As Canada marks 150, Montreal’s year-long 375th party already underway

By Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

MONTREAL – As Canada prepares to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017, Montreal has already kicked off its own lavish year-long celebrations for its 375th birthday.

The city launched its $110-million bash with a televised variety show and the illumination of several public buildings earlier this month, to make the celebrations 375 days long.

The programming includes more than 175 concerts, festivals, cultural events and activities — everything from freestyle snowmobile demonstrations to an exhibit on Montreal’s founding to a rodeo in the Old Port.

One organizer says the decision to “go big” was made years ago as a way of capitalizing on the joint anniversaries and to help the city move on after a rough period that has included ended traffic-snarling construction and the resignations of two Montreal mayors amid corruption allegations.

“Montreal has had a tough time over the last seven, eight years,” said Alain Gignac, the general director of the group in charge of the festivities. “But now we believe there’s a new economic movement, and we want to celebrate that.”

The city did get some recent positive attention from travel company Frommer’s, who put Montreal on its “best places to go” list for 2017 for the events of the anniversary.

The company’s website noted the city’s “carnival of fantastic celebrations” includes massive marionettes from Belgium’s Royal de Luxe Theatre, a multimedia show that celebrates the St. Lawrence River, and a Leonard Cohen exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

But some Montrealers and opposition city councillors have been critical of the event’s price tag, questioning whether the money might be better spent elsewhere.

Outside the budget for the celebrations, the city has also earmarked about $300 million for a series of “legacy” infrastructure projects including renovations to Saint-Joseph’s Oratory, improvements to green spaces, public art and a 3.8-kilometre pedestrian walkway to connect the St. Lawrence River to the foot of Mount Royal.

Opposition municipal party Projet Montreal has started a satirical Twitter account called “Montreal 378” to highlight the anniversary projects they say are running behind schedule and won’t be ready for 2017.

Leader Valerie Plante said it might have been been better to plan fewer, but meaningful projects “instead of rushing to finish everything at once.”

Gignac, however, says the celebration portion of the event will see a three-to-one return on investment and many of the projects will have long-lasting positive effects on the city.

He defends a controversial $40-million plan to install colour-changing lights on the Jacques-Cartier Bridge, saying it will become a Montreal landmark and a signature piece for several local lighting companies.

“We don’t see it as spending, we think of it as an investment,” he said.

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