Proud and free: Sharing Jasper Pride - Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative

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Proud and free: Sharing Jasper Pride

Rainbow flags line the main street in Jasper townsite
J. Boxwell

It’s early spring in Jasper National Park. The ground is already bare at Old Fort Point. Two bighorn sheep browse the slopes while a third settles serenely on the edge of a precipice.

The trail is a short but steep climb for us humans, especially for those of us with little legs. Our 6-year-old demands regular hug breaks.

We stop to watch a pair of mountain bluebirds dart between the dead limbs of a fallen spruce. The wind cools us quickly as we stand at the rocky summit and watch the clouds blow across the Athabasca Valley, distributing a mix of light rain and snow. The sun cuts through intermittently, illuminating snow-lined rivers and white peaks.

Jasper town site stretches out below us. Rainbow flags line Connaught Drive. Decorated storefronts display messages like “proud and free,” and “love is love is love.”

A man with a rainbow ribbon wrapped around his cowboy hat smiles warmly at us as we head to a café after our morning hike. We’re here for Jasper’s annual Pride festival.

Jasper Pride Connaught Drive
Rainbow flags welcome visitors to Gay Pride Week in Jasper National Park. Photo: J. Boxwell

Running each April since 2009, this gathering features numerous events, colorful cupcakes, sparkly beer and plenty of community support. It is Alberta’s second-largest Pride celebration and the only gay ski week in the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

The festival’s family pride event takes place against the backdrop of Whistlers Mountain and the (mostly) frozen Lac Beauvert. A small group of us mingle around firepits on the lakefront with hot chocolate and smores before listening to two picture book stories. 2022 Jasper Pride award recipient, Mollie LaLonde Lynch, introduces us to Scott Stuart’s My Shadow is Pink, and festival keynote speaker Aynsley Graham reads The Color Monster by Anna Llenas.

Nature is all around us. A pair of geese add to the ambience, honking loudly as they land on the lake ice, their feet skidding slightly to a stop. A couple of local kids share stories they have written about the colors of their shadows. Our son tells us his shadow is gold.

My family lives in a small Alberta hamlet. We’re more at home in nature than in most urban environments. We appreciate the importance of big city Pride parades, but for us, being able to celebrate Pride in a national park is particularly special because these are the landscapes that mean the most to us.

The mountains are where we go to camp and hike and feel re-energized by the great outdoors.

When I visit Jasper, I often reflect on a memory. The first time I saw the Rocky Mountains was over a decade ago when my partner and I relocated from Toronto to British Columbia on a Via Rail train.

We’d been sitting with two Australian travelers for most of the trip, but when we reached the mountains, my partner and I moved to the big-windowed dome car to absorb the immense views.

Meanwhile, the Australians in the other car were approached by a woman who told them she’d had a bit too much to drink. She was a 30-year-old from small town Alberta, and she’d been working up the courage to say something she’d never told anyone, something she didn’t feel she could share in her own community: that she was gay.

She had seen my partner and I holding hands and assumed the Australian women were also a couple — but they weren’t, and they didn’t know what to say.

The train stopped in Jasper. When we returned to our seats, the Australians told us about the woman from small town Alberta. We never had a chance to speak to her, but I often think of her when I visit Jasper.

I think about the first time I saw the mountains and what that meant to me, and what she must have been going through at that moment. I hope she finds the joy our family does in Jasper’s rainbow colors and vast landscapes because small towns should be inclusive and national parks are for everyone.

This article was written by Josephine Boxwell. Josephine is one of Y2Y’s 2022 story gatherers. These four unique people are sharing personal stories, memories and places related to the special landscapes of Alberta’s Eastern Slopes, often perspectives that are underrepresented in mainstream media. Read other stories in this series.

We are grateful for the financial support provided by Alberta Ecotrust and The Calgary Foundation for our story gatherer series.