Montreal, you look good for 375

The Globe and Mail (Alberta Edition) - - GLOBE FOCUS - KON­RAD YAKABUSKI kyak­abuski@globe­and­mail.com

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.

GRA­HAM HUGHES/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

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.

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