Quebec City New France Festival
Biggest History Festival in North America
By Alison Gardner, Editor, Travel with a Challenge
In August 2016, I attended the biggest history festival in North America, comfortably slipping into the spirit of “New France” 400 years ago while wandering the storied streets of old Québec City. With a picturesque setting that overlooks the St Lawrence River, here are thick-walled fortresses and military barracks, narrow cobbled streets, quaint inns and imposing period hotels. Here are European-style stone churches, religious houses, and elegant homes that have mainly been preserved from the 19th century. This is the only intact walled city north of Mexico, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985.
For a few days, I felt as though I had linked arms with the explorers, pioneers and adventurers who profoundly influenced the settlement of North America. And let’s give a shoutout to the “King’s Daughters” too, a group you will learn about in this article!
In the 1600s Europeans formed powerful companies that dominated the fur trade and created alliances with indigenous First Nations peoples for over two centuries. The Algonquin-speaking people became allies of the French; the Iroquois-speaking people became allies of the British, all to supply the seemingly endless demand for fur fashion among the wealthy back in Europe.
Some modern-day visitors and locals make or rent historic costumes, as I did for one of the days of feasting and celebration. Even wearing a three-corner hat or donning a long skirt with an apron and buckle shoes is transformative! Perhaps you fancy yourself becoming a peasant, a middle class bourgeois citizen or perhaps joining the noble class. This is a festival for all ages, and it is a particular delight to see children and teens in costume as well as older generations.
Other visitors are perfectly content to wear their own 21st century “costumes” while enjoying military re-enactments, learning traditional songs and dances, or sampling food and drink inspired by Celtic, Acadian and First Nations cuisine. You may take a fencing lesson or browse dozens of artisan kiosks for unique gifts or a personal memory to take home.
Friendly colonial soldiers answer questions and pose for photographs along the popular shopping venues. Step inside the Cannonball Workshop to listen to toe-tapping fiddle music and stroll through many informative museum exhibits. In the early days, soldiers had to be at least five feet, five inches tall to enlist. Napoleon Bonaparte would have only just made the limit had he lived a couple of centuries earlier!
A blue and white-clad colonial soldier marching band is on the move around the city. Near the military camps in the shade of the great teepee, visitors can meet First Nations artisans and learn about their role in establishing the colony of New France.
In the early decades of the New France colony, there were seven men for every two women … and one of those was a nun. So the “King’s Daughters” (Les Filles du Roi) marketing campaign was devised between 1663 and 1673, sponsored by King Louis XIV, to encourage 800 young French women to emigrate to the colony and marry there during that decade. Most of the women who came were too poor to have the customary dowry of the time, so the king paid for their transport and a dowry.
It wasn’t easy either to attract men with a variety of skills to come to this distant, rugged colony. Local employers had to pay their ship’s passage and guarantee that any man who wanted to return to France after three years would have his way paid home. Forty percent of men who were hired under those terms did return to France after three years.
Follow Up FactsDates for the 2021 New France Festival are August 5 to 8, 2021, marking the 25th anniversary of these annual festivities. A costumed street parade leads off each year’s festival, but specific events are still in the planning stage so check the NFF website for announcements in the months leading up to August.
Festival Entry: You purchase a medallion to access all festival activities: CAD$10 pre-sale price; CAD$12 purchased at the sites. Access is free for children under 12 years old.
Québec City and its surrounding region, www.quebecregion.com/en, host over 500 festivals and events each year attracting more than four million visitors.
From our publication’s Travel Article Library, learn more about Québec City, things to do and some tantalizing accommodations with true historic flair.
Alison Gardner is a travel journalist, magazine editor, guidebook author, and consultant. She specializes in researching vacations throughout the world, suitable for people over 50, multi-generational families and for women of all ages. She is also publisher and editor of Travel with a Challenge web magazine. Email: email@example.com.