My first visit to Caraquet was in 2005, and I missed the Tintamarre because I didn’t know about it. For the past four years I’d seen photos and videos of what happens in Caraquet every 15th of August, and I was determined not to miss it this time. I hated missing the second part of our conference, but I couldn’t bear the thought of being away from all the noise and excitement on the town’s main street. (Click on the photos to enlarge.)
The normal driving time from Bathurst to Caraquet is just under an hour, but this was not going to be a normal day. There were predictions of record crowds and horrendous traffic; I was told by a few people that the trip back could take up to three hours on a “normal” Tintamarre day. This year, however, the Tintamarre coincided with the World Acadian Congress as well as a beautiful Saturday, so it would be far worse—so they said. I went to the local RCMP office a couple of days before to ask for their advice, and they were surprisingly optimistic. “Give yourself an extra 15-30 minutes”, the officer said. He even assured me that I wouldn’t have any difficulty getting back to the Hôtel Paulin; there would be a detour but the street in front of the Paulin would be open.
I decided to prepare for the worst and allow lots of extra time; we even had a change of clothes in the car in case they weren’t letting traffic through after all. Traffic didn’t start getting bad till we reached Grande-Anse, and even then it wasn’t so bad; we made it back to the Paulin in about 90 minutes—and there was even a space in the parking lot for us.
The atmosphere in Caraquet was electric. Acadian flags had been flying everywhere for a couple of weeks already, but it was different on the 15th. This was the day that everyone had been waiting for, and it seemed that everyone was wearing some version of the Acadian flag, from simple T-shirts to body paint to elaborate costumes. There were group costumes, family costumes and individual costumes.
The Grand Tintamarre itself wasn’t due to start till 6:00 p.m., but the party was in full swing well before we joined. The street was packed; we made our way to the Place du Vieux Couvent to check out the entertainment, and it was Les Frères Michot from Louisiana playing traditional Cajun music—just fiddle, accordion and guitar.
One couple got up to dance, then another, then another, and then there were half a dozen Cajun couples dancing. One woman was proudly draped in the Acadian flag of Louisiana. They were back in l’Acadie after two and a half centuries, and what wonderful music they had brought with them!
At the food stands they were selling everything from ployes to gumbo, and the main stage was set up for the big show later that evening. The street was getting more and more crowded, as people were streaming in from all possible directions but no one was leaving.
The street seemed to be at its maximum capacity at 6:00 p.m. when the Tintamarre itself actually started. I was expecting the difference in noise level to be minimal, as it was already noisy. I was mistaken. There were many kinds of noisemakers (ours were loud screaming things painted in the Acadian colours—we blew into them) including boat horns, ambulance sirens, cow bells, police whistles—if it made noise someone probably had one.
Somehow this mass of people was actually moving as well; it seemed impossible to cross the street, yet there were streams of people who were steadily moving from one point to another. There were currents in the crowd, although it was far from obvious where they were headed. There seemed to be a parade, but there was no orderly procession of floats. We saw a ghost ship go by with what appeared to be a crew all painted white, and then we saw the Mourant family pushing their representative on a bed as doctors and nurses tried to revive him (I was still wondering how Mourant got to be a family name).
At 7:00 p.m. the noise suddenly lessened and the crowd started thinning a bit. What was the point? Was there some deeper meaning attached to this collective primal scream? Was it a reminder to the rest of the world that Acadians are still around? Was it a show of Acadian solidarity? Maybe there is a deeper meaning, and maybe it’s just an excuse to have a big party.
According to L’Acadie Nouvelle two days later there were 50,000 participants at the Grand Tintamarre. This was not only the biggest Tintamarre ever, it was also the most Acadians ever gathered together in one place. Deeper meaning or not, it was a lot of fun and an amazing event.