Detroit rings in spring with 10th Nain Rouge 'Marche'

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Marche du Nain Rouge, Detroit's unofficial rite of spring, now in its 10th year, stepped off from its perch in Midtown on Sunday.

While the purpose of the event is, in the words of emcee Kellie Killjoy, to "banish that little red dwarf from the neighborhood, Kristy Graszak of Royal Oak took a more sympathetic view of the mythical creature.

Standing outside of the Traffic Jam and Snug, she held up a sign that said "Be Nice to the Nain."

Nain Rouge, she explained, "is a protector of Detroit, who warns of bad things happening, he doesn't make them happen. I heard it on the internet, so it must be true."

Anna Kotov, left, and her boyfriend, Mark Van Baak, both of Troy, wear masks with long noses as they are 'chasing The Nain,' before the march. 

XXXXThrongs of revelers participate in the Marche du Nain Rouge, Sunday, March 24, 2019, as they march South on Second Ave. at Canfield for eight blocks to the Masonic Temple near Cass Park. The Nain Rouge is a legendary hobgoblin creature whose appearance is believed to bring misfortune to Detroit. (Todd McInturf, The Detroit News)2019.

Festivities started at noon on a stage at Second and West Canfield, sponsored by the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, where the Gabriel Brass Band and other musical acts, fire-twirlers and a comedian performed.

The parade began about 1:30 p.m., en route to the Masonic Temple. After a closing ceremony on its steps, there is an after party in the temple's Foundation Ballroom, and several Midtown bars and eateries offer parade-themed specials.

Inspired by Mardi Gras in New Orleans — a celebration of culture in another French-founded city, one that Detroit predates — and the so-called "world's largest art parade," the Mermaid Parade in Brooklyn, Detroit's "Marche" asks what a Detroit parading culture would look like, if themed on the mythical Nain Rouge.

"Is it good or bad? Is it malevolent? Is it a trickster?" asks Francis Grunow, 45, a co-creator of the parade. "That’s what we have fun with."

George Sprague, 33, of Novi; Elyse Maxwell, 33, of St. Catherines, Ontario; and Nicole Lapointe, 36, of Detroit, join the parade. Lapointe dressed as the founder of Detroit, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, and learned to weld so she could build the canoe.

"Every year, the shape and costume of the Nain Rouge is different," Grunow said. "We don’t know exactly what it’s going to look like each year. We have no control over (who makes the outfit). The Nain Rouge does his own thing. We just set the stage. We just pull the permits." 

All told, expenses typically tally somewhere between $15,000 and $20,000. 

Nicole Lapointe, 36, of Detroit, has been to eight of the 10 Nain Rouge parades, and even joined its volunteer corps in recent years. Sunday she dressed as the founder of Detroit, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, down to a long black wig and a (detachable) black mustache.

Three years ago Lapointe took her dedication to a new level by learning to weld so she could build a small canoe.

"The inspiration is from a Canadian ship called 'Kids in the Hall,' where they have voyagers dressed up and going down a canoe in the middle of the streets of Toronto. I thought that was the funniest thing ever, so I decided to do that for the marche."

On Sunday Lapointe was joined by fellow 'voyagers' Elyse Maxwell, 33, of St. Catharines, Ontario, and George Sprague, 33, of Novi. 

After showing off her canoe, Lapointe offered a history lesson on the Nain Rouge's connection to Detroit's founder.

Traffic Jam and Snug Restaurant co-owner Carolyn Howard, of Grosse Pointe Park, lets out a yell as she photographs revelers in front of her establishment before the march.

"As the legend goes, Cadillac was warned to appease the Nain Rouge, when he founded the city, but instead he smacked the little bugger in the face, and because of it the Nain Rouge has been giving the city heck for the last 300 years," she said. 

Mario Williams, 29, of Center Line, attended his first marche Sunday, at the urging of friends. To get in the spirit of things he wore a red devil mask and a red cape, leftovers from a past Halloween. 

"It's Detroit, so it's a fun place to be," Williams said. "I heard about it from a lot of people, so I knew it would be a good time."