating this. My oldest son is now four, and seeing him and Nicholas get excited to see Bonhomme, is fantastic.”
Being in costume for hours on end, visiting schools and businesses wasn’t without its challenges.
“Actually, I’m claustrophobic, so being locked into the costume was hard at first. And when it is really hot in there, it is worse. So I think for me, that was the biggest challenge because of my claustrophobia.”
One skill she learned was the tuck and roll, to get in and out of the vehicle taking her to events while wearing the costume’s oversized head and body.
“We had a van, so we opened up the hatchback, laid a blanket down so we wouldn’t get the costume all dirty, then sit and swing over and lie sideways in the fetal position so no one could see me. It was a lot of fun.”
When not dressed as Bonhomme, Taillefer-Boland is a French-English judicial interpreter.