It's not every day you turn 350. So let the good times roll -- and Montreal and its 2.5 million citizens are ready for a Gallic-style celebration that will turn the fashionable island city into a summer festival blending the Old World with the new.
Canada's second-largest city (after Toronto) will mark its founding with a mega-birthday bash May 15-Oct. 12. Joie de vivre is the name of the game for "350 Years: Montreal -- Let's Celebrate."
The long-running show starts with the opening of the Bonsecours Market, filled with shops and restaurants, where the fete bows with "Montreal, une histoire a suivre," a chronological portrait of the history of Montreal, where Indians and Europeans alike settled because of the convergence of three rivers.
Opening night includes a sound and light show transforming the City's Place d'Armes into a lavishly decorated outdoor theater where more than 100 performers will re-enact -- in living tableaux-style -- the principal junctures in Montreal's long and colorful history.
"La Fresque historique" will run three nights, setting the stage for 150 days filled with more than 300 special events, all around the town, from the "underground city" of boutiques and restaurants oblivious to changes in the weather to Sherbrooke (Montreal's Fifth Avenue) to what Montrealers fondly call "the mountain," Mont-Royal, topped by a 100-foot illuminated cross and including a mountain park in the heart of the city designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed New York's Central Park.
Most of the major events will take place at three sites -- Old Montreal and the Old Port, la Place du 350 (a gentrified parking lot) at the new Square Beri and le Parc des Iles on the former Expo '67 site on Ile Ste. Helene. Many festival events will be free, especially those in the neighborhoods, or quartiers, at la Place du 350 and around the Latin Quarter on St. Denis.
Bonsecour Market in Old Montreal will be the festival nerve center, a clearinghouse for information, a meeting place and site of various major, large-scale exhibits and festival event ticket counters. The new Square Beri will be home to la Place du 350, showcasing performing arts events in park setting. Le Parc des Iles, a natural 75,000-seat amphitheater on Ile Ste. Helene, will host "Montreal et la chanson francophone," a July 18 tour of the world of French songs, featuring international artists.
BFor festival information, call (514) 872-1992. The city provides a free 28-page walking tour guide, listing interesting points and special landmarks.