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  1982

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CLUB DES TALONS HAUTS

The challenge was that Gilles Ste-Croix had only a few individuals whom he could count on to help him with the endeavor. However, just before the tourist season began, Guy Laliberté, barely 20 years old, had unexpectedly arrived at Le Balcon Vert in Baie-Saint-Paul.

Originally, Laliberté intended to work in James Bay, where he expected to quickly make the money he needed to pay for his studies in nuclear engineering, but his plans were set back by a strike among the workers that had prevented him from working there. And so, Laliberté found himself in Baie-Saint-Paul, where he was hired as an activity coordinator in exchange for lodging. A proactive young man, Guy “Pantoufle” (slippers) Laliberté would eventually even be chosen to be a candidate for the Parti Rhinocéros (a comedic political platform to contest the federal election) in 1980. As a member of the party, one of his audacious proposals was to build a macramé bridge between Saint-Joseph-de-la-Rive and Isle aux Coudres - a project that was certainly a demonstration of his originality and imagination. Another young mover and shaker was Daniel Gauthier, who, after his studies in management, became the manager and accountant for Le Balcon Vert.

In March 1980, Gilles Ste-Croix and Sylvain Néron officially founded the Échassiers de la Baie Enr., an entertainment and artist agency. They applied, without success, to the government for funding. It was Gilles Ste-Croix who then organized a stilt-o-thon that would allow them to raise funds and generate a little publicity for their project. They planned to walk all the way from Baie-Saint-Paul to Quebec City on stilts (a distance of more than 90 kilometers [56 miles]). The major challenge along the way was that the route climbs over a series of ridges known as the Caps, the highest summit being more than 740 meters [2428 feet] high. The climb is a feat in and of itself, not to mention the rest of the journey. Gilles Ste-Croix succeeded in reaching Quebec City and upon his arrival his achievement makes the front-page headlines of a local newspaper known as Le Soleil. The campaign was a success and enabled them to collect $60,000 in addition the ample free publicity for their organization.

The first show given by the Échassiers de la Baie was centered on a legendary character from the Charlevoix region: Alexis Lapointe alias le Trotteur (1860-1924). The show, written and produced by Jean-Pierre Brouillé, included three musicians and seven actors on stilts. The premiere of the show took place on June 23rd, 1980 in the Baie-Saint-Paul hockey stadium. Alexis le Trotteur was then presented in a number of regions across Quebec. This show clearly demonstrated the artists' desire to promote the cultural heritage of the Charlevoix region where they had put down roots. It also demonstrated their interest in developing a circus act that involved people on stilts instead of the traditional show animals. Unfortunately, though well received by critics and audiences that year, it was a financial failure.

Quebec had a similar circus tradition like most European towns, and to promote circus arts and street performers in Canada, the young artists there pooled their talent and dreams and went on to found the "Club des Talons Hauts" (or "High-Heels Club") April 7, 1981. Its purpose was to raise public funding through government programs, particularly employment programs. Although the Échassiers had been little more than an entertainment agency composed of volunteers, this new enterprise would set forth to carve its own creative niche in the popular entertainment industry. During the summer of 1981, the Échassiers continued to tour Quebec under the management of Guy Laliberté. Then a new show, called Le Défilé du Dragon [Parade], was added to the troupe's repertoire.

That winter, with a subsidy of $10,000, the Échassiers de la Baie presented the new show in hockey stadiums all across the Province of Quebec (at intermissions of course). The show's skating stilt walkers (quite a risky feat) received only a lukewarm welcome from hockey fans, though. Nonetheless, the group was able to balance its budget during its second year of operations. And so, the time had come establish a common vision of the group's future, in order to be able to develop more substantial activities. Therefore, La Fête foraine de Baie-Saint-Paul (the Baie Saint-Paul Fair), a cultural event in which street performers from all over met to exchange ideas and techniques, and enliven the streets of the town for a few days, had been born.


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