A summer 400 years in the making: how Quebec City’s Anglo community celebrated a momentous anniversary

Photo: Patrick Tomlinson

A whirlwind, festival filled summer has passed and the official Quebec 400th celebrations are beginning to wind down. As the smoke clears from all the birthday candles, cannon charges and fireworks displays, we look back at a few of the English-speaking community groups that have contributed to the celebration of this extraordinary anniversary.

Voices from the Crossroads

The Morrin Centre’s ongoing 400th celebrations feature a lineup of diverse activities.

The Voices from the Crossroads event series at the Morrin Centre began in January with the hugely popular 18th-century comic opera Rosina. An appearance by Commissioner of Official Languages and former Quebec resident Graham Fraser will round out the series in December. For the Literary and Historical Society, four centuries of Quebec history means four centuries of talent to showcase.

“We try to promote a littleknown but incredibly rich cultural and literary heritage,” said Patrick Donovan, a historian at the LHSQ. But there are many different avenues for people to explore in the Voices series.

Executive Director France Cliche adds, “I think we’ve succeeded in providing a range of exciting activities.” These have included Centennial Tea (high tea) in March, guided tours, a documentary film, the Celtic  festival in August and the Roots heritage summit to be held in October.”

Cliche elaborates on the popularity of the series: “The only real problem we ran into was having to accommodate larger than expected crowds – which isn’t such a bad problem to have,” she added with a laugh. Rosina, for example, sold out each night of its four-night run.

The Morrin Centre continues to attract big names in anglophone culture through its Written Voices series. Next up: a reading by awardwinning writer Taras Grescoe (September 19) and a conference on groundbreaking American author Willa Cather, who wrote extensively about Quebec City (September 27). See www.morrincentre.org for a full calendar of events or for tickets.

Let’s Celebrate Together

In partnership with the Morrin Centre and a handful of community organizations, the Voice of English-speaking Quebec held its grand tribute to the 400th during the long weekend in May.

The VEQ kicked off the event with a community meet-and-greet, followed by a homecoming day in  onjunction with three area schools. A community festival and the 400th gala on the final day of the event series drew highprofile media and political personalities.

“It’s all about reaching out,” said VEQ Executive Director Jean-Sébastien Jolin-Gignac. Outreach included 20 community organizations that presented information on their services. The VEQ helps integrate English-speaking residents and newcomers into Quebec society.

“It was a truly special weekend for the community,” said Jolin-Gignac. “Many people who were born and raised here who had to relocate came back to Quebec specifically for this weekend. It was fantastic to see people reconnect.”

Jolin-Gignac expressed delight at the all-ages crowd: “When you talk about the English-speaking community you often hear, for some reason, that it’s an aging population. But something that really impressed me on Sunday afternoon was the number of families with children. There were 400 to 500 family members out here enjoying the day.” The future looks bright for the Englishspeaking community – and VEQ, which will no doubt help it find a voice. For more information, www.veq.qc.ca.

Celtic Festival

The third annual Celtic Festival, held at the Morrin Centre, presented an expanded lineup of activities in light of the 400th celebrations. Dance workshops, cultural presentations, as well as highland games in the Parc-de-l’Artillerie helped make the festival a huge hit. Over 6,000 people from the French- and English-speaking communities joined in the fun. “It was a chance for our communities to come together, through the event itself and also through Quebec’s shared Scottish and Irish heritage,” explained Patrick Donovan. “I think for the general public, it was definitely a highlight.”

Of course, no Celtic heritage festival would be complete without a performance by the 78th Fraser Highlanders. The Pipe Band and the Elite Drill Squad wowed crowds with their music and military demonstrations.

Pipe Major Alan Stairs of the Pipe Band commented on the feedback from members of the community this year. “We received a lot of comments. People were pleased to see us. Our music is unique and seems to be much appreciated, and of course, we’re also fairly colourful – you don’t often see people in kilts in Quebec. It was a big year for us.”

Sgt. Major Farnell Morisset added: “I would say, out of all of our summers, this is the biggest we’ve ever had. In two weeks we would get as many people coming out as you might see in a year.” (The 78th are a crossroads of culture unto themselves: English- and French-speaking Quebecers in bright Scottish tartans march in almost equal numbers.)

The 78th Fraser Highlanders showcased their talents at a number of summer events including the Quebec City International Festival of Military Bands in August, a gathering of the world’s best in the genre. A crowd-pleaser, the 400th anniversary edition of the Military Tattoo soared according to spectators.

The team also marched in the 400th Military Parade on July 3, the official date of the 400th anniversary of Quebec. Although a few high-profile events escaped this summer’s downpours (the McCartney and Celine concerts, namely), the parade and its crew had no such luck. When asked about the effects of a whole season of rain on wool felt, Sgt. Major Morisset laughed: “Tell me about it.” For more information, www.78thfraser.ca.

Same Cloth, Different Thread

In May, Shalom Quebec unveiled an exhibition at the Gare du Palais train station exploring the history of the Jewish community in the city. The fascinating multimedia gallery, entitled Same Cloth, Different Threads: The Jews of Quebec City, 1608-2008, highlights individual and cultural contributions to Quebec City from the Jewish community, and runs until September 26. Concerts from June through August at the Gare du Palais and at l’Espace 400 were among activities that complemented the visual exhibition.

At the train station, a guestbook filled with positive comments attests to the power of this touching tribute to Quebec’s Jewish heritage. Shalom Quebec will also feature in the Roots 2008 heritage summit on October 11 and 12. For more information, www.shalomquebec.org.

Heritage Moments

Marianna O’Gallagher, of Irish Heritage Quebec, enjoyed the exhibitions highlighting the immigrant experience on display at various sites around Quebec City. She commented on Shalom Quebec’s display, “As an exhibition, it was modern and very good overall.” IHQ is itself honouring the 400th celebrations with a tribute to Quebec shipbuilders.

At Holy Trinity Cathedral, longtime Quebec resident Douglas Kitson helped sound the official date of the 400th anniversary on July 3. Kitson heads the Quebec City Guild of Change-Ringers, a group that practices the age-old English art of change-ringing (sounding bells in particular, complex sequences). As officials and dignitaries gathered behind Quebec’s oldest Anglican church, Kitson and his team rang expertly-timed patterns from the bell tower.

Demonstrations of the centuries-old art of changeringing are ongoing at Holy Trinity as part of the 400th
celebrations. (Saturdays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.)

The sheer number of events taking place over the course of the year has been almost unfathomable; whole volumes can be written about July activities alone! The above is merely a sample of the many communities and individuals that have hosted, organized, and participated in the 400th celebrations. Although they may not be mentioned here, the QCT wishes to salute all the organizations that, through their creativity, initiative
and plain old hard work, have helped make the 400th a success.