With Montréal celebrating its 375 birthday this year, and Canada celebrating its 150th, it’s like the city is celebrating with a birthday cake along with a side of birthday cake. And the candles? Well, let’s just say that the city has created some pretty spectacular light shows that you won’t want to miss this summer, making Montréal our very own City of Lights. So, look out, Paris, here’s what’s happening on this side of the pond:
International Fireworks Competition (L’international des Feux) July 1- August 5, 2017
Who doesn’t love fireworks? It’s one of the few things that brings out oohs and ahhhs in adults the same way it does in children. This summer, Montréal is hosting the world in this international pyrotechnic competition, and even if you don’t purchase tickets for a front row seat at La Ronde in Parc Jean Drapeau, there are plenty of other places where you can see them.
Henk and I got to see the Canada Day show on July 1st, and we decided to go for the ‘grownup’ viewing location at Clock Tower Beach in Montréal’s Old Port. Visitors needed to be 18, and there was a $5 entrance fee, but the man-made sandy beach at the foot of the illuminated Clock Tower wasn’t crowded, and this promontory gave us an unobstructed view of the fireworks and the Jacques Cartier Bridge (more on that later). There are even Muskoka chairs on the sand if you get there early enough to snag one. Or you can do what we did, and bring your own folding chairs (or blanket) to sit on while waiting for the show to start. Rumour has it the Beach might even get their liquor licence before the Competition is over, so wouldn’t a nice cold one to accompany the show be the icing on the cake! (to beat that metaphor to death!)
TIP: The International Fireworks Competition runs from July 1 – August 5, 2017. Tickets are available for reserved seating at La Ronde.
Jacques Cartier Bridge
It’s been a little controversial due to the cost ($40 million dollars worth) but the installation of permanent interactive lighting on the Jacques Cartier Bridge known as Living Connections was one of the attractions that Henk and I wanted to see and why we extended our stay in Montréal.
Developed by Moment Factory – a Montréal-based, internationally-renowned company (known for their work at places like the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, to name drop a little) – Living Connections was inaugurated in May for Montréal’s official 375 birthday celebration. The bridge will be illuminated every night after dusk, and the colours and patterns that dance along its structure will change with the seasons and the ‘mood’ of the city and its residents, since it is also designed to reflect current events happening locally and globally.
Since it was Canada Day when we were there, the bridge was alight with red and white in celebration of our national colours, and there was even a ‘fireworks effect’ meant to imitate the competition that would be happening later. Costs aside, it’s a pretty impressive work and will be one of those ‘Instagrammable’ locations every destination wants these days.
TIP: Living Connections is a permanent installation on the Jacques Cartier Bridge, so you can catch it any night you happen to be in Montréal.
It seems Moment Factory is everywhere in Montréal this summer, both outside and inside some of the city’s iconic attractions. One of their don’t-miss installations is the multimedia show, Aura, in the Notre Dame Basilica, an historic and cultural landmark in the heart of Old Montréal.
People who are fans of Céline Dion will probably remember this church as the location for her wedding to Rene Angelil back in the 90s, and it’s no surprise why she would have chosen this church for her nuptials: the basilica’s history dates back to the 1600s when the Jesuits built their first chapel here. Since then, there have been numerous reconstructions and restorations, including the most recent one following a devastating fire in 1978, but today’s church is beautiful both inside and out with architectural details inspired by the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris.
Aura celebrates the architectural beauty of Notre Dame with a lighting installation that uses the structure’s arches, vault, pillars and other details as a canvas to ‘paint’ on. It also takes advantage of the church’s acoustics by syncing the light show to an orchestral soundtrack that is inspiring and that fills the space with music. The combined effect will sweep you away. So clever and believable is the projected transformation that at times you’ll swear that the ceiling is transparent and you are looking directly at the sky above.
And for those of you who may not be church goers (Henk and I included), yes, there are some allegorical nods to the Garden of Eden and other visual references reminiscent of biblical events, but these serve more as visual inspiration than religious instruction. The show is for everyone, there’s no hidden agenda, and my advice would be to go.
TIP: Aura is scheduled to run through December 2017, but rumour has it that due to its popularity, it will be extended. General admission tickets cost $24 with discounts for seniors, kids and groups, etc. Note that photography is not allowed, and to be honest, you’ll be cheating yourself if you try to capture this through a viewfinder. Sit back, look up, and drink it all in with your own eyes.
Cité de Mémoire
I really have to hand it to Québec. When they do something creative, they go big, or they don’t go at all. For this year’s celebration of Montréal’s 375th, the city created a free app, Cité Mémoire that follows visitors as they walk around the city, offering on-the-spot historical facts and narration when you approach places of interest. But even more impressive than this is the fact that every night after dark, the actual buildings and streets of old Montréal become larger-than-life projection screens showcasing the history of the city. Supported by narration and music on the app, just walking around the city becomes a multi-media experience, one of the largest of its kind in the world.
TIP: You can download the Cité Mémoire app for free, and it is available in multiple languages.
Jazzing up the Maison du Festival
No one can argue that Montréal’s International Jazz Festival has its own roster of stars that illuminate the nights here in July, but it seems like it just wouldn’t be a festival in Montréal without a projection, and where else would you do a Jazz projection than on the home of the Festival itself, the Maison du Festival. Inaugurated in 2011 as the city’s official home to jazz culture, the building uses its own windows as frames to showcase images of some of the artists that have made the festival – and the genre – famous.
See if you can’t recognize some of the biggest names in jazz here, including Montréal’s native son, Leonard Cohen.
Try as we might, Henk and I couldn’t take in everything in Montréal when it came to light shows and spectacles. There are only so many hours in the night, and this meant we couldn’t get to see Avudo on our visit. (which still irks me!) What makes Avudo special is that the images are actually projected onto water ‘screens’ that act as the backdrop, giving this an ethereal element that I would have loved to have seen.
TIP: Avudo is still on until September 2, 2017, so if you get the chance to go yourself, let us know what we missed – or maybe not 😉
If it was any consolation, I did get to visit the Museum of Contemporary Art, where an exhibition by artist Olafur Eliasson also explores the idea of projection, images and water, involving the spectator as part of the art in many cases. So while I might not have gotten to see Avudo, I did get to play with my own silhouette and create a living art moment, as well as see one of his pieces that also uses a water ‘screen’ as a canvas.
Lights, Camera, Action!
Paris may be known as the City of Lights, but with the visual smorgasbord of light shows and spectacles offered in Montréal this summer, I would argue that Montréal has every reason to claim that title, if only temporarily. And with all of the other festivals happening, my only advice to visitors would be to bring your camera, bring your imagination, and plan to stay out late to take in all the action.
Special thanks goes to Tourism Montréal, who hosted me for part of my visit, and who introduced me to some of these attractions in the first place!