6 min

Evolution of Pride celebrations in Canada

From Brockville to Lethbridge, smaller festivals have been popping up across the country

Pride Winnipeg
From the very beginning, Pride has been connected to a sense of place.
The narrative is a familiar one. Displaced queer citizens, rejected by their own communities, find a home within a bustling urban centre surrounded by queer friends and allies. Geographical boundaries act as psychological ones, with entry into a physical gay community representing an acceptance of a new way of life.
Pride festivities are the zenith of all of this – a celebration not only of this rite of passage, but also of the city itself as a safe and progressive space where the gay lifestyle can thrive. But key cultural shifts have eroded many of these boundaries. The legalization of gay marriage and access to information via the internet have eliminated both difference and distance, allowing gays and lesbians to live openly in smaller municipalities that were once more hostile to the gay community. And in an increasing number of these satellite communities, many young queer people are choosing to establish their own Pride events.
“It is in the nature of Prides that people do tend to come to the city for the big parade and the big marches and the entertainment stages and that kind of stuff,” say Pride Toronto executive director Kevin Beaulieu. “But it’s also true that Prides are popping up all over the place and have been for quite a long time. That’s one of the exciting things that’s going on.
“You don’t have to be in a city of four or five million people to have a very meaningful Pride that serves the community.”
So as Pride Toronto’s attendance numbers continue to grow – 1.22 million people in 2012, with a quarter of those coming from 80 kilometres outside the city or even farther – smaller Pride festivals have been sprouting up across the country. Fierté Canada Pride, the Association of Canadian Pride Organizations, lists 21 different registered queer events, with a handful of those founded within the last five years.
One key area of development is Ontario, which has seen the creation of such festivals as Brockville Pride in 2011, Simcoe County Pride in 2012 and Prides in Elliot Lake and Richmond Hill in 2013.
“[In Brockville] they’re all very young people who have started an event that now gets a few hundred people out at least,” Beaulieu says. “That was in response to a tragedy with a young person there. But people bound together and – as is the history of Pride – said, “Enough. We’re going to stand together and celebrate who we are and achieve change through that.”
Kim Etherington, owner of Oshawa’s Out Lounge & Eatery and an active member of Durham’s queer community, sees Pride as key in creating visibility in these regions. “It is very important in small towns and cities – where the queer community can sometimes feel isolated by lack of dedicated services and representation in their community – to have Pride festivals. [They] have such an impact on bridging the gap between queer and non-queer communities.”
Especially important is the way this visibility extends to queer youth, who would otherwise be deprived of positive role models. “They need to see themselves [reflected] in the adult communities. They need to see they are teachers, police officers, bartenders, dancers, truck drivers, mothers, fathers, grandparents, and they are accepted and they matter.”
Jamie Berardi, co-founder of Lakeshore Villages’ queer group, agrees that visibility is an important component of smaller Pride events, as is the opportunity to reflect local character. His organization is one of a few that have developed within the GTA. “We feel our community here has its own unique set of values and characteristics. We’ve found that a lot of residents living by the lake in South Etobicoke prefer smaller community-based events, as the area feels like a small town – even though it is so close to downtown Toronto.”
He pauses. “Don’t get me wrong: a lot of LGBT people in our area do go downtown for Pride, but having an option that is local is very attractive to these residents, as a local Pride celebration takes on a dual meaning here – having pride for being LGBT and having pride for the amazing area we live in.”
With WorldPride on the horizon, Beaulieu is confident that the upcoming festivities will not only reflect the host city, but also the network of national and international Pride organizations working together to see the event through to completion.
“Prides tend to be very local in nature. They respond to local circumstances and local conditions, but of course, they’re also bound together by an international movement. And because [of this], we don’t always do a great job of making the connection between Prides and talking to each other and learning from each other. So WorldPride is meant to be a gathering place where that sort of dialogue can take place.”
And while more than 300 international Pride organizations will be involved at 2014 WorldPride in Toronto, a key component of the event will be engaging with smaller organizations both within the city and in the surrounding municipalities.
“We’re talking to community organizations, major cultural organizations, some of the festivals, museums and galleries to make sure that the full 10-day period is programmed – not so much in terms of content, but also where in the city. We would love to have a Chinatown Pride and a Greektown Pride and a Scarborough Pride, and that sort of thing,” Beaulieu says.
“We’re working together with local communities to emphasize that Pride really is more than just the downtown on the weekend.”

Check out our photo gallery of Pride photos

A selection of Pride festivities across Canada

Brockville Pride – July 20, 2013
Brockville, Ontario
More than 500 participants in their 2012 parade, and their first Pride week had events like bowling, a pub night, drag show, parade, a church service, flag-raising and a cruise.
Capital Pride – Aug 16-25, 2013
Ottawa, Ontario
More than 50,000 spectators and 1,800 participants in a week-long festival
Parade, street fair, dance parties, drag shows, flag-raising.
Edmonton Pride Festival Society – June 7-16, 2013
Edmonton, Alberta
More than 30,000 spectators came out for the 2013 parade, various performances and a street festival.
Fiert̩ Montreal РAug 12-18, 2013
Montreal, Quebec
Shows, activities, a human-rights conference, a community day and a Pride parade
Divers/Cit̩ РJuly 29-Aug 4, 2013
Montreal, Quebec
Popular series of circuit parties and street festivals.
F̻te Arc-en-ciel de Qu̩bec/ Quebec City Pride РAug 29-Sept 1, 2013
Quebec City, Quebec
Street festival, queer rights conference, community days, street theatre, parties.
Halifax Pride – July 18-28, 2013
Halifax, Nova Scotia
More than 100,000 participants, community fair, flag-raising, festival, dance parties and parade.
Lethbridge Pride Fest – June 15-22, 2013
Lethbridge, Alberta
Pride awards, parade, dances and party in the park, flag-raising, church service.
Moncton River of Pride – June 1, 2013
Greater Moncton, New Brunswick
Various festivities.
Okanagan Pride Festival – Aug 11-17, 2013
Lake Okanagan – Kelowna, BC
Festival in the park with barbecue, beer garden, dance nights, drag performances.

Pride Calgary – Aug 24-Sept 2, 2013
Calgary, Alberta
Parade, street festival, drag shows, Dyke March.
Pride Durham – May 31-June 9, 2013
Ajax, Oshawa, Whitby
Flag-raising, movie night, drag show and dance, paint ball, laser tag, drag shows, ladies’ night, various dance parties, barbecue, parade and street festival. Queerstock Canada musical festival.
Pride Toronto – June 21-30
Toronto, Ontario
More than 1.2 million participants, week-long celebration, parade, Dyke March, street festival, beer gardens, concerts.
Pride Winnipeg – May 23-June 1, 2014
Winnipeg, Manitoba
Official Pride Dance Party, parade and more than 30 community events (flag-raising, golf tournament, lesbian lube wrestling, bowling, baseball tournaments, family dance party, et cetera).
Prince Albert Pride – June 3-9, 2013
Prince Albert, Sakatchewan
Parade, readings, community rally, flag-raising, art galleries.
Queen City Pride – June 17-23, 2013
Regina, Saskatchewan
Week-long celebration, flag-raising, educational sessions, parade, dances.

Saskatoon Pride – June 8-15, 2013
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Flag-raising, drag show, awards, burlesque workshop, music performances, fair and festival, parade.

Simcoe County Pride – Aug 2-10
Barrie, Midland, Orillia, Collingwood and Alliston
Flag-raising, drive-in night, barbecue, candlelight vigil, community art show, silent auction, boat cruise and prom.
tri-Pride Live Music Festival – May 22-June 1
Waterloo, Kitchener, Cambridge region
Flag-raising, music festival, comedy night, Mr and Miss tri-Pride, family events, seniors event, ball game, lesbo bingo.

Vancouver Pride – Aug 4, 2013
Vancouver, BC
More than 150 float and parade entries, a party for 80,000, a festival with various vendors, and more than 700,000 attendees.
Go West — Lakeshore LGBT – June 15, 2013
Etobicoke, Ontario
Inaugural fundraising event for the Lakeshore LGBT Community Group
Night of live entertainment and dancing at Jay Jay’s Inn (2847 Lakeshore Blvd).
Elliot Lake Pride – May 31-June 1, 2013
Elliot Lake, Ontario
Assembly at city hall, followed by a barbecue, beer garden, comedy show, and wine-and-cheese event.
York Pride Fest – June 22, 2013
Richmond Hill, Ontario
Flag-raising and the region’s first Pride parade.
Fierté Canada Pride
Association of Canadian Pride Organizations
The International Association of Pride Organizers
(group responsible for WorldPride)