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Québec City Summer Festival
The Québec City Summer Festival was the first of the big summer events that have today made a name for the province as a fun and happening cultural destination. The summer festival was started in 1968, with locals immediately adopting it. To them, the festival is a source of pride—and a great excuse for some summertime fun.
Inspired by Expo 67’s success in Montréal, seven young actors met up in winter 1967-68 to set up what would become the Québec City Summer Festival. Their aim was to bring the streets of Old Québec to life once a year with an annual event, a project that was backed by one and all. The first edition in 1968’s summer featured artists from across the region and boasted a varied lineup of events, with everything from singing and theatre to cinema and street entertainment. They had found an audience.
The following year the festival’s innovative formula—free outdoor performances in the city’s historic neighbourhoods—attracted Québec’s biggest names, among them Félix Leclerc and Gilles Vigneault. Again people turned out in big numbers.
The festival quickly concentrated on music as each summer the biggest French-language singers, more often than not from Québec—Claude Léveillée, Ginette Reno, Jean-Pierre Ferland, Édith Butler, Raoul Duguay, and the like—performed alongside up-and-coming artists. Curious, open-minded crowds flocked to jazz, traditional, and classical music performances. There were also equestrian competitions, fireworks, and street entertainment. An event pass was needed for shows on the main two stages from the late 1970s onward.
After the Superfrancofête that saw artists from across the French-speaking world perform in Québec City in August 1974, the summer festival began to feature more French-speaking artists from Europe and Africa, becoming the Québec City International Summer Festival.
The event’s growing success meant that soon organizers had to move the main stages outside Old Québec. The main stage moved from in front of City Hall to Place D’Youville, then to in front of the National Assembly before ending up on the Plains of Abraham, where it can now host over 100,000 music fans in wonderful natural surroundings. The other main stage is just a short walk away in Parc de la Francophonie.
The festival moved up a gear in the early 2000s and began to feature truly world-class talent. Elton John, Metallica, Lady Gaga, Sting, and The Black Eyed Peas all boosted the festival’s profile. Up-and-coming and established artists from Québec and France were still welcome at the festival, but the event’s French identity, once so central, had become less important. Festivalgoers reacted positively, turning out in record numbers. In 2002, for example, 900,000 people took in the shows. The trend continued until in 2008 the festival smashed all records with crowds of 1.7 million, many of whom had travelled from elsewhere to catch the city’s 400th anniversary celebrations.
Since 2013 the new festival’s new main outdoor stage has had no equal in North America. It boasts the world’s biggest and brightest stars, attracted by beautiful Québec City, a professional organizing committee, and huge crowds lit up by their flashing event passes.
Year in, year out, some 60% of festivalgoers hail from the greater Québec City area. Locals have been taking part in the international event for five decades now, spreading festive cheer throughout the city.
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