With nearly 60 years of lumberjacking experience on the north end of a two-person saw, our competition didn't stand much of a chance.
Jean-Claude Paquet, 73, started cutting logs for a living soon after he quit school at age 15 in Mont-Jolie, Que., and he's still working. His expertise helped us win a close race with Gerry Bergeron and his young partner in the Godendart sawing contest Saturday at the 28th annual Francofun Winter Festival.
"It was always just one guy on a saw [at work], I've always wanted to try this," said Paquet, hired as a horse logger when he first came to Prince George in 1970.
But it wasn't the wood-cutting competition that convinced Paquet to follow his family to St. Mary's school parking lot for Francofun. It was the sweet treats Francofun president Robert Doyon was concocting out of maple syrup poured on a tray of fresh snow.
"I came here just for that," laughed Paquet. "We used to get that in Quebec. You'd just make a hole in the tree to get the syrup."
An unseasonably mild day brought hundreds of people out for six hours of winter fun. They ran on snowshoes; raced each other in the spike-hammering contest; watched snowcarvers transform blocks of snow into intricately-sculpted polar bears and mountain goats; tested their hockey-shot accuracy; and waited in line for maple toffee.
Kids sported cheeks painted with the fleur de lys, a prominent feature of the Quebec flag, and had their photos taken with Bonhomme, the smiling mascot of the Quebec City Winter Festical. Laura Martin brought her 11-year-old daughter Grace and nine-year-old son Levi to the festival, for them a rare opportunity to celebrate a bilingual Canada.
"I didn't realize there were so many francophones here [more than 3,500 in Prince George]," said Laura Martin. "We're supposed to be a bilingual country but in the West we don't get a lot of exposure to that and it's really good for our kids to see what it's about."
Grace Martin is home-schooled and has a French tutor, who told her about Francofun and was helping serve some of the food. Grace says it's been a struggle to learn French but knows if she becomes bilingual it will enhance her job opportunities once she leaves school.
"Because French people live in Canada I think it's important that we learn it," said Grace. "I have learned a few French words like neige, the word for snow, and the word for candy (bonbon), but I've forgotten what it is.
"I liked the maple syrup candy but it didn't like me, it upset my stomach."
Bergeron, one of 150 volunteers on the Francofun organizing committee, is originally from Quebec but spent most of his youth in the French-speaking region of Alberta in the small town of St. Isadore. He's been involved in Francofun since 1982.
"This builds community, it's just fun," said Bergeron. "Thirty years ago, the logging and sawmilling community here was half Frenchmen who came from Quebec and Saskatchewan. We are involved a lot in the French community, but some people might not get that chance [to speak French with others]. It gives you a tickle."
The Sugar Shack brunch at St. Mary's gym drew about 1,000 people, where festival-goers munched on tourtire meat pies, sausages, and poached eggs smothered in maple syrup.
Raghu Lokanthan brought his accordion to the stage, there was an old-time fiddler, and the LeClerc family played traditional eastern Canadian songs while people ate and bid on items in the triage (raffle) and the enchain silencieux (silent auction).
Francofun was the culmination of a week-long festival that included the Cold Snap performance of the Eves Lambent trio, Jazzy and Els Colons Bins; school activities for French immersion students; a cross-country ski event at Otway Nordic Centre; and an interactive storytime for kids at the Prince George Public Library.
On Friday, Neeru Gupta, her husband Sarat, their 12-year-old son Divy and Neeru's sister, Beenu Bibra marked the one-year anniversary of their arrival in Prince George from New Delhi, India and they continued their celebration with their first Francofun experience.
"It's wonderful, all of the details have been taken care of -- it's total fun," said Neeru Gupta. "The food was so good, with lots of varieties of food and choice for vegetarians. The toffee is so good. We saw lots of dances and different talents which we have never seen before.
"And the weather is OK, we've been blessed."