'Fred Pellerin Effect' has tourists flocking to St-Elie-de-Caxton
Storyteller's tales about his rural Mauricie hometown have spawned an entire industry
St-Elie-de-Caxton is a pretty, rural town much like many across Quebec, but unlike some that are faced with a dwindling population and struggling economy, it is thriving.
The town’s success is due in large part to singer, songwriter and storyteller, Fred Pellerin.
Pellerin uses his hometown of St-Elie-de-Caxton as fodder for his stories — spinning and weaving tales about characters in his town with the legends his father and grandmother told about elves, fairies, and trees that grow peppermints.
Now 25,000 to 30,000 tourists come to visit St-Elie-de-Caxton each year to assess where the line between reality and fantasy in his stories lies.
In the past seven years, the town had built a tourism industry based on Pellerin’s stories, including a wagon tour pulled by an orange tractor.
Pellerin’s stories are packaged into audio capsules focusing on certain buildings and characteristics of the town.
Stops include an elf-crossing, a tree that grows peppermints (with real cellophane-wrapped peppermints on the ground), and the former homes of many of his characters.
Pellerin said he is pleased his work is bringing some good to the town.
“I’m happy when it means the baker has a great summer because tourists come in and spend enough money that, in February when he’s in the red, he can still stay open for us, the people who live in town,” said Pellerin.
Pellerin, whose permanent address is still in St-Elie, said the biggest transformation his town has seen in the past few years is due to the people who have chosen to live there.
In seven years, the town's population increased by a third to about 2,000 people and many of the newcomers are young families.
The school feels the difference. In 2008, the school, with its mere 56 students, was threatened with closure. Now the kindergarten class is overflowing, with two students too many and a total of 127 pupils at the school.
Sébastien Houle moved to St-Elie-de-Caxton with his toddler and pregnant wife about three years ago. They chose the town because of its youthful feel, but also because they could make a living as potters.
“I used to have to go out a lot to craft fairs to sell my stuff, and that was fine when we didn’t have kids. But now, with young boys, I don’t want to be gone three weeks at Christmas. Now we sell out of the house and it’s a great thing,” Houle said.
Long-time St-Elie-de-Caxton residents have also bought into the world Fred Pellerin created. Paul-André Garceau is St-Elie born and bred and now runs the tourism office in town.
“[The town is] alive. People are proud to live here and now St-Elie-de-Caxton is known around the world — around the world! Because Fred Pellerin has a career in Europe,” Garceau said.
“People are proud of their place.”