What Pride festivals across Canada have in store for 2023
By Anna-Liza Badaloo
Photos of previous Pride Winnipeg events.
For most Pride festivals in Canada, 2022 marked the joyous return to in-person celebrations after two years of virtual programming. We sat down with organizers from Pride Winnipeg and Capital Pride in Ottawa to find out what they learned from 2022, what’s on tap this year, and why promoting community diversity is more important this year than ever before.
2022 FESTIVAL HIGHLIGHTS
In 2022, Pride Winnipeg had the honour of hosting the second National Fierté Canada Pride Festival in conjunction with Fierté Canada Pride (FCP).
How did Canada Pride in 2022 compare to previous Pride Winnipeg festivals? “It was basically the same Pride as the years before the pandemic, but we received additional funding,” explains Jordan Witherspoon, Pride Winnipeg’s Director of Marketing. “One addition was a Human Rights Conference, and we provided some of the speakers.”
As with other Pride festivals in 2022, the pressure was on for Pride Winnipeg to present an amazing in-person festival. With the eyes of Pride festivals across the country on Winnipeg, how did they approach their programming? “After two years of virtual Prides, we knew that it was not only a great opportunity for Pride, it was also very important to our community that we do something special,” notes Witherspoon. “We pride ourselves on being a tight community. But with social distancing and lockdowns, we didn’t have the opportunity to express that sense of community.”
To put our nation’s queer performers front and centre, they added a Canada Stage to their main performance area. “We invited different arts and culture groups from across all provinces and territories who wanted to perform during the festival,” Witherspoon explains. “It was a great success, and we received lots of great feedback.”
Another key piece of 2022 learning related to traffic flow. “We noticed high amounts of traffic coming into the space. It was a lot more than in previous years,” notes Witherspoon. “Over the past five years, new folks have joined the Pride Board, and they had never experienced that large increase in traffic before.”
When Toby Whitfield, Executive Director of Capital Pride, thinks back to last year, community is also top of mind. “We took the return of in-person as an opportunity to grow certain areas of the festival and to strengthen our partnerships with community groups and local businesses,” Whitfield recalls.
In 2022, Capital Pride put on a threeday festival for the first time, which was incredibly well received. And although not new in 2022, Whitfield fondly remembers a key event. “A highlight was our Pride Pageant, where we crowned Ms. Capital Pride, Mr. Capital Pride and Mx. Capital Pride,” notes Whitfield. “It celebrates the best of the local drag scene here in Ottawa. Every year the calibre of competitors is just incredible!”
Photos of previous Capital Pride events.
2023 FESTIVAL PLANS
With the lessons learned from 2022 firmly in hand, what’s on tap for 2023? As it turns out, community is once again at the forefront.
Pride Winnipeg is happening from May 26 to June 4, with the parade and main part of the festival taking place on June 4. Based on last year’s Canada Stage success, they’re launching a brandnew Community Stage this year featuring Manitoba-based performers. “We’re bringing on more queer musical artists,” explains Witherspoon. “We also recognize that we need to have more representation of the Indigenous community in our programming.”
In terms of logistics, their team is also exploring strategies to better accommodate festival traffic. “That would include different setup times for vendors and parking passes for the folks who need to have vehicles on the premises to run back and forth to their booths,” Witherspoon explains.
Capital Pride is moving ahead with last year’s expanded threeday festival. Capital Pride takes place from August 19 to August 27, with the festival happening from August 25 to August 27. “We have three free outdoor stages. One was new last year, and all three will return this year,” notes Whitfield. “We will focus on expanded community programming on one of our stages to highlight the diversity within the 2SLGBTQIA+ community.”
Overall, last year’s setup worked out so well that Capital Pride attendees can expect a similar setup this year. “Our Pride Pageant will return to the National Arts Centre (NAC) this year, which is a lovely partnership,” Whitfield notes. “We expect to sell out Southam Hall, which is the largest theatre at the NAC.” The Pride Pageant will take place on August 19.
Capital Pride also plans to introduce some new programming in their street festival to highlight all the amazing things happening in the National Capital Region’s queer community. “We’re thinking about a wellness hub or sports hub within the street festival. Folks will see some fun new outdoor activities that will bring festival weekend to life,” Whitfield notes. “Festival weekend culminates in our Capital Pride Parade, which I’m sure will be the largest ever. Every year we see growing interest from folks both joining in the parade and coming to watch. That continues to be a highlight for everyone in the community.”
FOCUS ON TRANS ADVOCACY
Given the record number of anti-trans bills being passed in the U.S., the outright ban of drag and trans performances in many states and continued violence (both in person and online) against 2SLGBTQIA+ people, it’s no surprise that both festivals have chosen to focus on community. But they don’t plan to stop there.
“What’s happening in the U.S. right now has further emphasized the need to create spaces for the performance community. It just reinforced that there is a need for these activities to move forward at Pride festivals,” says Witherspoon.
Capital Pride got a taste of what drag performers have been experiencing at their Winter Pride event in February of this year. Canada is certainly not immune to the hatred we are witnessing among our neighbours to the south. “We had a large Drag Storytime event that was quite the target of far-right folks who went to protest with the goal of shutting down the event. The response in the community has been affirming,” says Whitfield. “We know these are positive [events] and [that they] create safe spaces for kids and families to enjoy the art of drag. We’ve got another large Drag Storytime event planned for the festival this year. We’re not going to shy away, because it helps create space for kids and families to be themselves, which is an important part of our community.”
For Whitfield, this is just one example of the rise of online and in-person hate against the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. “It reminds me why we need to continue organizing Pride, because it is about creating space for the community to celebrate,” he says. “But it’s also about challenging and confronting homophobia, transphobia and other forms of discrimination. This is a space to celebrate inclusion and diversity.”
Witherspoon wants to see more people speaking out in Canada. “There are not enough people standing up and speaking out about what’s happening to the 2SLGBTQIA+ community [in the U.S.]. That happens in Canada too, right? We just don’t talk about it as much because it’s not as harsh,” he says. “I’d like to see people taking a stand and getting our community and our allies to raise their voices. That is really what makes up Pride – it’s the community. And Pride festivals need to reflect that.” ■