Four of us sat around this kitchen table in the winter of 1977: Albert and Elaine Patterson, Art Jones and Lois Bechervaise. We talked about how we might bring people together in the summer when visitors come home. There didn’t seem to be much going on in that way.

Story of Elaine Bechervaise Patterson and Lois Bechervaise
Founding members, Wakeham-York Home Coming Festival and residents of Gaspé

Writting by Cynthia Patterson
Friend, Wakeham-York Home Coming Festival and resident of Barachois

Spring 1978, we mailed 200 invitations to Gaspesisans living away. We called round to families and people gave us names and addresses of relatives. Paid for copying and postage ourselves. The invitation said: “Welcome Home. ” No program yet to tempt them. Only the dates. But people were excited. Uncle Wilson, he was a retired ship’s captain, well into his 70s and living in Montreal. He got his invitation and decided right away that he would come.

There was a lot to do! Weekly meetings. A Festival Committee came together, all volunteers who wanted to work hard to make this happen. Our nephew, Zane, designed the logo and painted it on a large wooden sign to be put up by the entrance to the Festival at Wakeham Playground. Barbara Coull wrote the Home Coming Song which became our theme. We needed a stage. So that had to be built. The first person to dance on it was Arthur Annett.

Our first Festival was in July, 1978. It lasted 10 days, over two weekends. We had a full program. Something for everyone and every age. At its peak, the festival drew about 15,000 people, English and French, from all along the Coast. We had a team of volunteers for every event, plus clean-up crews. We rented a school bus and paid a driver to make a circuit around the river, down Sandy Beach, Haldimand and out to Pointe Navarre. We didn’t want anyone to miss out because they didn’t have a car or were sensible enough not to risk drinking and driving. The bus rides were free. Molson Beer was our main sponsor at the beginning. Later on, the sponsor became Labatt’s. And, yes, a lot of beer was downed! The money that was spent by the community went back into the community. Sure, we had expenses. But what was left went to help local groups and local schools.

Here’s the kinds of things we put on. Lots of meals. People like eating together, especially with friends and family. Breakfast, Muffin Mania, Salad Suppers, Spaghetti Suppers, Roast Beef Banquets. Breakfasts started at 6 a.m. 100 people could be lining up. We had volunteers to sort out the parking, too.

And the music! Did we have music! You can’t have food, friends and family without music. Fiddling contests and amateur hours. Sometimes the age range would be from 4 to 84. Dads played for daughters. Cousins sang together. Everyone was welcome on stage and appreciated. With time we also brought in big names from away. Jimmy C. Newman, Charlie Pride and others. And of course, we danced. That stage got a good work-out. One time we had a Hawaiian Night and everyone dressed up. Mr. Robbie Robertson in a grass skirt stole the show!

We had friendly competitions. Strengths and Skills: tug of war, high jump, canoe racing, who could make a fire and get a kettle boiling fastest.

And events with animals. Who doesn’t like animals? Pet Shows. Greased Pig Race! Cow Pie Bingo!

Miss Wakeham-York Pageant was a big draw too. Around 25 teens and young women would be part of it. They were judged on their talents. They could choose singing, playing a musical instrument, crafts, baking.

The Festival closed on the second Sunday. An Anglican Church service was held outdoors, well attended and for many years led by Archdeacon Kendrick. Then came the parade. Many groups, businesses and individuals participated. We gathered in the parking area by the Gaspe Arena. Then we drove through town and up the road to Wakeham Playground. Those floats!

People worked hard on them. What a variety! The children participated as brownies, beavers, cubs, girl guides and boy scouts, each with their own float. The Anglican Church Women. The Home-Coming Float with all the young women who had been part of the pageant. And again, animals. Ada Carter’s float had one of her cows and a couple of her hens! Our father, Leslie Bechervaise, built a wooden replica of Wakeham’s St. James Church. All the details. A bell, even a tiny Archdeacon Kendrick just outside the door. But Albert said something was missing. He went down one day and tape-recorded the bell ringing. He set that up inside the little church so the sound of the bell could be heard from the float.

The Festival ran for 25 years. We think we brought a lot of pleasure to a lot of people. Including ourselves. A special time in our lives, wonderful to remember. It’s like the song says, “Those were the days my friend, we thought they’d never end. We’d sing and dance forever and a day.” (Mary Hopkin)

Photos (in order)

Albert Patterson, president of the festival, and Art Jones, vice-president, are two key figures of the event, around 1980.
Collection Elaine Bechervaise Patterson and Lois Bechervaise

A festive atmosphere pervades the Wakeham playground in Gaspé during the Wakeham-York Home Coming Festival, mid-1980s.
Collection Elaine Bechervaise Patterson and Lois Bechervaise

Some floats of the parade.
Collection Elaine Bechervaise Patterson and Lois Bechervaise

Elaine Bechervaise Patterson and Lois Bechervaise, founding members of the event, reminisce about the great years of the festival, 2023.
Photo: Cynthia Patterson