© Eva Blue / Tourism Montreal
Montreal turns 375
Giant marionettes, symphonies on the mountain, plus more to celebrate the city’s big birthday
Mid-May to Mid-March until 2019
Old Montreal is full of characters. Sometimes they rise from the cobblestone ground, other times they creep out of leafy trees. I saw two men in overalls rappelling down a tall old building. At night. In the dead of winter. The characters are large-scale animated projections in honour of people who have made invaluable contributions to the city: Charles McKiernan (1835–1889) of restaurant Joe Beef who advocated for the working class and refused service to no one “whether English, French, Irish, Negro, Indian;” Éva Circé-Côté (1871–1949), a feminist who wrote under a male pseudonym and established the city’s first public library in 1903; baseball legend Jackie Robinson who played for the Montreal Royals in 1946. Suzanne, who appears on the Old Port’s Clock Tower, is a poetic tribute to Leonard Cohen’s famous song. Launched in May 2016 and screened on the city’s most historic brick walls, Cité Mémoire is the largest ever installation of its kind in the world. Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon worked on the 23 projections for five years. A free app with historical contexts and soundtracks is available in four languages. Connect via the free MTL Wi-Fi.
Neighbourhood block parties
May 12 to September 17
La Grande Tournée du 375e will be the block party to end all block parties. Part open-air circus, gourmet food fest and impromptu art show, it’ll descend on a different neighbourhood park for 19 consecutive weekends beginning in May. The event is an easy way to hobnob with locals and discover boroughs outside downtown and Old Montreal. La Grande Tournée is presented by Cirque Éloize, which, like Cirque du Soleil, is a Quebec-based nouveau cirque troupe. They’ve performed almost 4000 times in 50 countries, and will set out to amaze audiences each Saturday night. Bakers, cheese makers and microbrewers will introduce visitors to their borough’s specialties; some homeowners have volunteered their porches and windows for art exhibits. Before you leave, check out the futuristic postal truck. Mail a postcard to yourself and it’ll be delivered in 25 years — just in time for Montreal’s 400th.
The bridge of lights
May 17 onwards
Beginning in May, the Jacques-Cartier Bridge will be a barometer of Montreal’s energy for the next 10 years. The 87-year-old structure that connects the Island of Montreal to the suburbs of the South Shore is a landmark and it’s getting gussied up with 2807 lights for the city’s 375th as well as Canada’s 150th as a nation. The colour of the sky, traffic, events (a Habs win or loss?) and the city’s overall vibe will determine the movement, speed and intensity of the lights in real time. The $39.5 million price tag is controversial. This year also marks the 50th anniversary of Montreal’s Expo67 World’s Fair. The US pavilion’s colossal geodesic dome by architect Buckminster Fuller is still an architectural feat. It’s now the Biosphere museum and is lit up now, and will be for next 20 years.
Giants on the street
May 19 to 21
Giant, 15-metre-tall marionettes with eyes that blink, and lungs that rise and fall, may sound creepy, but you’ll still want to see the biggest show on earth when it arrives in North America for the first time ever this spring. Based in Nantes, France, the street theatre company Royal de Luxe transforms city streets around the world into its stage, acting out stories and ancient legends with puppets made of poplar wood. The marionettes are suspended by cranes; a crew of 20 to 40 people control each one. A entirely new The Giants production will be unveiled at a secret location for Montreal’s 375th “to meet the people of Canada.” Catch it if you can¬ — founder Jean-Luc Courcoult doesn’t pack his puppets for just anywhere. His giants only go where performances are free and where there’s a narrative to connect the puppets to the people.
Art for peace
May 29 to October 27
It’s only fitting that downtown’s Sherbrooke Street will be lined with 67 works of art to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the World’s Fair in Montreal, Expo67. Sixty-two nations participated, 50 million people visited, making it the most successful World’s Fair of the 20th century. The theme was Man and His World, and the values of humanism, tolerance and openness will again be at the forefront in 2017. Appropriately so. Stretching for one kilometre, La Balade pour la Paix will feature large-scale sculptures, installations and photographs by contemporary artists from around the world. It’ll begin at the new Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion for Peace at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and end at the McCord Museum just after the McGill campus. The flags of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories as well as those of 200 countries will fly high over the street.
A little night music
Regardless of your taste in music, there are few things better than open-air concerts, particularly when they’re free. The Montréal Symphonique will bring together 300 musicians from the city’s best orchestras — the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, the Orchestre Métropolitain and the McGill Symphony Orchestra — for the first time ever. Simon Leclerc will direct; he once led LA’s Paramount Pictures Orchestra for TV shows like Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Enterprise. The concert’s theme is the seasons and it’ll take place at the foot of the city’s favourite four-season playground, leafy Mount Royal Park. On concert day, explore the mountain’s glorious Chalet du Mont-Royal, a make-work project during the Great Depression. There are magnificent high ceilings, exposed wood beams and industrial-sized chandeliers inside; the Kondiaronk belvedere and semicircular plaza outside features unrivalled views of downtown.
In honour of Leonard Cohen
November 9 to April 1, 2018
When 82-yeard-old Leonard Cohen died last November, hundreds of Montrealers gathered outside his home at 28 Rue Vallières to mourn, sing and read his poetry. He was buried in an unadorned pine box next to his mother and father in the neighbourhood of Outremont. A year later, the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal will host Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything compiled exclusively for the city’s 375th. It’ll consist of new works by artists who were inspired by Cohen’s style and recurring themes. After the exhibit, explore his old stomping grounds: his family home at 599 Belmont Avenue where he once brought Joni Mitchell in the ‘60s; The Main Deli Steakhouse on St. Lawrence Blvd., which he frequented with sculptor Mort Rosengarten; the lovely Sailor’s Church in the Old Port, the backdrop to his debut single “Suzanne.”
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