Montreal, you look good for 375
The big (and expensive) birthday bash is entirely fitting for a city like this
When Montrealers heard the Jacques Cartier Bridge would be lit up, at a cost of $40million, to celebrate the city’s 375th birthday, it struck most as a wasteful indulgence. Others blew a gasket. How could politicians have the gall to launch this vanity project when they can’t even handle far more pressing and pedestrian duties, such as patching up the city’s awful roads and sidewalks?
Yet, there is something entirely fitting about Montreal blowing millions of dollars on a light show marking some debatably significant milestone – who celebrates the 375th anniversary of anything? – while broad swaths of the city could give a rundown Detroit a run for its money.
Once a coquette, always a coquette. At 375, Montreal is sagging in parts. But she’s still sexy and loves nothing more than dolling herself up for a night on the town. She can still never find a reason not to party, even though, by the looks of her, she could sure use some beauty sleep.
Appreciating this contradiction is the key to understanding, and loving, Montreal. She was endowed by her creators with a fantastic physique, good bones and a hardy constitution, so she never had to work out to look good. That came naturally. She started out as a good Catholic girl, but knew early on she was not destined for convent life. That would mean having to go to bed early.
And it’s at night, after all, that Montreal reveals her true personality. Hint: She’s no nun.
The lighting of the Jacques Cartier Bridge is just the latest, albeit most expensive, project aimed at illuminating Montreal once the sun goes down. Some of the ugliest buildings by day are transformed at night into kaleidoscopic wonders, thanks to the ingenuity of local designers.
The Jacques Cartier is the opposite of ugly. The 87-year-old steel truss cantilever bridge spanning the St. Lawrence River is an architectural gem, and some design purists think it’s a crime to dress it up at all. But they’re seen as party-poopers.
Three-quarters of the tab for the light project is being covered by the federal Crown corporation that owns the bridge – hence, a birthday gift from Canadian taxpayers – while the rest of the bill is footed by the Société des célébrations du 375e anniversaire de Montréal, which has a $100-million party budget funded by all levels of government and corporate sponsors. The total tab for the party, including legacy projects such as an outdoor amphitheatre, will be $1-billion.
The illumination of the Jacques Cartier is overseen by Montreal multimedia firm Moment Factory, best known for lighting up concerts for the likes of Madonna, and aims to turn the bridge into Montreal’s most identifiable, and photographed, landmark – its Eiffel Tower or London Eye. That makes its illumination a marketing gimmick, good for drawing tourists, but an odd way to mark the anniversary of Paul de Chomedey’s founding of Montreal in 1642.
It was de Chomedey who first planted a cross atop Mount Royal. The current version, which also lights up at night, has long been thought of as Montreal’s most distinctive landmark. (At least if you exclude Olympic Stadium, which most do, considering the hangover that binge caused.) So, displacing the cross as Montreal’s totem now seems disrespectful of de Chomedey’s legacy.
But what else do you expect from a lapsed Catholic girl who hasn’t seen the inside of a church in decades? Montreal’s religious past stares her in the face at every turn. Almost every street evokes some saint’s name and some of Montreal’s best real estate came courtesy of the church.
Montreal goes about her business defiantly oblivious to her previous religiosity. These days, she’s more into reconnecting with her native spirituality, anyway. She sometimes even goes by her Iroquois name, Hochelaga, which is what she was called when she first met Jacques Cartier – the one they named that bridge after – in 1535. Good times.
Montreal might not be celebrating her 375th at all, or at least not with this much pomp, had 2017 not been an election year and her current boyfriend not looking to stay in her good books. She’s dating Denis Coderre – yeah, she hasn’t always demonstrated the best taste in men. It’s no love affair, but at her age, Montreal isn’t sure she believes in love any more. Her last boyfriend cheated on her and is doing prison time. She feels so betrayed.
Luckily, her 375th party has started and she has an excuse to forget all that. She’s planning to dance until dawn every night this summer. No beauty sleep for this old gal.
The Jacques Cartier Bridge in Montreal was lit up for the city’s 375th anniversary celebration, which led to some questioning the project’s hefty $40-million price tag.