She’s bold, she’s brash - and so far, she’s been a box office smash.
Flin Flon’s own Bijoux, the original winner of the Drag Kween Mermaid pageant and arguably the north’s most prominent drag performer, will hit the stage again in the coming days as part of a new kind of Flin Flon Pride celebration.
There’s a lot that goes into Bijoux’s presentation, but underneath the flamboyant red dress, bright makeup and heavy French accent sits a performer - Alain Lachapelle. When interviewed by The Reminder, Lachapelle spoke out of character as himself, preferring to let Bijoux speak for herself on stage later while discussing the transformative - and to some, cathartic - aspects of drag.
By day, Lachapelle is an occasional actor and director with the Ham Sandwich theatre group in Flin Flon. On some rare occasions though, he’s decidedly more fabulous - the bedazzled, toilette-mouthed de facto French-Canadian house mother of northern Manitoba drag.
Growing up Francophone in northern Ontario before moving, first to Ottawa then to Flin Flon, Lachapelle always wanted to try drag in his younger years but shied away from it. When the first Drag Kween Mermaid pageant took place in Flin Flon in 2019, Lachapelle felt it was time to make his move.
“Drag is always something that I’ve wanted to try. Even in my years in Ottawa and moving up here, it’s always something I wanted to do but I never really had either the chance or the guts to do it. Despite what people say about acceptance - and it’s great the way society is moving forward and all - doing it for the first time is really nerve-wracking,” said Lachapelle.
“When the Drag Kween Mermaid pageant came up for the first time in 2019, I thought, ‘This is it.’”
How did that go? Bijoux, stepping out for the first time, left with the pageant winner’s tiara and sash.
As the first local drag competition winner, Bijoux has been responsible for some growth in the local scene. The first Drag Kween Mermaid pageant had two participants - last year’s had four, not including Bijoux.
Instead of retaining the tiara last year, Bijoux MCed, taking time during the evening to have a performance of her own while allowing new talents to take to the local stage for the first time. Bijoux did eventually attempt to grab the tiara again - this time, it was a short-lived attempt to steal it and flee the venue that ended with her being subdued by authorities.
It didn’t take much of a journey for Lachapelle to find the right persona, or the right name - “Bijoux” was the name of Lachapelle’s former family cat. Bijoux’s main inspiration is perhaps the French-Canadian world’s musical greatest star.
“I’m very French-Canadian. I love camp. One of my favourite artists of all time - not one of, the favourite artist of all-time - is Celine Dion,” said Lachapelle.
“As much as she is a great songstress, she is also very camp. There’s something about that attitude, that French-Canadian kind of… je ne sais quoi, I guess, that I tried to bring out when I decided to create Bijoux.”
Creating Bijoux was part of a long process of Lachapelle opening up. Lachapelle, who came out as gay in his early 20s, recalls growing up and playing his favourite cassette - Dion’s Falling Into You - again and again, but hiding it from his family. Lachapelle is clear that his family is loving and supportive, but that he felt he needed to maintain a “manly” image to the outside world. When Bijoux shows up, that veneer leaves. Being super fish or owning everything is not the main point - it’s about self-expression.
“When I grew up in northern Ontario, I only came out when I was 20, 21. I had a lot of repressed, internalized homophobia and all that stuff. I always tried to fashion myself as masculine, so nobody would know I was gay,” Lachapelle said.
“Sometimes I wish I would have allowed her to come out sooner, if you know what I mean. Being Bijoux really allows me to be gay AF, to really let that other side of me out.”
Realizing Bijoux takes time. Much makeup is applied. Lachapelle, who typically has a beard, shaves it completely off. An over-the-top Quebecoise accent suddenly appears, along with a curly brunette wig. For a few hours at least, Lachapelle becomes an eyeshadowed avatar bound for stage, serving up an internal realness.
“As soon as I started putting on that makeup, putting on that wig, that character just came out. Bijoux… she’s in me. She’s a part of me. When you get into that character, when you get dressed up and put on that hair and everything, it allows that character to come out and really shine,” said Lachapelle of Bijoux.
“Deep down, I am a campy bitch. I love that stuff, I love the camp and charm, being cheeky.”
Lachapelle has racked up a long list of acting credits on local stage, mostly with Ham Sandwich - a homophobic lawyer in Regrets Only, an inscrupulous journalist-turned-mental hospital patient in Shock Corridor, Winston Smith in Nineteen Eighty-Four, a groomsman in the Flin Flon Community Choir’s Mamma Mia to name a few. Lachapelle said becoming Bijoux is different than those roles - mostly since Bijoux doesn’t do scripts.
“You can’t really do anything you want with it. That character is set in a particular story, in a particular script. That’s your character and those are the traits and you’re what the story needs to be,” Lachapelle said.
“With Bijoux, I can do whatever the hell I want in a way. It’s also an extension of me - it’s not a character created by someone else. It’s letting myself and that inner campy bitch come out and have fun and say and do whatever I want. You can get away with a lot more too, because it’s Bijoux.”
This year, the Drag Kween Mermaid title will take a back seat. There will be no competition this summer - instead, Creighton will play host to its own first-ever drag show July 3, the Drag Me Across Saskatchewan show outdoors at the Creighton Sportex, with talent from the Saskatoon-based YXE Drag Collective and organized as part of Flin Flon Pride. Bijoux will be making an appearance, along with Virgo Moan, the second-ever winner of the Drag Kween Mermaid pageant and current title holder.
“They asked myself and Virgo to participate,” said Lachapelle.
“I’m all in, especially since it’s going to be a live event. I haven’t performed live since the first drag pageant show, so I’m pretty excited about it.”
When asked about Bijoux’s role in the northern drag scene, Lachapelle said he is happy to see the art form is growing and more people are getting involved in different ways. He thanks the Flin Flon Pride committee and the volunteers for holding Flin Flon’s major LGBTQ+ events and providing Bijoux with a chance to find her audience.
“I’m really happy to have been able to show that in Flin Flon, in a small, northern community, you can have a drag queen in a pageant or in the Canada Day parade and everybody’s loving it. I can’t take all the credit because there are people on the Pride committee who have organized these events and made it happen so we could tag along,” he said.
“You can be a 30-something-year-old man in a dress and still be loved here.”