Quebec City families finally get the fair they've been waiting for

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Photo: Sophie Rivett-Carnac

The founding president of the Parents and Kids Fair, Louise Benoît (far right), takes time to talk to some of the many mothers present.

It's hard to believe that the Parents and Kids Fair is celebrating its inaugural year in Quebec City. But, 22 years after what is now recognized as the BIGGEST consumer fair for the family was launched in Montreal by Louise Benoît, the Salon Maternité Paternité Enfant has finally floated down the St. Lawrence River to make a big splash in la Capitale nationale.

By mid-morning on opening day, there was a neat queue of mums with baby bumps and dads with strollers outside ExpoCité. Once inside, they were handed a map by beaming stewards and encouraged to go forth and explore the treasure trove of exhibitors.

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Hungry work: after a busy morning wandering around the fair, Roselle and her mother Susana sit in one of the well-appointed eating areas to have some lunch.  

By 11:00 a.m., ExpoCité was bustling in a way that one of the city's old Sunday markets might have done in days of yore. "This is fantastic!" said founding president Louise Benoît when I asked how things were going. "We never hoped for such a turn-out on the first day - not only that, in the first hour!" Looking at the scrum of mums and dads around a stand offering free baby-wipes, I was struck with the feeling that Quebec City had been waiting for something like this for a long time.

Former teacher Alyson was exhibiting at the show. The mother of 14-month-old Rose and owner of baby boutique Rosalice, she's been only too aware of the lack of parent-baby services in Quebec City. "The parents of Quebec needed an event like this. Every year I'd go to Montreal for the Parents and Kids Fair there. But not everyone is able to make the trip. The fact that it has finally arrived on our doorstep is fantastic for everyone." She returned to her stall with an enthusiastic step to show reusable diapers to a small crowd of expectant (and expecting) mothers gathered there.

Everything you could possibly think of in terms of baby gear is present within the four walls of ExpoCité. From baby toiletries to books on breast-feeding, pharmacies to photography, infant hair-care to hypno-birthing - it's all there. Expectant mother Andréane was impressed. "I came here out of curiosity really," she said, "I am seven months pregnant with my first and there are a lot of things I need to purchase for our baby-to-be and I know it's cheaper here than in the malls." (I later found out the larger stores like Chez Clément were covering the sales taxes.) "Lower prices meant there was an incentive to come. But also I just wanted to show my support for the event. We need more things like this in the city!"

All this is music to Benoît's ears. Born and raised in Lévis, she is both a mother and a grandmother. She is also as shrewd businesswoman - a lady with an eye for an opportunity. While I wandered around with her, she explained how the original vision had come about. "I had been working in the events business for a while. One day I was sitting on my terrace and I noticed how many pregnant women and families were walking past. It suddenly occurred to me that there were events for everything; camping, climbing, cars, beer, books - the list is endless. But there was nothing for the family-to-be market." Seizing upon this realization, she decided to start up the first-ever Parents and Kids Fair in the province of Quebec. Two years later, the doors opened at the first show in Montreal.

A keen supporter of female business leaders, Benoît proudly states that 65% of exhibitors at the Parents and Kids Fair are women with their own business. "This is very important to me," she says, passionately. "If I can provide a space for women to make their businesses known to a wider audience, I am happy."

We are interrupted by a bright-eyed young thing who politely informs my host that the Halte-Bébé (a space replete with rocking chairs, changing stations and microwaves) is full to bursting. I leave Benoît walking briskly off to tend to matters.

Mother of two Susana was feeding her youngest, Roselle, some lunch. "They have thought of everything," she says, nodding to a baby high-chair at our table, as if to illustrate her point. "I've been to smaller baby shows like this in Quebec City in the past, but nothing nearly as well organized. The stalls here are more relevant, more useful. If my oldest daughter were here, she'd love the play zone. Plus, it's nice to come to these events and get some good bargains - and freebies." She showed me a bag from the show's long-term sponsor Jean Coutu packed with baby-themed clobber, before returning to Roselle, who had devoured her strawberry yogurt and was now gesturing urgently at a stick of squeaky cheese.

Lunch-time had well and truly arrived, and parents and their kids were still streaming in thick and fast. Benoit was preparing for her afternoon presentation before the baby fashion show began. I made my exit. The thought crossed my mind muse that - rather like an early baby bump - Quebec City's Parents and Kids Fair is only going to do one thing: get bigger.