[URBAN NOTE] “Montreal can count on a double payout, sharing a birthday with Canada”
The Globe and Mail‘s Robert Everett-Green writes about how the conjunction of two anniversaries, Montréal’s 375th and Canada’s 150th, is set to give Montrealers a memorable year.
On May 18, 1642, a few dozen religious fanatics from France arrived at an island in the St. Lawrence River, held a celebratory mass and declared themselves home. Their goal was to build the New Jerusalem and convert the heathen.
Ville-Marie could have vanished like most utopian settlements, but it became Montreal. Many current residents may have little idea of the town’s original purpose, but lots of Montrealers have reason to be glad the missionaries didn’t reach their destination, say, a year earlier. If they had, Montreal would have lost a convenient overlap between significant anniversaries for their city and the country.
Canada 150 is also Montreal 375, as anyone who lives here can’t fail to know. In public discourse, the two fêtes are like paired runners in a three-legged race: One can’t appear without the other.
The convenience of this is that everyone in town, including federalists and sovereigntists, can feel festive without having to be specific about why. Also, since national celebrations inevitably bring on capital projects, Montreal can count on a double payout for every commemorative jackpot.
Each of the past two significant birthdays for country and city have yielded significant new building projects. For the 1992 celebrations, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts built a new pavilion, the Pointe-à-Callière museum of archeology and history opened its doors near the Old Port and the Musée d’art contemporain moved to its current site at Place des Arts. The McCord Museum had a major expansion, the historic Bonsecours Market reopened and the Montreal Biodome was installed in the former Olympic velodrome. Nineteen sixty-seven, of course, was the year of Expo, the ne plus ultra of overlapping anniversary projects. Expo helped provide the spark for the construction of the Montreal Metro and much else. Most importantly, for a few weeks in the summer, it made Montreal the undisputed centre of Canada, whatever Ottawa and Toronto might think. It also stoked the fever dreams of then-mayor Jean Drapeau, who imagined putting on some kind of international jamboree every five years, continuing with a failed Olympic bid for 1972 – disastrously realized, from a financial point of view, four year later.