Pigeons embody a certain form of romanticism, and in the days before Internet and Twitter were a way of flying away, rising up above the Earth, pushing back limits, and abolishing distances. But pigeons are not just a symbol of the region. Pigeon racing remains a pastime that is shared by over 10,000 passionate devotees in the area, out of the 20,000 pigeon fanciers in France 

Why has the region remained so attached to pigeon racing?

Pigeon keeping originated in Roubaix in 1849 when mining and industry was beginning to take hold. It was a leisure activity miners could take up and share together after a day spent working underground. It became a truly social practice for miners saw it as an escape from work. It also held out the possibility of accomplishment in a different domain, whilst levelling hierarchies since all miners, from head engineer down to lowly labourer, raced pigeons with varying degrees of enthusiasm and commitment. Nowadays it is a passion – that some view as old-fashioned – that is transmitted primarily from one generation to the next.

Prize competition animals

Pigeons can fly at over 75mph, and are trained to race like professionals. Every year the "fanciers" prepare their birds for official competitions, mainly held between April and September. Every year there is a World championship and a Barcelona competition (the champions league of pigeon racing), attracting pigeon racers from all over the world. The best pigeons can cover amazing distances on their way back home, and are the pride and joy of their owners. But the law of the fittest being what it is, the weaker birds fail to return to the pigeon loft at the end of the competition, or else are deemed unfit for the upcoming competitions. They thus grace their owner’s table, being served as a delicacy.

 

In the words of the poem:

Pigeon, winged cloak of grey, in the city's hellish maw, one glance and you fly away, your grace holds me in awe.