Story by Petti Fong
MONTREAL, QUEBEC — Canada may be celebrating its 150th birthday in 2017 but when it comes to longevity, Montreal is the true grande dame of the nation’s cities.
Montreal turns 375 years old in 2017 and the festivities will consume all 365 days. Indoor and outdoor events will remind visitors and residents of how Montreal’s long history played a role in creating the dynamic, cosmopolitan metropolis it has become today.
The city, which was settled on May 17, 1642 by French explorers, is best known for a distinctive European feel with its cobble-stoned streets and stone buildings dating back centuries, and its cultural vibrancy. Home to hundreds of different cultures, Montreal always ranks high on lists of places to visit in Canada. The Vacay.ca Best Places to Visit in Canada for 2017 places Montreal as a co-No. 1 on the list. The rankings, which will be released in early January and help readers plan their vacations throughout the year, represent the destinations our award-winning editorial team of writers and photographers believe are the Canadian spots to visit this year.
For its 375th anniversary, Montreal hasn’t forgotten its storied past. A massive team of volunteers and organizers has worked to incorporate Montreal’s history, including its ancient, pre-settlement beginnings, with new displays, attractions and events. Residents will also learn something they hadn’t known before about their own city. For visitors, 2017 is the year to make a trip — whether its your first or a return holiday — to Montreal.
Montreal 2017 Highlights
Montrealers don’t stay indoors for winter and they’re ready to convince the rest of the world the city is a giant outdoor playground, regardless of how low the temperature drops.
“Montreal is a winter city, a physically active city and a great place for families to live,” declared Montreal mayor Denis Coderre.
From January until March 11, Montreal will host an avalanche of fun, festive, spectacular and sports activities during the Hivernales, one of the highlight events of Montreal’s 375th and Canada’s 150th. From Parc Jean-Drapeau to downtown, and from the Old Port to Old Montréal, people of all ages are invited to come play outside and take advantage of Montreal’s snowy wonders and festive northern character.
BARBEGAZI and Îlot Clark
For two weekends in January, the city will launch BARBEGAZI and Îlot Clark in the Quartier des spectacles, which will be transformed into a huge free playground. BARBEGAZI, whose name refers to mythological creatures from France and Switzerland, is a force of nature, featuring all kinds of physical activities to encourage participants to have fun instead of hibernating. The main attraction of the event is a playful, oversized and high-tech obstacle course where the top 10 performers get to share $5,000 in prize money. The public can also participate in this mad obstacle course … and then discover other extreme sports, such as snowskate, lumberjacking, arm wrestling and Christmas Tree throwing.
“The organization wanted to renew itself and bring the concept of BARBEGAZI to another level in order to pay tribute to the city and how much fun it is to be outside,” said Micah Desforges, founder of Tribu Expérientiel and producer of BARBEGAZI. “Our goal is celebrate the North in an unusual way, to bring Montrealers together and make them move, and finally, to spark the imagination of festival-goers during this long-awaited gathering. With a name like BARBEGAZI, which literally, means ‘frozen beard,’ we can expect an event as original as it crazy.”
I tried this one and it’s tough work. No wonder the Ice Canoe challenge draws in top-level athletes. For two days on February 11 and 12, crews will race their canoes across more than 10 metres of the glacial St. Lawrence River.
“Ice canoeing has a long history in Montreal,” says Simon Lebrun, organizer of the Défi canot à glace Montréal. “This was a way of travelling for many people, a way to get from one place to another.”
From the starting line at the Bassin de l’Horloge around the Tour de l’Horloge, to the western tip of the Bassin Alexandra, passing by the Parc de la Cité-du-Havre and Parc Jean-Drapeau (Île Sainte-Hélène), the route hugs the riverbanks so spectators don’t miss a breathtaking minute of the race. Teams will complete three (13 kilometres) or four (17 kilometres) circuits, according to their category. The Élite Men (four loops), Élite Women (three loops), and Sport (three loops) will leave the starting gate at 15-minute intervals to heighten the excitement. This year marks the 15th edition of the Montreal Ice Canoe Challenge, and the fourth of seven canoe ice races in the 2017 Circuit québécois de canot à glace schedule.
It’s not just physical activities that will be happening around the city. Montreal is also a place to discuss and engage with other people. “Les midis Ville-Marie” features 24 informal, playful, and participatory get-togethers with researchers from some of Ville-Marie’s major research institutions. Taking place in 24 of the borough’s outdoor public spaces and staged and hosted by theatre students, “Les midis Ville-Marie” includes simple yet surprising experiences in which the public is invited to engage and perform. These sessions occur between May 11 and October 19.
Montreal is known for its world famous jazz festival, but the city has a lengthy history of country music dating to its colonization days. Every Friday from February 3 to July 28, there’s country music at Bistro Le Ste-Cath and Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. There will also be reminders of the history and importance of country music. And on August 4-7, three days of festivities will include folk music in a park, on the street and indoors.