Saturday June 24 marks Quebec’s annual provincial holiday — la Fête nationale, or National Holiday, also known as Saint Jean Baptiste Day. This holiday, which is predominately celebrated in Canada’s French-speaking province of Quebec, has been a statutory holiday since 1925.
International Students in Quebec
The province of Quebec is the third most popular study destination for international students in Canada. Montreal was recently voted the best city for students worldwide for 2017, and according to a 2016 study by the Chambre de commerce du Montréal métropolitain (Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal), nearly three per cent of Montreal’s students come from outside Canada.
Montreal alone is home to Canada’s top English-language universities, McGill University and Concordia University, as well as pioneering French-language universities such as the Université de Montréal, the Université du Québec à Montréal. In addition, the city hosts a number of specialised institutions including École Polytechnique (the engineering school/faculty affiliated with the Université de Montréal) and HEC Montréal (the business school affiliated with the Université de Montréal). Elsewhere in Quebec, Université Laval, Université de Sherbrooke, and dozens of community colleges (known in Quebec as CÉGEPs) provide a world-class education, often in English as well as in French.
Since so many international students are currently studying in Quebec, or plan to in the future, Canada Study News has put together a brief guide for those experiencing la Fête nationale du Québec (or Saint Jean Baptiste Day) for the first time.
Origins of the Holiday
Saint Jean Baptiste Day originated from celebrations of the summer solstice, an ancient celebration of the longest day of the year. The tradition of lighting a fire to mark the beginning of summer was brought to New France in 1646. In 1694, June 24 — the official saint’s day for Saint John the Baptist, or Saint Jean Baptiste — was declared a public religious holiday.
Celebration of religion and identity
Saint Jean celebrations initially consisted of a banquet, a mass, and a distribution of sacred bread and a parade. In the 1960s and 1970s, Quebec experienced some of the most politically tumultuous years of its history. At that time, Saint Jean Baptiste Day gained importance as a celebration of Quebec culture, art and identity. Many sovereigntists — individuals who support independence for the province of Quebec — saw the provincial holiday as an opportunity to promote their political and ideological cause.
On 24 June 1977, under the government of René Lévesque, Saint Jean Baptiste Day was renamed as la Fête nationale du Québec. This resulted in the distancing of the holiday from its origins as a religious holiday, and it continues to be a celebration of Quebec’s distinct culture, language, and heritage.
How to celebrate la Fête nationale this weekend?
Downtown Parade — the city’s famous parade will begin at 1 pm on Saturday June 24 on St. Denis Street and end at de Bleury Street, where the party is set to continue with musicians, acrobats, dancers and circus artists.
Jacques-Cartier Bridge — the launch of a new light show will take place on June 25 at 10:30 pm, also marking celebrations for Montreal’s 375th anniversary.
Place des Festivals — a concert is scheduled for 9 pm on Friday June 23 and will be hosted by actor Guillaume Lemay-Thivierge, musical performers will include Robert Charlebois, Claude Dubois and Charlotte Cardin.
Olympic Park Bonfire—the city’s official Fete Nationale bonfire will be take place in the Olympic Park on June 24 at 8 pm.
And there’s more — here is a list of Montreal celebrations by neighbourhood.
Plains of Abraham— the city’s annual Saint Jean Baptiste show on Friday June 23 will take place as a huge outdoor festival to celebrate Quebec’s National Holiday.
Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec (National Museum of Fine Arts of Quebec), Musée de l’Amérique francophone (Museum of French-speaking America), and Observatoire de la Capitale (the capital’s observatory) all offer free admissions on June 23 and 24.
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