It began with a man and a dream. In 1976 Quebec City lawyer Richard Drouin—an avid amateur sailor— went to New York City to watch the U.S. Bicentennial sail past of the tall ships. As Drouin watched, he decided, “We can do the same thing.” Now, eight years later, Drouin, 50, is about to realize his dream. He is the president of the group co-ordinating Quebec celebrations to mark the 450th anniversary of Jacques Cartier’s epic voyage of discovery to the New World. The highlight of the summer-long fête will be the arrival of roughly 85 vessels from around the world by June 25. Altogether, 63 days of activities—concerts, theatre, parades, exhibits and nautical races—will make the Cartier celebrations a Quebec attraction that has previously been matched in scale only by Montreal’s Expo 67 and the Olympic Games of 1976. At the same time, Quebec City residents, who delight in any opportunity to compete with Montreal, are revelling in the program that Drouin and his colleagues have organized.
The 750,000 residents of the city and surrounding municipalities will likely be joined this summer at various times by about six million visitors, including an estimated 1.6 million from outside the province. On June 30, the day the tall ships stage a sail past along a stretch of
the St. Lawrence, the area’s population is expected to swell by more than one million. Hotel rooms and private homes within 65 km of the city are fully booked, and the total economic impact of the Cartier celebrations may reach $200 million, made up of tourist spending and government grants. Declared Georges Dragon, executive director of Corporation Québec 1534-1984: “Let us be honest: this began as a dream—but our major concern is that we end up with a whole lot of cold, hard cash.”
To maximize profits organizers in the Quebec City area have spent $21 million in public and privately raised funds on a series of events and attractions in the region. Of that amount, $1.5 million comes from Quebec and $1.6 million from Ottawa. Quebec itself is spending a total of $13.6 million on festivities throughout the province, with much of it going to the Gaspé peninsula, where the tall ships are scheduled to first arrive on June 20. The rest of the Quebec City organizers’ budget comes from the sale of 200,000 season “passports” at $30 each for adults and $24 for children, the handicapped and senior citizens, donations from local municipalities and private corporations, and the sale of prints, T-shirts, glasses, mugs and other souvenirs.
The organizers say that it has been easier to raise money from Quebec and Ottawa than to keep them from fighting
with one another over who will take the most credit for the festivities. Ottawa regards this year as the 450th anniversary of the founding of Canada, but Quebec contends that Cartier—who originally explored the Gulf of St. Lawrence and reached the Gaspé peninsula while on a voyage for the King of France —discovered New France, which is now Quebec. Premier René Lévesque and federal External Affairs Minister Jean-Luc Pepin quarrelled publicly over the issue during a ceremony at Cartier’s birthplace in St. Malo, France, in April, and currently the two sides are arguing privately over whether the provincial fleur-de-lys or the Canadian maple leaf should take precedence during the festivities.
Meanwhile, Max Gros-Louis, grand chief of the Huron Indians, has been telling both governments that Cartier was only the first white European to arrive—and that Indians discovered the continent thousands of years earlier.
For most Quebecers the hero of the festivities is Drouin, who since last November has worked 18-hour days on the Cartier preparations. In one recent week, his promotional efforts took him to New York on Monday, Toronto on Tuesday, Montreal on Wednesday, Paris on Thursday and home to Quebeé on Friday. Said Drouin: “This has been the kind of opportunity few people get. I am blessed—but also tired.”
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