Four years ago, I saw a photograph in a Toronto newspaper, looked at Henk and said, “We are GOING to Montreal to see this!” The photo was of “The Green Man”, a giant, living sculpture installed at the Montreal Botanical Gardens that was unlike anything I’d ever seen. So when I saw a billboard in Toronto this April, advertising that a new exhibition by the same organization was coming to Gatineau this summer (just across the river from Ottawa), I told Henk to warm up the car…
Only one thing could get a self-professed Black Thumb like myself excited about anything to do with gardening, and it is this: MosaïCanada 150, the latest iteration by the non-profit company Mosaïcultures Internationales de Montreal, that is being installed in celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday.
Who or what is Mosaïcultures Internationales de Montréal?
The short answer is that Mosaïcultures is the brainchild – and baby – of founder Lise Cormier. A former head of the City of Montreal’s Parks and a landscape architect by profession, Lise had a vision 17 years ago to celebrate the turn of the millennium in a way that was both innovative and spectacular, using her knowledge of horticulture as inspiration. The result was a magical garden of larger-than-life living sculptures that combined landscape infrastructure and mechanics with design, sculpture and living plants into what has since become an art form in its own right.
The first installation was so successful that the concept blossomed into a touring international competition that is held every 3 to 4 years, and includes submissions by countries from around the world. But luckily for us, 2017 has brought MosaïCanada 150 back home with an installation that celebrates Canada. And the best news of all: Admission is FREE!
A Behind-the-Scenes Look at MosaïCanada 150
Henk and I got the rare opportunity to go behind the scenes at this year’s location in Gatineau and see just how this exhibit comes to life (literally). And fortunately for us, the day we visited, we got to meet and speak with Lise Cormier, who was on-site supervising some of the installations.
A National Theme
Lise explained that the theme of this year’s exhibition is of course, Canada, and every province and territory is represented in the 100 sculptures that will be on display. As Creative Director for the project, Lise reviews the submissions and makes sure that the layout and the subject matter fits into a cohesive design for the entire project, but each installation reflects something unique to each region and helps tell pieces of our national story.
There is, for example, a full-size train station that will serve as the main entrance to the park, as well as a CPR train that speaks to the unification of the country by rail.
New Brunswick’s entry showcases giant horses ’emerging’ from the sea representing the introduction of horses by the first European settlers.
Incorporating First Nations’ history is part of the Canadian story of course, so just opposite the Mosaïcultures Internationales’ signature ‘Mother Earth’ sculpture will be a representation of the Cree legend of Wisakedjak (a ‘Noah’s Ark’ type of installation with animals that promises to be one of the highlights of the exhibition.)
The sculptures are just in the process of being installed now, in preparation for the June 30th opening, and it was interesting to see exactly what goes into the entire process. For example, the wire frame infrastructures are laced with drip lines to irrigate the sculptures from within, (Henk can relate to the ‘build’ of course).
What look like ‘mattresses’ are actually the pockets of earth and peat that serve as the growing medium into which plants are rooted, a process that is all done by hand by horticulture professionals using tens of thousands of local plants.
Over the next few weeks and all summer long, these plants will fill out the surface of each sculpture, and although none of the plants are flowering varieties, the colours are carefully chosen to flesh out the colour palette envisioned by each designer.
Two Spectacular Gifts from China
Two of the largest installations going up are actually sponsored by the cities of Beijing and Shanghai, the designs and installation of which are completely funded by China, as a gift to Canada for our birthday celebrations.
This generosity is a testament to the relationship Lise has built with her international contacts over the years, and the friendship that has developed between our two countries as a result. (It doesn’t get more Canadian than that!)
We were even fortunate enough to see the working plans for some of these pieces, which will be spectacular when complete.
Open June 30 – October 15, 2017 in Jacques-Cartier Park, Gatineau
MosaïCanada 150 promises to be a highlight of this year’s birthday celebrations in the Capital region, and having seen the finished result of this process in the 2013 exhibition in Montreal, I can speak from experience when I say it will be definitely worth a visit – not just because the inspiration and execution are literally home-grown, but because it will be unforgettable.
TIP: To get an idea of what these finished pieces might look like when they are fully ‘fleshed-out’, visit our photo gallery of the 2013 Montreal Exhibit. Although the 100 sculptures will be different at this year’s display (with the exception of Mother Earth who will be there), you’ll get an idea of just how beautiful MosaïCanada 150 will be.Special thanks goes to Tourism Outaouais for arranging our behind-the-scenes tour of MosaïCanada 150. (And to Lise Cormier who we ‘ambushed’ with an impromptu interview and photo!)