GayCalgary® Magazine [copy]

Jasper Pride

Community Event by Nick Winnick (From GayCalgary® Magazine, March 2014, page 7)

As many Albertans know, Jasper has a well-deserved reputation as a home for the diverse and eclectic. Now in its fifth year, Jasper Pride has capitalized on this welcoming atmosphere, growing from a single event in a local bar, and hosting a scant couple of dozen people, to a weekend-long festival that expects a number of guests equal to a full tenth of the town’s permanent population.

Known for winter tourism and as a hub for the many surrounding ski resorts, making Jasper Pride one of Canada’s few winter pride events was a natural decision. Uwe Walter, co-chair of Jasper Pride’s Board of Directors says, "In summer, there’s so much going on in Alberta and Canada from a pride perspective. Having winter pride in the mountains is something really special for us, and the increasing numbers show that there’s a demand there."

The municipality of Jasper has responded to the success of the event with refreshing alacrity for a governmental body. This will be Jasper Pride’s first year formally supported by Tourism Jasper, and Walter has not a sour word to say about his experiences working with the municipal council. The co-chair is particularly effusive about the municipal support for the LGBT community. "They’ve been so infinitely supportive," he relates. "We live in an environment where being out and proud is no question. For example, at the beginning of the Olympics, we gave [Mayor Richard Ireland] a call and said, we as the town of Jasper want to join many cities within Canada and raise the pride flag as a sign of solidarity with the LGBT community in Russia. He said, ‘yes, I’ll be there, I’ll do it personally,’ he just came."

The festival’s events also capitalize on Jasper’s location, featuring guided ice canyon tours, ski races, and snowshoeing. In recent years, these events have been themed, particularly the ski race and gala. "We try to give especially the signature event, which is the Saturday night Gala, every year, a theme," says Walter. "Last year was fairy tales and legends. This year is jungle fun – bringing the animal out in you. People come dressed up. This year I’m very curious to see what kind of jungle-like costumes people come up with."

Some who balk at the mainstreaming of queer culture may be dismayed to know that there’s only one 18+ event over the course of the entire weekend: Friday night’s musical comedy offering by the Dirrty Show. The board of Jasper Pride seems more focused on creating a family-friendly (and, indeed, tourist-friendly) environment than to celebrating the risqué. Walter is categorical: "All the daytime events are family events, accessible to everyone. We have a lot of local guests coming from the LGBT community, as well as people who just want to have a great time."

As the festival expands, so too does its list of partners, commendable for its cross-promotion of other Albertan and British Columbian LGBT organizations. "We’re cooperating with a couple of LGBT associations throughout Alberta; ARGRA, the Alberta Rockies Gay Rodeo Association, as well as Fairy Tales, and of course, Mr. Gay Canada will be with us for the whole duration of the weekend, and we’ll have several appearances booked."

Regular readers of the magazine will recall our feature interview last month with this year’s Mr. Gay Canada: teacher, actor, model, and martial artist Christepher Wee. It was Wee himself who reached out to Jasper Pride and asked to be hosted at this year’s festival. "My passion is education, so part of my mandate is social education. When I became Mr. Gay Canada I sat down and went through a list of all the [pride festivals]." Jasper was one of the locations that offered Wee some return on his legwork.

"What I really wanted to do was just not stay within the region, which a lot of the previous Mr. Gay Canadas did," Wee told us. "I think part of the problem is sponsorship – we need to find sponsors to get us to where we want to go. It’s an uphill battle." As a former spokesperson for the Pink Dot campaign in Singapore – an event promoting equality and visibility for queer people – Wee is outspoken about the need for public advocacy and diverse representation in the LGBT community. Keep your eyes open this summer; Wee will likely be popping up at every pride event he can manage.

Jasper Pride runs from March 21st to 23rd. Individual events range in price from $5 to $82.50, with discounts for Jasper Pride Festival Society members. Find out more online on the Jasper Pride website.


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