In Quebec, Saint Jean-Baptiste Day is a national holiday. On June 24, Quebecers parade, light bonfires, raise their flags and celebrate their Francophone identity. In Montreal and Quebec City, two giant concerts are organized with the big names of local popular song. This moment of collective fervor is an opportunity for the passing tourist to take the pulse of the visceral attachment of our American cousins to the French language and their culture. “I remember” is the motto of Quebec which calls for the right to be different ...
From Midsummer's Day to Quebecers' Day
If you land on June 24 in Montreal or Quebec City, you will no doubt smell a scent of joy in the air and see a flag hanging from the windows, the emblem of which will not be completely foreign to you: the fleur-de-lys. Rest assured, you will not have fallen in the middle of a gathering of nostalgic monarchists. Since 1948, the fleurdelized blue flag has simply been that of Quebec. The fleur-de-lys is in fact a reminder that explorer Jacques Cartier discovered Canada in 1534 on behalf of the King of France. If the fleurdelisé is ostensibly displayed on June 24, it is because Saint-Jean is considered the national holiday of Quebec. In Canada, Quebec remains a world apart, almost a country, with insatiable desire for independence. And, on June 24, Quebeckers are dreaming loud and clear of a territory that has finally become theirs.
“I remember”: such is the beautiful motto of Quebec, attached to its history. There are many struggles in the past to pass on, from generation to generation, the language and culture of the “French of America”. However, this attachment to Saint-Jean has its roots in the history of French Canada. All over the world, the festivals of June 24 are linked to the celebrations of the solstice, which date back to Antiquity, and to the agrarian festivals of the beginning of summer. Placed by the Christian Church under the patronage of Saint John the Baptist, these festivals were imported by the adventurers who colonized New France, at the origin of Canada.
In 1834, a journalist, Ludger Duvernay, chose June 24 to "keep the flame" of French Canadian identity, then under English domination. Since then, Midsummer Day has remained a celebration of French-speaking Canadians, a sort of “Quebec Pride”. In 1977, at the height of the independence movement, it was declared a “Fête nationale du Québec”, while Gilles Vigneault's song Gens du pays, composed two years earlier, was chosen as the national anthem. A hymn which is also a love song, also sung on birthdays. Every June 24, Gens du pays is performed in chorus by hundreds of thousands of Quebecers of all origins, in the thousands of party venues in the province.
Bonfires and large tables
As in the Scandinavian countries, in the regions and in the countryside of the Belle Province, the tradition of bonfires has remained very popular, just like the “volleys of bells” whose chimes are synonymous with festivities. For many Quebecers, Midsummer Day also offers the opportunity to get together around a good meal. Some communities organize large tables, where everyone brings a dish, around which neighbors can get to know each other in a friendly atmosphere.
Flags, garlands and streamers play an essential role. The official colors of the national holiday are blue and white, colors of the flag, as well as yellow representing the sun of the summer solstice. In the cities, the neighborhoods are in turmoil: parties, popular balls and fireworks take place everywhere. In Montreal, the festivities often take on the colors of the communities forming the Quebec mosaic. This is how St. John's Day can turn into a Portuguese, Russian, Kabyle or Vietnamese feast.
The Quebec nationalist movement (called sovereignism here) differs, in fact, from European far-right nationalisms. Wanting to include all the communities of the province, it does not practice any racist exclusion. He seeks to promote the independence of Quebec in a peaceful manner and by referendum (the first two attempts, in 1980 and 1995, have also ended in failures). His inspiration is, in this, closer to the anti-colonialist ideals of the 1960s than to the deadly delusions of European xenophobic parties.
Saint-Jean in Montreal and Quebec
Important festivities are planned in the two big cities of the province. In Montreal, the traditional parade in blue and white colors will start at 14 p.m. at the corner of Fullum and Sherbrooke streets, on the Plateau, to reach Maisonneuve Park. New for the year: the presence of “giants”, 6 m high cardboard figures, found in most European carnivals, including the one in Nice. These Quebec giants will represent great names in the history of the province, such as Samuel de Champlain or Ludger Duvernay.
After the parade, as every year, a big show, hosted by comedian Normand Brathwaite, is scheduled at Maisonneuve Park. From 17:30 p.m., make way for popular Quebec music and song with, on the program, Marjo, Pierre Lapointe, Denis Drolet, la Volée d'Castors and Fred Pellerin. The great show at Parc Maisonneuve, watched by all of Quebec on television, pays tribute to all the artists, athletes and scientists who promote Quebec throughout the world, from Denys Arcand (director of Les Invasions barbares) to the Cirque troupe. du Soleil, currently playing in Paris.
For its part, Quebec, “national capital” and seat of the provincial parliament, celebrates Saint-Jean all day long on the magnificent lawn of the Plains of Abraham, which overlooks the majestic Saint-Laurent. For the record, this place was the setting, in 1759, of the fatal and rapid defeat (in 20 minutes) of the French soldiers against the British. Funny place, all the same, to celebrate French Canadian culture… As in Montreal, the day ends with a big concert bringing together very popular personalities in the Belle Province, like France d'Amour, Nicola Ciccone or the unspeakable Plume Latraverse. And, no doubt, on the song of the great Vigneault: Gens du pays, it's your turn to let yourself talk about love ...
Quebec National Day program
The festivities in Montreal
The Society of Saint John the Baptist
Tourist information sites on Quebec
Important dates in Quebec history (Agence Science Presse website)
Where to sleep ?
B&B Le Chat Bleu: 4 098 Saint-Hubert (between Duluth and Rachel). M.: Mont-Royal. Phone. : (1) 514-527-3421. In the friendly trendy district of the Plateau, a beautiful, very cozy house with three bedrooms distributed along a corridor. Friendly welcome. Double rooms starting at CA $ 72.
Auberge internationale de Québec: 19, rue Sainte-Ursule. Phone: (1) 418-694-0755. Huge AJ in Old Quebec, with dorms (CA $ 22 per night) and double rooms (CA $ 67 to CA $ 77). A good plan in the center. Young atmosphere. www.aubergeinternationaledequebec.com
Where to eat ?
- Santropol: 3 990 rue Saint-Urbain (corner Duluth). M.: Sherbrooke and Mont-Royal. Phone. : (1) 514-842-3110. A warm decor on the ground floor of a beautiful Montreal house. “Granola” atmosphere (eco-organic) with excellent sandwiches, salads, homemade soups, milkshakes. A great address. Count CA $ 12 per person.
- La Prunelle: 327 rue Duluth Est. M.: Mont-Royal and Sherbrooke. Phone. : (1) 514-849-8403. An adorable neighborhood restaurant that serves inventive cuisine, exclusively based on local Quebec products. You can bring your own wine. An interesting formula, despite the slightly high prices. Count CA $ 40 per meal.
Le petit Coin Latin: 8 ½ rue Sainte-Ursule. Phone. : (1) 418-692-2022. Open every day from 8:30 am to 22:30 pm Small, very nice café that serves good Quebec specialties (tourtière, sugar pie…) at low prices.
Where to have a drink?
Bily Kun: 354 rue Mont-Royal Est. M.: Mont-Royal. Phone. : (1) 514-845-5392. The meeting place for the arty and trendy scene of the Plateau. Also makes a concert hall. Classy and crazy decor. Local beers and wines by the glass.