Huge parade marks Quebec's Fete nationale holiday
Published Sunday, June 24, 2007 5:50PM EDT
MONTREAL - Huge papier mache statues of the great builders of Quebec were among the flags and marching bands in a boisterous parade Sunday that marked Quebec's Fete nationale provincial holiday.
Former premier Rene Levesque was featured along with explorer Samuel de Champlain in the march, which drew throngs out under the bright sunshine.
The links between Levesque, a sovereigntist icon, and the celebration of the Fete nationale were obvious to Yvon Trudel, who marched in the parade with the nationalist Mouvement Quebec Francais.
"It represents the future -- the future country that we want," he said when asked what the day meant to him.
A man who identified himself as Eric said the day marked a celebration of the uniqueness of the French fact in North America but he added it is a "celebration of all Quebecers."
That was a consistent train of thought amid the blare of the trumpets and boom of the bass drums as bands trooped through the streets and floats rolled to an east-end park where a giant concert would cap the day.
"The 24th of June is a celebration for all Quebec people because it's a big event and it's making a lot of history for our kids also," said Denise L'Allier as she watched the collection of colourful marchers.
"It's more important, the 24th, than the first of July."
Fete nationale began as a religious holiday back in 1615 to mark the summer solstice and the birth of John the Baptist.
But in years since, particularly with the waning of the influence of the Roman Catholic church in Quebec, it became more political. In recent years, efforts have been made to make it more inclusive and less political.
Quebecers celebrate Fete nationale more enthusiastically than Canada Day but one of the main reasons for that is because July 1 is the province's annual moving day and people are busy hauling boxes and furniture to new homes.
There were celebrations all across Quebec on the weekend to mark Fete nationale with parades, concerts and block parties.
"It's Quebec's day, you have to spend it good, to have fun," said a Montreal man who identified himself as Basile.
"It's the most important day for Quebecers," he added, although he allowed that Canada Day is just as important to him.
Political leaders were present at the Montreal parade and at receptions earlier. Premier Jean Charest hosted a reception in Quebec City. Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited Roberval, Que., where he praised the contribution of Quebecers to building Canada.
"The first people in this country to call themselves Canadians were the French-speaking settlers who built their first community on the banks of the St. Lawrence then followed our rivers to places like Lac St-Jean and then across our land envisioning a country from sea to sea," he said.
Fete nationale was even marked in far-flung Afghanistan although celebrations were more muted for the 156 members of the Royal 22nd Regiment from Valcartier, Que.
There were some perks for the troops based at the Provincial Reconstruction Team base outside Kandahar City.
"Two beers," said Cpl. Joey Giampersa, 22. "And we'll listen to some Quebecois music with some of our friends who play guitar putting on a show."
For most, it was just another day at work.
"I sent messages by email to my family to wish them a happy St-Jean Baptiste," said Cpl. Pierre Marc Girard, 25. "But it's just a day like any another."
Besides the beer and the show, said Giampersa, there is one other thing that's special about the holiday.
"It's one day less until we leave for Quebec." The soldiers wrap up their tour in August.
More than 200,000 people crowded the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City Saturday night for a concert featuring a galaxy of Quebec stars led by singer France D'Amour.
Police were kept busy and about a dozen arrests were made for disorderly conduct, intoxication and drug possession at that event. Paramedics also had to respond to 200 calls for drug or alcohol intoxication.
It was a far cry from the days when riots plagued Fete nationale. In 1996, rioters trashed the Quebec legislature after a rowdy celebration.
And in 1968, Pierre Trudeau won a majority government the day after he stared down rioters at a St-Jean Baptiste Day parade in Montreal.