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(2017 - Winter Issue)


It was at the point I was having my photo taken with Pierre Trudeau that I realized my night in Montréal had taken a surreal turn.

Yes, I realize the former prime minister is no longer with us. And, yes, I might have had a glass of wine with dinner. But I wasn’t hallucinating; I had joined an unusual dance party at the Musée Grévin, a wax museum in a downtown shopping mall.


In a large ballroom, human visitors mingled with their artfully posed wax counterparts. At one table, a somewhat lifelike George Clooney raised a toast to Marilyn Monroe. Ryan Gosling had shown up in a white T-shirt, but Lady Gaga, of course, was dressed in silver glitter. It was all a lot of campy fun.

The dance party was just one tiny facet of the enormous all-night arts celebration that is Montréal’s Nuit Blanche(March 3), which itself is the culmination of a two-week winter festival called Montréal en Lumière (February 22 to March 4). If you want to attend, I would strongly advise you to visit the Montréal en Lumièrewebsite early and make plans, as the schedule is so packed that you have no hope of sampling it all. In addition, some events sell out weeks in advance, so the wise book ahead.

Highlights include special menus at local restaurants, some created in cooperation with visiting chefs; a wide range of concerts; and free shows and activities in the Quartier des Spectaclessector of downtown.


Two other free arts events overlap with Montréal en Lumière. As the name suggests, Illuminart (Wednesdays through Saturdays, February 22 to March 4) features glowing outdoor artworks. In 2017, highlights included huge inflated humanoids clambering over office buildings and a kaleidoscopic sound-and-light show projected on a church façade. The other event, Art Souterrain (March 3 to 25), displays contemporary works by some 70 Canadian and international artists along a five-kilometre stretch of Montréal’s underground city.

Entertaining as these events are, they’re just the beginning of the fun to be had in Montréal in winter. Montréalers don’t let the city’s sometimes bone-chilling temperatures slow them down one bit.

For instance, one free outdoor attraction that runs all year is the captivating Cité Mémoireinstallation. It’s like nothing else I’ve seen anywhere in the world, and it sheds fascinating light on the city’s history. Here’s how it works: You download the Cité Mémoireapp onto your phone, then head to various sites around Old Montréal. Once you’re at a site, click a button in the app and an enormous video comes to life on a nearby façade, tree or street; the accompanying audio track plays through your headphones. In one of the most striking installations, Rocket Richard skates around the corner between two buildings as the slash of metal against ice echoes in your ears. From November through March, the videos are available every night from dusk until 11 p.m.

Montréal’s museums and galleries also have much in store for visitors this winter. For instance, at the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts, a show called Once Upon a Time . . .The Western (until February 4), focusing on the way Western movies and art created the myth of the cowboy, will be followed by Napoleon: The Imperial Household (February 3 to May 6), which showcases some 250 artworks related to Napoleon Bonaparte’s life as France’s emperor.


If you’d like to cheer on participants in a unique winter sport, visit the city on February 11 for the ice-canoeing challenge. Teams of hardy athletes half paddle, half chop their way through the ice-choked St. Lawrence River near the Old Port.

If you’re travelling with family, the Biodôme—an indoor space where you can see and learn about animals from all over the world, including penguins, parrots, lynx and monkeys—offers behind-the-scenes tours on weekends and holidays throughout the winter. Nearby, the Insectarium is usually a hit with bug-loving kids, while their parents may be drawn to the tropical greenhouses of the Botanical Garden.


Looking for a place to stay? At least half a dozen new hotels have opened their doors in Montréal in the last year, including the Renaissance Montréal (home to DJs in the lobby and walls artfully spattered with graffiti) and the Mount Stephen Hotel, located in a former private club. In addition, the Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth hotel recently reopened after a year-long, $140-million renovation that added new restaurants and lobby spaces. For a classic Montréal winter experience, stay at the Hotel Bonaventure, so you can take a dip in the year-round, heated rooftop pool.

Of course, if you come to the city for Nuit Blanche, you may not need a place to sleep at all—at least until morning.

Travel Planner

Plan your Montréal trip with a visit to mtl.org.

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