Three giant puppets

Giant pioneer puppets

AFKO raises profile of early Francophone settlers in new bilingual production.

Francophone pioneers Henri Bourgeois, Elie Carpentier and J.O. Patenaude all arrived in the West Kootenay area during the period between 1891 and 1907, over 100 yeas ago. But this year the Association des Francophones des Kootenays Ouest (AFKO) is launching an ambitious project that will commemorate the trio with a production that features giant puppets.

“There were many, many francophone pioneers in the West Kootenay, so we wanted to honour that. We want everybody to know about it,” said director Lyne Chartier.

The project stemmed from a historical research project undertaken in 1991, which was eventually developed into a website. But as technology progressed, the website became defunct.

“It was too old, but we thought it was so amazing we took back all the research, all the information about the french pioneers,” she said.

The trouble was how to introduce it to the wider community and overcome the language barrier. AFKO has decided to make the show bilingual, so they can share the stories with everyone.

“It’s fun for everybody, because it’s giant puppets! Everybody goes crazy. Kids, not-kids. Now we’re going to have three, and taller than we’ve done before,” she said.

The puppets are constructed of lightweight metal, with two pieces of wood that rest on the puppeteer’s shoulders. They will ultimately be double the size of an average human being. They were created by Kaslo artist Rose-Blanche Hudon.

“I already made all the costumes for the small version,” said Madeleine Arsenault, referring to the small-scale display in the glass case at the corner of Ward and Baker.

“These will be over two times the size of human people, so it’s quite challenging. It’s a lot of fabric to work with, I was worrying `ah, did I order enough fabric?’” she said.

The puppeteers will also be assisted by Trafalgar Elementary french immersion students, who will help move the arms.

“We want to involve the schools and get them to make small puppets to be present at the show,” said Chartier.

Local experts contributed to build the set, the puppets and the costumes. Bilingual signs will be designed to illustrate the story of each character.

In addition, French schools, French immersion classes, and the general public will be invited to an exhibition at the Touchstones museum in March 2015.

Chartier said they’re still looking for strong puppeteers to play Bourgeois, Carpentier and Patenaude. The role is demanding. Chartier said they’re still holding auditions and looking for volunteers.

AFKO has already lined up six events for the giant puppets, and is interested in organizing more. The puppets’ official introduction will come on December 13, as part of their Christmas Celebration in Crescent Valley.

Anyone interested in being a puppeteer for the AFKO shows should call Chartier at 250-352-3516

The production also includes music by four local musicians. It will be about 20 minutes long, with plentiful singing and dancing.

To learn more about the upcoming shows, visit

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