Fiddle festival passes on tradition

The John Arcand Fiddle Fest is an event that doesn’t play second fiddle. As one of the last surviving fiddle festival in western Canada, the event draws fiddlers from across western Canada, Ontario and even the U.S.

John Arcand – known as the Master of the Métis Fiddle – started the event in 1998 because he had a dream to give something back and wanted to see the music of the fiddle preserved and the traditions continue. What began as a fiddle contest has grown into a four-day celebration of culture, music and dance, featuring two full days of workshops.

The event is hosted every August by John and his wife Vicki at their acreage south of Saskatoon called Windy Acres. They offer their hay field as a campground.

“It was John’s dream to found a festival that celebrated fiddle music and dance, was affordable and would pass on traditions to younger generations,” Vicki said. “The growth and the journey to get to where we are now have just been phenomenal.”

The event has a lot to offer participants, including over 100 free workshops in fiddle, guitar, jigging and square dancing. It’s also home to one of the largest fiddle contests in Canada.

There are evening concerts on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and Old Time dances on Friday and Saturday. Visitors can enjoy mainstage entertainment every afternoon. There’s a children’s activity area and a Métis Cultural Camp with traditional workshops in finger weaving, beading, storytelling, dancing and more.

“Fiddling has strong ties to Métis people. When John and I make presentations at schools, we tell them that Métis people came in the day of fur trades and pianos wouldn’t fit in the canoe,” Vicki said with a laugh. “They all learned to play the fiddle.”

Tristen Durocher, a 22-year-old from Buffalo Narrows, has attended the festival ever since he was nine years old. He had been gifted a fiddle from his grandma and, since he didn’t have anybody to teach him, his grandparents took him to the festival.

“I’ve really benefited from attending the festival because I’ve been exposed to different genres of fiddle music from instructors across Canada,” he said.  “It’s very beneficial to have a choice and find a style to gravitate toward.”

An added benefit of the event for Durocher has been the friendships.

“I’ve made a lot of friends with people who attend every year like me,” Durocher said. “I have a group of friends, about eight of us, and collectively we span from B.C. to Ontario. It’s obviously difficult for us to visit each other outside this event.”

The John Arcand Fiddle Fest is a registered charitable non-profit and several of the funding organizations that it applies to are supported by Saskatchewan Lotteries.

“The support is invaluable and we’re very thankful,” Vicki said. “Without the support of funders and sponsors, events like ours would not exist. I don’t think a lot of people know what goes in to putting on an event like this. It requires a lot and therefore funding support, especially from a provincial body, is extremely important.”

The John Arcand Fiddle Fest receives funding from SaskFestivals, which is administered by the Saskatchewan Arts Board, and supported by funding from SaskCulture through Saskatchewan Lotteries. Together, we are building a culturally vibrant Saskatchewan.  Culture Builds Community!  Learn more at www.saskculture.sk.ca.

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