By James Rose
Local Journalism Initiative

Thursday June 24 is Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, a public holiday in Québec. For French Canadians in Québec and across the country, it is a big day. “In Québec, it’s a much bigger celebration than Canada Day,” said Camille Aubin, born and raised in the Laurentide town of Sainte-Sophie. “People go crazy. Parents, kids, the whole family.”

The celebration, also known as Fête Nationale du Québec, was brought to Canada by French settlers celebrating the traditional feast day of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. In 1925, Québec declared the day a public holiday.

So what are the valley’s French Canadians doing this year to celebrate? I conducted a small poll and found that this year, considering the realities of the pandemic, not too much. The Street Avenue Food guys, Yan Thérien and Hubert Poirier would like to do something, but they’re understandably too busy launching their fledgling food empire.

“My partner and I will do a campfire, listen to Québécois music, eat some poutine,” said Aubin. What music you say? Aubin sent me a list that includes classics like Les Cowboys Fringants, Mes Aieux, Jean Leloup and Coeur de Pirate. High tempo, folky stuff. Literate lyrics, danceable.

Aubin is relatively new to town. Already, she’s gotten to know a few of the other French Canadians in the valley. “Most people aren’t doing much this year,” she said. “Not compared to what it was like before the pandemic when I lived in Jasper.” In Jasper, the French Canadian community is much larger. “Lots of Québécois move out west to Jasper for the mountains and lifestyle.” It’s a big party in Jasper on June 24 each year.

In Québec City, a massive fireworks show takes place over the parliament building. There’s live music, dancing and drinking. It’s a day to celebrate what it means to be from Québec. I was curious what that means to Aubin. “We are known for being welcoming and open-minded,” she said. “We’re voluble, enjoy eating and listening to music, and one time when I was abroad travelling, my tour guide said we speak loud, and are always ready for a good night. He was right!” As for the day itself, to Aubin, it’s about celebrating the unique French Canadian culture. “It’s about sharing our Québécois pride.”