“Have a great long weekend guys,” said the Canadian cabin crew member with a wink and a smile as we disembarked our aircraft in Quebec City. We thought nothing too much about this farewell, until we discovered we had arrived for three days of Gay Pride celebration. What a bonus! Quelle formidable!
Firstly, a few touristy things to discover about Quebec. In short the upper and lower old town areas are amazingly beautiful and ooze heritage charm. The jewel in the crown is the historic grand Fairmont Chateau Frontenac which dominates the port area overlooking the St Lawrence River.
In the lower old town is the Musée de la Civilisation of Quebec, where we took a guided tour through the ‘First Nation and Inuit in the 21st Century’ exhibition. The tour was excellent, teaching us so much more about Canada’s indigenous people. The museum is well worth a visit and the delightful cafe has delicious food and convenient free wifi.
We exited the museum from the back and experienced the feel of Quebec’s City’s old town buildings, quaint streets and inviting antique shops, as well as fine art galleries and chic sidewalk cafés. Slowly making our way uphill towards the Funicular we had the choice of taking a ride to the upper old town or taking the stairs. We took the stairs as there was a wait at the Funicular and this way promised to be the more scenic option.
At the top we found the heart of the ‘old city’ with its cobbled streets, magnificent 400 year old buildings, beautiful squares and cafes filled with lunch time crowds. This area is a great starting place for exploring the city further, places like Notre Dame Basilica and Parliament House.
It also adjoins the back streets with hidden treasures like Cafe Buade, the oldest city restaurant (unfortunately not the best for food as we found out) serving various types of poutine, Canada’s favourite dish. Originating in Québec, poutine is made with French fries and cheese curds topped with a light brown gravy, something perhaps to try once. Or not! This is certainly an acquired taste.
Right outside Chateau Frontenac we hopped on the Quebec Red Bus or ‘Bus Rouge’ for a ninety minute tour around the city that gave us an excellent overview of the major points of interest for around $CAD34pp.
One of the most impressive things we saw was the huge urban park called The Plains of Abraham. This vast, wide open space sits directly above the St Lawrence River and is a former old battlefield but today it is used for rock concerts and fairs. A highlight of the park is the Joan of Arc Garden, with a replica statue of the roman catholic saint with its colourful display of flowers and plants, especially in summer.
Rue St-Jean is where most gay activities happen in Quebec City. We soon knew Pride was in full swing when we noticed Rue St Jean barricaded off to traffic and filled with people and rainbow flags fluttering from surrounding buildings. The warm summer evening breeze made it even more special. Yes, we could not believe our luck, at the beginning of September it was still quite warm in Quebec.
Our taxi dropped us at Rue Saint-Ausgustin outside long time gay dance club Le Drague Bar on the first night of Pride. This street is normally reserved for two way traffic but during this colourful weekend it was totally blocked off and very crowded, lined with pop-up bars, a DJ and performance spaces for a gaggle of miming, frolicking drag queens. The atmosphere was very friendly and attracted a wide variety of people, both local and visitors.
Later in the evening, whilst eating our delicious cheese encrusted French onion soup on the terrace of one of the many beautiful local bistros lining Rue Saint-Jean, we were treated to a procession of the gay royalty of Quebec, cavalcading galantly in their very first Pride Parade. Whilst relatively small, the parade certainly did not lack enthusiasm, drama and lustre.
This was a dining experience accompanied with flourishes of lively entertainment and we were so delighted to be there to witness this extravaganza.
The next day there were further parades and stalls in Rue Saint-Jean and the perfect summer temperature allowed the party to continue uninterrupted for the entire three nights.
That evening we mingled with the friendly Bears of St Mathew’s a smallish neighbourhood bar just off Rue Saint-Jean. If you visit Quebec out of Pride season expect to see a much quieter gay scene as there are two main gay bars and three bathhouses of which Le Drague is the most popular bar and Hippocampe Hotel and Sauna has the reputation of being the better of the bath houses. Check out this excellent article about gay life in Quebec City .
Gay Pride in Quebec City usually starts around the first week of September each year. There are a variety of activities including outdoor evening concerts in d’Youville Square where everyone is invited to illuminate themselves with any bright or luminous accessories.
There is also a community fair that spans a large portion of Rue Saint-Jean which is converted to a pedestrian area for the occasion hosting community information stands, vendors and street performances and a lot of very cute men.
Leaving small, stylish and gay friendly Quebec was hard but it was time to catch the train to Montreal to continue our Canadian adventure. Our chance arrival for gay pride was a brilliant coincidence and we can highly recommend this time of year to visit this exquisite, hospitable, gay friendly city.