Alexa

Quebec City, the place to be in 2008, makes a spectacle of itself

What's now a mere series of grain silos next summer will be home to a promised mega-projection celebrating Quebec City history.
Possibly Canada's most beloved hotel, Le Chateau Frontenac, has been guarding its St. Lawrence River bluff ever since 1893.
Pubs, restaurants and music bars keep things lively and entertaining into the late hours along Quebec City's Rue Saint-Jean.
A street musician in Indian regalia plays on the Rue du Petit-Champlain in Quebec City, Canada.
Quebec City visitors inevitably make their way to Rue du Petit-Champlain for its shops, galleries, restaurants and street entertainers.

What's now a mere series of grain silos next summer will be home to a promised mega-projection celebrating Quebec City history.

Possibly Canada's most beloved hotel, Le Chateau Frontenac, has been guarding its St. Lawrence River bluff ever since 1893.

Pubs, restaurants and music bars keep things lively and entertaining into the late hours along Quebec City's Rue Saint-Jean.

A street musician in Indian regalia plays on the Rue du Petit-Champlain in Quebec City, Canada.

Quebec City visitors inevitably make their way to Rue du Petit-Champlain for its shops, galleries, restaurants and street entertainers.

This place is so terrific, it doesn't really need roaming costumed opera singers, fireworks, a floating dance floor the size of Kansas, an 1,800-foot-long multimedia screen, more fireworks, the pope (possibly), the World Hockey Championships, parades of giant characters and a custom-made grand finale brought to you by the fabulously curious minds behind Cirque du Soleil.
It already had poutine and the Winter Carnival.
But 2008 is Quebec City's 400th birthday. They had to do something.
Meanwhile, Sam de Champlain is off his pedestal.
Oui, instead of standing heroically in the shadow of the iconic Chateau Frontenac, the statue of the Frenchman who dropped anchor here on July 3, 1608, and founded the future home of the defunct NHL Nordiques is in the shop for a touch-up. And le Chateau is getting a tuck.
There's a lot of that going around.
"You might have noticed," said Roxanne St-Pierre, party spokeswoman, "the whole city is under construction right now?" A mischievous grin. "It's because of us."
In all of North America, even when nothing's planned, there's no place quite like Quebec City, mainly because there is no place in North America that can pass for European as genuinely as Quebec City. Streets properly twist and confuse. Back streets invite exploration. Its clopping horse-buggies seem appropriate, even if tour bus fumes clash with horse fumes. Shops and inns look as if they've been here for centuries, and some of them have.
And the people speak what, for many of us and even for many actual French people, is a foreign language.
Dinner at Le Clocher Penche, a pleasant neighborhood bistro, means being immersed in what passes for French in Quebec. Evidently, the Old Country has issues with le lengage spoken here in the Old City. To Yanks, of course, Chretien and Chevalier sound exactly alike when not singing.
"If I'm speaking with a French guy," explained Danny Pelchat, a Quebecer whose role in this story will be evident soon, "he will understand me, because I make an effort. But if we're just in a restaurant and we start to speak about something that happened yesterday, the French he will hear will be (le gook de gobbeldy)."
It's a city of galleries and churches and a colorful farmer's market, of street singers (many startlingly wonderful) and enough not-like-this-in-Chicago restaurants to satisfy anyone's culinary curiosity, at least for a long, self-indulgent weekend.
In fact, Quebec City, in a scaled-down sort of way, is Paris and haute cuisine without the haughtiness. It's this so-near-yet-so-foreign-ness that has long made the town a popular tourist draw for other Canadians as well as some United Statesians, particularly New Englanders just a few hours' away by car. (Boston is a mere 307 miles distant.)
Its annual celebrations - the Winter Carnival, the Summer Festival, others - for years have provided added visitor incentive, along with the odd Picasso exhibition at the Musee national des beaux-arts Quebec.
And there have been big parties here before.
Quebecers will long remember 1984, when the 450th anniversary of Jacques Cartier's exploration of the St. Lawrence River triumphantly lured a parade of Tall Ships here from the far reaches.
That party was a pooper. "People from all over the world were scared to come to Quebec City because we told them it was going to be so crowded and full in every hotel," said Francois Bedard, rooms division manager at the city's Hotel Manoir Victoria. "So nobody came."
The good part:
"Local people had the chance to see it, because there was nobody else. It was just amazing."
Which brings us to plans for Quebec City's 400th Anniversary. If they can bring all this off, "amazing" will be whatever the Quebec-French words are for "and that's an understatement."
Danny Pelchat is executive producer of a succession of special events that, from New Year's Eve through October 19, will mark the birthday. Pelchat was a founding member of Cirque du Soleil and its general manager for 17 years before leaving the company in 2001 for other things.
If you have never seen a Cirque show - under a big top, in Las Vegas, wherever - suffice to say it is a mostly gentle, but sometimes not, assault on the senses, a mix of light, sound, color, acrobatics and whimsy. Which isn't a sufficient description at all, but it'll have to do.
This won't be all Cirque. What Pelchat intends to do is bring spectacle to Quebec City, and for that, he'll draw from sources that range from Cirque to European street theater to whatever tells the story best in a walled city on the St. Lawrence River. Some attractions will be anchored in a new, many-purpose venue called Espace 400e; much will be all over town.
"There are two ways to do show business," he said. "You take risks, or you don't take risks. If you don't take risks, you do middle-of-the-road shows. Which works. That's fine ... I don't do that."
And that introduces this: On December 31 - that's in eastern Canada, where it tends to be a tad chilly that time of year - he's staging an outdoor show. "It's extremely elaborate," he said. "It uses a lot of technology you usually don't use."
Including, if there isn't enough of the natural stuff floating down just right and if it's cold enough, a snow machine to manufacture and blow snow in the air.
"The reason we blow snow in the air," he said, "is because we're going to use that as a screen and make a projection on (the flakes) - which has never been done before. At some point there are going to be 500 people onstage. It's a large-scale show. Because the show is so grand, people are going to want to come see it."
The big big deal will be July 3-6, for the actual anniversary. No snow tricks, but, on July 5, there will be an Urban Opera featuring 150 professional performers and 1,500 - that's one thousand five hundred - extras.
"It's like a Cirque type of show," said Pelchat. "It uses the city like a set, like a decor. It's created for (an audience) of 100,000 people or more."
That's a hundred thousand people. Or more.
Every summer night, beginning June 20, a series of grain silos on the river - 600 meters long by 40 meters tall - will become a screen for "the largest multimedia projection in the world," said St-Pierre, the spokeswoman.
The 40-minute sound and light show will be the work of Cirque video projection designer Francis Laporte, the creator who created the projections in the company's "Love," the smash Beatles tribute in Las Vegas.
In French? English? Magyar?
"In all of our shows," said Pelchat, "language is not an issue. We might have people speaking in Russian. We don't know what they're going to speak.
"All my life in show business, I work with images. The image will give you an emotion, and the emotion will tell you what's happening. It's like Cirque du Soleil. Cirque du Soleil goes all over the world."
The Cirque link to all this is inescapable. That 1984 party for Cartier, the one with the Tall Ships? It marked the debut of Cirque de Soleil. So what was a flop for Quebec would launch the province's most prolific international hit.
Cirquetry aside, the young and the virile thinking of witnessing some of the celebration might aim for August 15, when what begins as a ceremonial tribute to the St. Lawrence - the "Walking Road" - gradually evolves into a big party.
"That part will be done with some of the best DJs in the world," said Pelchat. "We're going to have a huge floating dance floor, at this time the biggest that will ever be made."
Total area: 10,000 square feet. Holding 2,500 revelers.
And finally, October 19, the finale: Genuine Cirque.
"We could not celebrate the 400th anniversary of Quebec without doing something with Cirque du Soleil. It's going to be an extravaganza."
There's more, of course. But italics aside, there's little doubt this will be a 400th year to remember in Quebec City.


Updated : 2021-02-26 14:18 GMT+08:00