Montreal's National Parade 2018: Défilé de la Saint-Jean

Where to Go, What to Do, and Significance of the Holiday

La Fête nationale du Québec à Montréal 2015: best la Saint-Jean events, parades and more.
La Fête nationale is a special day in Quebec. A statutory holiday observed on June 24 of every year, trhe 2015 edition proposes a new parade route and live concert venue located in the heart of downtown Montreal. Photo courtesy of La Fête nationale du Québec à Montréal

Traditionally a public holiday of feasting, revelry, fireworks, and parades, Montreal's Fête Nationale parade on June 24, 2018, celebrates the religious feast day of St. John the Baptist. Get details on the parade route, when and where to see it, its origin, and theme.

More than 50 neighborhood block parties are scheduled in various parts of Montreal and up to 1,200 events throughout the province of Quebec. You can expect to see a sea of blue and white flags festooning the landscape of the day.

Parade Route

For the 2018 parade, the parade route features two simultaneous parades that come together in the middle at Place des Festivals at Jeanne Mance Street. One parade marches west from St. Denis Street and the other parade leaves from Peel Street. In past years, it had started at Sherbrooke Street and Ste. Catherine Street. The parades start at 9:15 p.m. and are expected to go until 10:30 p.m. as it converges in the middle. 

Parade Theme

"Meeting of the Winds" is the 2018 parade theme, with the processions showcasing the North (le Nordet) and South (le Suroit) winds personified by marchers, drumlines, pyrotechnical displays, flaggers, floats, and acrobats. The tagline for the event is "The wind turns, the wind changes, the heart stays."

The parade includes tributes to key Quebecers and floats depicting different eras in the province's history are part of the experience. More than 1,500 people march every year in the parade. The revelry and celebration go on until midnight.

Le Grand Spectacle

Montreal’s main Fête national concert, Le Grand Spectacle, is held at the Place des Festivals and begins at 9 p.m. It will celebrate the evolution of Quebec's music over 400 years. There are music concerts and live entertainment is hosted from the stage beginning as early as 1 p.m.

Origin of the Parade

For many years, Montreal's Fête Nationale parade was called the Défilé des Géants, French for "Parade of Giants," an annual procession held every June 24 during Quebec's Fête Nationale holiday also known as Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day and La Saint-Jean, or in English, St. John the Baptist.

In 1908, St. Jean Baptiste was named the patron saint of French-speaking Canadians. The province made St. Jean Baptiste Day a provincial holiday in 1925. The feast day of Saint John the Baptist, which coincided with midsummer (the summer solstice) was a very popular event in France over the centuries. St. John the Baptist Day is still celebrated as a religious feast day in several countries, like Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Spain, Latvia, and Lithuania. By making it a statutory holiday in 1977, the day became a holiday for all Quebecers rather than only those of French-Canadian or Catholic origins.

The reason the parade was called the Parade of Giants was that it featured larger-than-life paper mâché "giants" representing Quebec's favorite historical and fictional figures, including former Quebec Premier René Lévesque, poet and musician Félix Leclerc, and Montreal co-founder Jeanne Mance. Since 2013, the parade shifted its focus from the giants and more to Quebecers overall.

Parade History

In 2014, the Fête Nationale parade morphed into the Défilé La Grande Envolée, French for "The Great Flight." Incorporating paper mâché giants from the original Fête Nationale Parade of Giants, La Grande Envolée featured three interactive stations, which parade-goers could practice and perfect in 90 minutes in time for demonstrating their fast learning abilities for the parade. The first interactive station was a slam poetry recital celebrating the French language, a second station highlighted line dancing, and a third station featured a flash mob choreographed performance with a multicultural theme.

In 2015, the Fête Nationale parade moved its route to St. Denis Street in the heart of Montreal's Plateau neighborhood. Parade participants gave away tree saplings and apples as they passed onlookers.

In 2016, the parade was moved to the busy commercial thoroughfare of Ste. Catherine Street where Montreal's most popular parades are generally held. 

Montreal's Canada Day

Given the federal nature of the anniversary, celebrating Canada Day (usually on July 1 throughout the rest of Canada) can be a cause of friction in the province of Quebec, where the holiday is overshadowed by Quebec's National Holiday, St. John the Baptist Day. For example, the federal government funds Canada Day events at the Old Port of Montreal—an area run by a federal Crown corporation—while Montreal's national holiday parade is a grassroots effort that has been met with pressure to cease from some federal officials.