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Quebec Summer Festival: A Riot of Music for All Ages

I’ll never forget the look of astonishment on my children’s faces when they met their first Quebeçois French-speaking native. We had been driving for only seven hours, just long enough for a long nap and a snack, and yet, here we were in a world of French signs, French menus and a restaurant worker who truly did not speak English. He didn’t have to, we explained. He lived in Canada’s French-speaking province where over 90 percent of the population spoke French every day. All of a sudden, the years of studying verbs and vocabulary at school made sense. That alone was an excellent reason to introduce our three to Canada’s belle province.

But there’s an even better reason to take your kids and drive, fly or train to Quebec—the du Maurier Québec Summer Festival, held this year from July 8 to 18. For 11 summer days, the streets and parks of Quebec City, surely one of the most beautiful cities on earth, erupt with the sounds of music, laughter, clapping and cheers. Ask most Canadians to name the biggest family festival in the province and they will repeatedly come up with Quebec’s Winter Carnival. But this festival showcasing music from around the world attracts some 700,000 people. More than half a million performers arrive from 20 countries to put on some 400 shows. The performances are scattered around the historic city at some 20 stages, squares and even street corners so that in one evening or afternoon, you can travel from Argentinian reggae to Cajun guitar music to drummers from Senegal. That’s a whole lot of entertainment in one short while and all for only $6 per person for the entire 11 days.

When we arrived in Quebec City last year for our first summer music festival, we were surprised to see the streets jammed with people and how lively and friendly the atmosphere. We were also surprised to see how many of the audience were pushing strollers, carrying babies in backpacks or sitting with clapping kids on their knees. That’s partly because music is a universal language. But it’s also because the organizers have worked hard to add kid-pleasing elements.

There were line-ups at the Circus tents where youngsters could fly up on a trapeze or jump on a trampoline. At Montmorency Park, once part of Canada’s first farm, families were enjoying picnics while the younger ones chased a funny clown performer around the big trees. Across from the Chateau Frontenac, older kids sat perfectly still as artists created elaborate paint and glitter designs on their arms and faces. Walking around the city, and it is a great place for walking, it became clear that the children were delighted by the surprises around each corner—a musician inviting them to play his harmonica; winged angel mime holding a globe letting them pose with her; a balloon artist making animal balloon hats for their heads. A Festival badge with a flashing light lets organizers know that you’ve paid your entrance fee. After that, you can attend any of the concerts. The sight of a thousand flashing lights mingling with spotlights and strobes as the sun sets behing the water is a magical vision. During the day, cavorting with any of the street performers is of course, free.

The du Maurier Quebec Summer Festival has certainly come a long way since its humble beginnings in 1968 when seven young artists and a group of businessmen organized a way to liven up the city squares and parks and promote the arts. Many of the first performers such as Celine Dion have since become famous. And the festival’s method of operation still holds—to present artists well known in their own countries but unknown in Quebec. This summer, kids will be able to experience up close the Japanese Kojo drums, an ancient Chinese violin playing jazzy versions of folk tales and an eight-piece brass band from Africa. The circus tents will be moved to a more central space, Place Leclerc, and at the end of each day, a troupe of jugglers, acrobats and athletes will perform a circus extavaganza. And again, Parc Montmorency will be devoted to family attractions.

When it’s time to take a break, Quebec offers many other attractions. Visit the seals at the Aquarium or be a seal yourself at the Village des Sports in Valcartier, Canada’s largest water and amusement park. Kids can dress up in 17th Century soldier uniforms at the Dauphine Redoubt or even take tea in the Officers’ Mess on certain afternoons. At the star-shaped Citadel, the largest group of fortified buildings still occupied by troops in North America, see the collection of uniforms, guns and prison cells after the daily 10 a.m. Changing of the Guard. Because Quebec City consists of upper and lower towns, if you have a reluctant walker in tow, plan for a stroller or lots of trips via the Funicular. There are some 28 staircases linking the two including the famous Break-Neck Stairs, off limits to horses, cattle and sheep since 1698,

Don’t leave without sampling steak and fries at the famous Cochon Dingue (the Crazy Pig) restaurant or crêpes at Le Casse Crêpe on St-Jean St. Family packages are available at Le Chateau Frontenac, certainly a fairy-tale accommodation that’s close to all the musical hubbub. And be warned. As they say in Quebec City, a certain craziness is contagious. They are right. This summer, we are going back for more. For information on the Festival, call 1-888-992-5200 or visit www.festival-ete-quebec.qc.ca. For hotel packages, call 1-888-992-5200.





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