Torontonians who make the annual trek up the 401 for Divers/Cité, Montreal’s annual Pride parade and festival, may have to start deciding between two different gay-oriented weekends in la belle province.
Organizers have announced that the parade and “community day” — when community groups set up informational tables lining the streets through Montreal’s gay village — will now take place in June. The rest of Divers/Cité’s activities like the outdoor drag concerts, music performances and dance parties will continue to be held at the beginning of August.
To accomplish this, Divers/Cité is setting up a separate board for a new nonprofit organization to be called Fierté Pride à la Montreal, which will oversee the parade and community day. Although organizers are still waiting on scheduling approval from municipal bureaucrats, they hope to hold Fierté Pride on the weekend of Fri, Jun 15 to 17. For its 15th anniversary, a slightly shorter Divers/Cité is scheduled to take place Wed, Aug 1 to 5, traditionally a long weekend.
Why the change?
Divers/Cité cofounder and executive director Suzanne Girard says the parade was attracting a different crowd than the rest of the festivities. A CROP survey found that 76 percent of those who attend the festival, skip the parade. At the same time, 25 percent of those who go to the parade, don’t go to the rest of the fest. The split largely comes down to tourists versus locals.
“Tourists don’t come to Divers/Cité for the parade,” says Girard.
Another reason is money. Divers/Cité only had access to so much provincial funding in Quebec because it was considered an event to promote a community, with the parade as its cornerstone. But as strictly an arts and cultural festival, Divers/Cité will have more funding opportunities.
“We are redefining Divers/Cité as a gay arts festival, a queer outdoor festival,” says Girard.
Additionally, the parade will remain what it has always been — a nonprofit venture that has very few business interests represented. Divers/Cité, as an arts and cultural festival, will be able to tap into more corporate sponsorships, just like many of the other festivals Montreal hosts each summer. The new board of Fierté Pride will also include local merchants among its members, who may end up taking the Fierté Pride in new directions.
This is only the latest way organizers have tried to shake up and win back interest in the annual Pride parade. Two years ago, Divers/Cité decided to open the week’s festivities with the parade, rather than have it occur on the final Sunday. The parade time was also changed to night, which Girard hopes will continue.
The changes in Montreal, however, are not happening in a vacuum. Pride celebrations all across North America are attempting to reinvent themselves in order to keep interest, especially now that many civil rights battles have been won.
“What we want to create is a 21st-century Pride,” says Girard. “We want to move it toward more of a celebration than a protest.”
Last year mainstream media in Montreal widely reported decreased attendance at Divers/Cité and blamed the Outgames, which were held at the same time and did not bring the crowds that Outgames organizers had predicted.
While Girard does not dispute the decreased numbers, she does not blame the Outgames for taking people, as well as media focus, away from Divers/Cité.
“Yes, there was too much being offered last year,” says Girard. “But the decrease wasn’t necessarily because of the Outgames. At least, we can’t prove that it was.”
The splitting of Divers/Cité and Pride Fierté is still a bit of an experiment. Once all the Is are dotted and Ts are crossed, the two boards will sign a contract committing to hold the parade in June for two years. Also, Divers/Cité will offer support and guidance to the new organization for those two years. Both events will be marketed together.
But is Girard concerned that moving the Pride parade to June will force it to compete with other high-profile parades in Boston, New York and, yes, Toronto?
Pas de tout, she says, noting that Toronto, New York and San Francisco — North America’s largest Pride parades — all happen on the same day and remain successful.
So which event should Torontonians plan on attending?
“Why go to just one?” Girard asks. “They are six weeks apart, and it’s a short trip.”