West Nipissing was host to its first ever Pride Parade on Saturday, June 17th. Over a dozen organisations and members of the community participated in the procession that led them from Ethel Street in Sturgeon Falls, through the downtown core of King Street, and back up Main Street. For members of the West Nipissing Pride committee, who organised the event, “heartwarming” seems to be the word of choice to describe how it felt to see such a turnout of supporters lining the parade route.
“We didn’t know what to expect, it was our first Pride Parade. You want to make sure that it’s going to work out well, obviously. But, it was really nice to see the community come together and be there, and just to see, like we started the parade on Ethel [Street], and there were already people there, and when we turned on King [Street], people were there all the way up to downtown. The feeling when we saw that, it was emotional, and it was very nice to see,” describes Lynne Gervais, Pride committee co-founder and member.
That moment certainly came up many times as one of the biggest highlights for parade participants. Michel Gervais, President of West Nipissing Pride, and Sébastien Michel, Vice President, were also overcome with emotion as they rounded the corner on King. Both recall the crowds of people on both sides of the street and stretching from the corner of Ethel Street in the residential area, all the way to the corner of Queen Street in the downtown core. Sébastien Michel says that scene left him and everyone else on the Pride committee’s float “at a loss for words.”
It took the committee several months of work to get to that special moment. “I would say in January or February, we met back up and that was the first thing on the agenda; we were making a parade this year,” recounts Michel Gervais. Of course, that was the plan when the committee was formed at the start of 2020, and then COVID quashed it for three years. This year, the committee was determined to make it happen at last. Gervais says they had about 4 months of actual preparation once they sent out invitations, determined logistics, and presented the idea to municipal council. “Timeline was short, and there was a crunch, but that just goes to show the dedication of the committee and the hard work that they put in which made it happen. It was quick, but at the same time also long and hard work,” he says.
He points out that the people on the committee are volunteers who made the time in between work and all their other obligations. With such a small committee, that made for a heavy workload, but he is impressed with their ability to make the parade “happen with those few amazing people that we have.”
The result spoke for itself. People were in good spirits, and the mood throughout the town was joyful. “The weather was very kind to us drag queens. It wasn’t too hot, it was great. We couldn’t have asked for a better day,” says Gervais, who was in full drag as Jenna Seppa on the committee’s float and accompanied by fellow queens Quinta Sential (Ryan Conway) and Ladder (Sébastien Michel).
Many community organisations joined in with floats and banners of their own, including the municipality of West Nipissing, the West Nipissing Community Health Centre, and students from local high schools. They were also joined by representatives from all levels of government; Nickel Belt M.P. Marc Serré, Timiskaming-Chochrane M.P.P. John Vanthof and West Nipissing Mayor Kathleen Thorne Rochon also marched in the parade. Queer organisations from North Bay and Sudbury, such as North Bay Pride and Squad Sudbury, also came to lend their support.
Those participants were equally overwhelmed by the community’s response. “When we turned onto King Street and saw all the people who came out to support the parade, it was such a great feeling. I am so proud of our community for embracing the principles of inclusion and acceptance and sending the message that our LGBTQ2S+ residents can feel at home here,” says mayor Thorne Rochon, who walked alongside the municipality’s float. Catherine Levac-Lafond, Community Development Officer with the municipality was also with that float, and she had the opportunity to work closely with the Pride Committee throughout the organisation phase. “Being the first float leading the parade, it was a wonderful feeling to see the community rally together and wear their colours. I want to take the time to congratulate the WN Pride committee and am looking forward to working with them on future projects,” she states.
The parade was followed up by an after-party, hosted by Sonia’s Patio, who had gone all-out to decorate their space with Pride colours, and also offered a rainbow assortment of Jell-o shooters, colourful cupcakes and cotton candy.
Now that the event is over, and Pride month is nearing its end, the West Nipissing Pride committee has a meeting planned to discuss how things went and what they would like to accomplish going forward. Michel Gervais explains part of that process is going through their financials to see how successful this year’s Pride events were at fundraising. “We’re hoping that with those funds, we can continue working with the schools, as well as hopefully throwing more events,” he says. One thing that seems to be the consensus is that next year they want to go bigger, and not just with the parade.