Historical reenactors dress up as (from left to right) King Henri Cristopher, Queen Marie-Louise Coidavid, Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Toussaint Louverture during Life of Hope’s Haitian Flag Day parade in Flatbush, NYC on May 14, 2022.

Haitian Heritage Month (HHM) is celebrated in major U.S. cities with the largest Haitian communities, such as NYC, Boston and Miami. Events unfold during the entire month to pay homage to Haitians’ rich culture, distinctive art, mouth-watering delicacies and unique traditions. HHM is an expansion of the Haitian Flag Day on May 18 and of several significant other historical and cultural traditions held in May, among others:  Labor and Agriculture Day, Toussaint Louverture’s birth, Mother’s Day.   

While HHM is a relatively well-known in the U.S., there is no equivalent in Montreal — home to the third largest Haitian community among North American cities, with over 138,000 people of Haitian ancestry. It’s surpassed only by Miami and NYC.   

Activities exist in pockets during Haitian Flag Day to celebrate Haitian culture and contribution to freedom on the American continent. For example, in 2019 before the pandemic, the North-Montreal organization, Café jeunesse multicultural, held the 10th edition of the Haitian Flag Day with musical groups, a parade in traditional costumes, among other festivities. In Ottawa, similarly, several associations come together each year as the Haitian Flag Committee to organize events. During the pandemic, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Federal Liberal MPs mostly held virtual commemorations, emphasized with banners harboring support messages in Creole.   

Canada’s Haitian festivities spill into summer  

Beyond May, other festivities that showcase Haitian culture and traditions in Canada occur throughout the summer. The week-long Haiti en folie festival in Montreal is the flagship event. It is tentatively scheduled for July 25 to 31 this year, depending on COVID-19 public health risks. Started in the mid-2000s, this multidisciplinary festival totally devoted to Haitian culture attracts several thousand visitors and tourists each year. It is fully supported by the public and the private sector.   

Organized by the Fabienne Colas Foundation and Zaza production, the Haiti en Folie Festival is intended to promote Haiti in all its diversity, splendor and cultural richness by featuring cinema, dance, music, theater, the art and gastronomy of this country. Culinary workshops, exotic cocktails, local dishes, recipe books and spices are all part of the mix. In addition, Haïti en Folie promotes inter-cultural exchanges by inviting artists from other communities to attract an audience from diverse backgrounds.  

In the same spirit, in Ottawa, a weekend-long Haiti en fête festival has taken place. Organized by Kombite Outaouais, this festival created in 2007 aimed to promote the artistic and cultural heritage of the Haitian community and the many other Francophone minorities in Ontario. It benefited from the financial support of the Federal Government and happened around mid-July in a typical year.   

In 2018, Kombite Outaouais has renewed itself with governance and vision to broaden its horizons to promote the inclusion of Creole communities in the National Capital Region. It offered the 1st edition of the Creole Fest, followed by the second one in 2019. With the end of the pandemic or the new normal after Covid looming, it is expected that this organization will reconnect with its traditions either in the Haiti en fête format or the Creole Fest format.  

Why not bring Haitian Heritage Month to Canada?  

This year, May 18 being a Wednesday, activities are organized both a few days before and after. For example, the event Rassemblement des Endijèn is scheduled for May 20 in Montreal at the community center La Perle Retrouvée, with musical groups being the highlight. In the first half of May, an Ottawa group organized a panel discussion on social media about the theme Une nouvelle Haiti.   

Right there, one can see how the idea of HHM — Mois du patrimoine haitien — could become a reality, by means of some collaboration and coordination between the groups in Montreal and Ottawa. Planning these events and labelling them under the same umbrella of HHM in Canada would be a good start. After all, it takes more than one day to showcase our beautiful Haitian culture.   

The Montreal-based Centre Toussaint cultural organization has stated that it wants to help bring this idea of a monthlong-celebration to Canada. Now, it’s up to the different groups to stop working in silos, as it says, and reach out to make HHM a reality in the next few years in Canada. 

Ruolz Ariste, Ph.D., is an adjunct professor at Université Laval in Québec. He is affiliated with the Department of Operations and Decision Systems. He writes opinion pieces about matters of interest to the community in Canada and the U.S. He is based in the Ottawa area.

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