Pride? In March? In small-town Alberta? For anyone who’s a fan of the summertime Pride mega-parties in Toronto or Montreal (or almost any big city in North America), this might sound as promising as a drag show without wigs.
But tiny, charming Jasper, Alberta, has created a three-day Pride festival that in many ways is more relaxed, fun and distinctive than its flashier urban counterparts. There’s the spectacular location in the Athabasca River Valley, right next to the British Columbia border, a slate of outdoor activities that require little or no athletic skill, and a laid-back party vibe that sees everyone in the town — gay and straight — joining in the fun. In Jasper, a town of 5,000, there are no gay bars, which means that, in a sense, any bar that members of the LGBT community hang out in is a “gay bar.”
Jasper’s small-town hospitality was on full display from the festival’s get-go, as more than 100 revellers joined the kick-off reception at Lobstick Lodge, where the town’s mayor, Richard Ireland, welcomed guests, praised festival organizers and touted the event as “the only winter Pride in the Canadian Rockies.” Earlier in the week he himself had raised the town’s Pride flag. (Are you listening, Rob Ford?)Organizers ended the meet-and-greet by cutting a rainbow-coloured cake to mark the event’s fifth anniversary, and joyfully proclaiming: “it doesn’t matter who you love, it matters that you love.”
The birthday party served as the warm-up to the evening’s main event: a performance by The Dirrty Show at The Whistle Stop Pub, where a capacity crowd cheered and hooted as Melody Stang (on guitar) and Kayla Williams (keyboard) sang “Titty Shake,” “Beat It Together” and “Dildo,” and other gems from a repertoire that seemed lifted directly from a Dan Savage column.
It was the sole adult-only event in a weekend that Jasper Pride organizers have designed to appeal to families. Like other Pride festivals, there was plenty of drinking and music, but you could also wake up early for yoga, go snowshoeing at Maligne Lake or hike the icy Maligne Canyon.
It’s difficult to resist Jasper’s stunning natural beauty, so there I was, with at least 20 other festival-goers, fed and coffeed at 10 a.m. on a Saturday, ready for the hike. The three-hour adventure was well worth the early rise, and the truly energetic could follow that up with an afternoon of skiing or snowboarding at Marmot Basin, with Mr. Gay Canada (aka Christepher Wee) and the Jasper mascot, a seven-foot-tall bear.
That evening, we tucked into a fabulous three-course dinner at the Fairmount Jasper Park Lodge, which featured beet and apple soup, herb-roasted chicken with root vegetables, and (I’m not joking) a pyramid made from chocolate and Bailey’s. Mealtime entertainment was provided by a suite of accomplished short films, selected from Calgary’s Fairy Tales queer film festival.
The films ended early to give folks time to dash back to their rooms and pull on their costumes for the jungle-themed, gala dance party and drag show, featuring Guys in Disguise. Now, Jasper may be small, but this was no pop-song-lip-synching, one-outfit drag show.
Guys in Disguise, a trio of Edmonton-based drag queens who have been performing across North America for more than 25 years, featured outsized hair, more sequined gowns than a Cher concert and songs ranging from classic to contemporary. There was even a muppet! After the show, the DJ kept us dancing in our grass skirts and leopard skins well into the wee hours.
Earlier that day, I had asked a cabbie how he would compare Jasper to other popular Canadian winter destinations. “Banff is like Calgary,” he said. “Slick and commercial. Lake Louise is dull.” And Whistler? “Too many celebrity wannabes.”
I asked him what he thought of Jasper’s embrace of Pride, and why it was so popular, even among the town’s straight residents. His response? “Everyone in Jasper loves a good party, and everyone knows that gays throw the best parties.”
This big-city guest couldn’t agree more.
He’s Christepher Wee, of Vancouver, and he could be seen everywhere throughout Jasper Pride with a huge smile and his white, Mr. Gay Canada winner’s sash, greeting and chatting with festival-goers. Crowned in January, Wee plans to use his heightened profile to promote sexual diversity in Canada’s schools.
Looking for Some New Gay-themed Films?
Check out the work of Edmonton director Trevor Anderson, whose short films Happy Hour and The Man That Got Away were featured at Saturday’s movie night. I was especially impressed with The Man That Got Away, a musical set in a parking garage, with dance numbers, that tells the true-life story of Anderson’s great uncle Jimmy in six original songs.
The first Jasper Pride, in 2010, was held at a bar. Forty people — mostly locals — showed up. This year’s gala jungle party drew more than 450, and organizer Joerg Michel says the event drew visitors from Edmonton, Calgary and beyond.
“People come to Jasper for the intimate atmosphere,” says Michel. “They want to meet people. Even on our path of growth, we have to keep this in mind.” For next year, organizers are hoping to add more family-oriented events, and, in the long run, expand the program to a week.
The writer was a guest of Tourism Jasper. The tourism board did not review or approve this article.