Academic journal article Ethnologies

The Selection of the Practice of Ice Canoeing on the St. Lawrence River: Birth of a Nomination

Academic journal article Ethnologies

The Selection of the Practice of Ice Canoeing on the St. Lawrence River: Birth of a Nomination

Article excerpt

The Proclamation of February 9, 2014

On February 9, 2014, the minister for Culture and Communications in Quebec (MCC), Maka Kotto, announced the selection of the practice of ice canoeing on the Saint Lawrence River as part of the intangible heritage under the Cultural Heritage Act. On the occasion of this proclamation which took place at the site and on the very day of the Carnival race, the president of the Quebec Carnival, Denis Simard, signaled his delight with this heritage designation and hastened to inform the press that he was looking ahead even further by making the announcement that the next step for his organization would be approaching the Canadian government to make an official request with UNESCO (Auger, 2014).

It is, however, worth mentioning that it is not the Quebec Carnival but the Quebec Society of Ethnology (QSE) which documented, prepared and made the nomination to the MCC on February 5, 2013. It is true, of course, that the credit goes to the Quebec Carnival for the fact that the practice has reached the 20th century and has come to us with such enthusiasm. Since 1955, in fact, the Quebec Carnival has made the ice canoe race a part of its program and has declared it one of the main activities The long process which led the minister of Culture to recognize the practice as part of Quebecers' intangible heritage remains, nonetheless, a QSE initiative.

Likewise, since it is part of the strategic planning of the QSE (1) to bring the Government of Canada to have ice canoeing included on the representative List of UNESCO, it should be known that such a designation can only be made under certain conditions. One of these conditions stipulates that the nominating country be a signatory to the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, something that Canada has as yet not become.

The purpose of this article is precisely to outline in what manner and circumstances the QSE came to make the request with the ministry for recognition of the practice as well as the instruments used and the basis for the development of its case. It should be known that the process is not as simple as might be assumed, and it is fortunate that the designation in terms of the Cultural Heritage Act is not a trivial measure. It involves the minister's giving status to a part of the intangible heritage of which knowledge, safeguarding, promotion or transferral is in the public interest. As for the possibility of gaining recognition of a practice as the intangible heritage of humanity, it easy to guess that a single nomination is not enough.

A journey in sereval stages

The mission

In 2006, when the Ministry of Culture began the process of developing a new legislative framework for the protection of heritage, one which would take into account the widening of the concept in terms of new paradigms. Jean Simard, then president of the QSE, and I, as head of ethnological heritage for the Heritage Branch, were sent on mission to Belgium to document the experience of that country in the management of its intangible cultural heritage. (2) The Belgian French-speaking community is, in fact, the first western government to adopt a legislative instrument for the protection of its intangible cultural assets. (3) Our destination was all the more relevant since Belgium had obtained from UNESCO, in 2003 and 2005, recognition of two expressions of popular culture as Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity: the Carnival of Binche and, in cooperation with France, an ensemble of folklore celebrations featuring Processional Giant and Dragons. (4)

From the outset, our hosts (5) had planned to have us experience a stay at Binche during the Carnival. We were first taken to the Grand-Place for an introduction to the very heart and soul of the festival which reaches its summit during the F at days. Although the high point of the event lasts only three days, an observer quickly understands that these days are the culmination of preparatory work and rehearsals which involve the population for much of the year: craftspeople, musicians, Gilles--the symbolic character of the festival--and his supporters. …

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