A must-visit list of 375MTL legacy projects

Jamie O'Meara

For the occasion of Montréal’s year-long b-day party, the city undertook three-dozen-or-so 375th anniversary “legacy projects,” innovative initiatives designed to not only pay their respects to the city’s already considerable historical legacy, but to propel it into the future for generations to come. The following is a hit list, or rather a list of hits, of must-see sites, exhibitions and other newly created or reimagined spaces.

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Forget mood rings, Montréal has a mood bridge

Living Connections: This flagship anniversary project in honour of both Montréal’s 375th anniversary and Canada’s 150th, sees Montréal’s enormous, architecturally unique Jacques-Cartier Bridge bathed each night in pulsing, interactive lighting activated in real time. The bridge’s illumination will change depending on the season of the year, the spirit of the city (e.g., the light patterns might shine more brightly after a Canadiens victory) and the mood of the mayor (just kidding… we think).

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Moving street art

Bleu de bleu: Visitors arriving by air to Montréal are now greeted by a lengthy, and very blue, stretch of road running connecting the airport to downtown. The 8-km-long art installation Bleu de bleu – designed to evoke the shores of the St. Lawrence River – pulses and adapts to the changing, surrounding cityscape. The brainchild of internationally renowned artist Alain Paiement, the ambitious installation combines painting, photography, installations and architecture in happy hues of blue.

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From “heat island” to urban oasis

The Bonaventure Project: Running from the picturesque Lachine Canal north to Notre-Dame Street on the southern edge of downtown, the reconstructed, super-user-friendly Bonaventure boulevard prominently features two cool new public artworks: Source, honouring the importance of water in the city’s history (watch its construction here), and the climbable Dendrites, which invites viewers to inhabit the landscape (see it being built here.) It also has newly created public spaces, safe pedestrian corridors, a Trekfit space, a couple of ping pong tables, chaise lounges for chilling and a ton of new trees.

Thanks for the (city) memories

Cité Mémoire: In what is indeed highly memorable, Cité Mémoire transforms Old Montréal into a giant, metaphorical open-air museum. The work – which consists of some 20 video projections on trees, walls, the ground, you name it – takes place all over the old city and invites passersby to meet some of the characters who’ve coloured Montréal since its 1642 inception. You can download a free app, Montréal en histoire, and have what you’re looking at explained to you in the language of your choice (as long as your language of choice is French, English, Spanish or Mandarin).

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Take a stroll between worlds

The Promenade Fleuve-Montagne: As truth in advertising goes, it doesn’t get any better than the “River-Mountain Walk,” which is exactly what it says it is, albeit at the risk of severely underselling itself. The 3.8 km pathway joins the Island of Montréal’s two great defining natural features, Mount Royal and the St. Lawrence River. The Promenade showcases the city’s history, heritage, panoramas and cultural uniqueness along a new route that incorporates broad pedestrian passageways and rest areas, and walks you through some of the city’s most emblematic places.

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Telling it on the mountain, literally

Escales découvertes: Speaking of Mount Royal, the innovative Escales découvertes (“Discovery Stops”) project takes storytelling to the next level. This self-guided, exploratory tour of the three summits of Mount Royal highlight noteworthy landscapes and heritage features, as well as lesser known, hidden tidbits, using 3D maps, signs, stopping places and directional markers. Partakers are encouraged to listen to their instincts and see where it takes them.

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A caring gift for one and all

The Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion for Peace: Want to know about generosity? Know about Michal and Renata Hornstein. In 2012, the Holocaust survivors donated a collection of old masterworks valued at $75 million to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. To house these, and some 600 works from the MMFA’s collection – Rembrandt to Rodin, Monet to Matisse – the museum opened an international art and education pavilion (the museum’s fifth pavilion) with two of the building’s four floors earmarked for education, social and community programs, as well as art therapy and wellness activities.

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A metamorphosis that would impress even Kafka

Parc Frédéric-Back: At one time a vast, vast quarry, then an at-times controversial landfill site, then the Complexe environnemental de Saint-Michel… And now? An expansive park that’s fully alive with one especially unique feature. Parc Frédéric-Back’s evolution has been long but worth the wait. Open-air shows and other activities take place in the centre of the park, and there are several picnic areas and points of interest, including public works of art and belvederes, one of which has a 360-degree view of downtown, Mount Royal and the Olympic Stadium. And not to be missed: the many spheres covering the wells of captured biogas, which glow phosphorescently at dusk.

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A “place” where old and new meet

Place Vauquelin: Sitting discreetly to the immediate west of City Hall in Old Montréal is one of the most charming public squares in the city, Place Vauquelin. It’s long been a place for Montrealers to take a load off while enjoying the square’s fountain and monument to 18th century French navy captain Jean Vauquelin. The preservation and enhancement project saw the restoration of the monument, the fountain became interactive with sound and light, and the pavement of the square is heated, making it accessible year-round. Fun fact: the fountain fight scene in X-Men: Days of Future Past was shot here.

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Growing a tribute to ancient origins

The Jardin des Origines: In the shape of a turtle – a symbol of creation in many aboriginal tales – the Maison Saint-Gabriel, Museum and Historic Site’s new garden, the Jardin des Origines, is inspired by crops grown by First Nation peoples from the 17th century. The garden focuses on themes such as medicine, nutrition, the making of clothes, basketry and embroidery, and evoke the contribution of women, aboriginal women in particular, to the founding of Montréal.

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It’ll be the envy of Romans everywhere

Parc Jean-Drapeau amphitheatre: We’re building a humungous natural amphitheatre (65,000 capacity) on the site of international-calibre outdoor music festivals Osheaga, Heavy Montréal and ÎleSoniq, and if you thought it was amazing before, you’re going to love what’s coming down the pipeline when they tie a bow around it in 2019. Additionally, the long, broad central pathway leading to the amphitheatre, and connecting the Biosphère to the Calder sculpture (L’Homme), will also be completely redeveloped as part of the welcome restoration of this hugely popular site.

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And aaaaaall aboard!

The Alexandra Pier: The historic Alexandra Pier in the Old Port is one of the first things the ever-increasing number of cruise ship passengers see when they float into Montréal, so naturally we want to make a good first impression. The facelift to the pier and terminal includes expansive public space at the end of the pier, a green roof that’s accessible at all times, and the addition of a new tower in 2019 with an unparalleled view of Montréal and the St. Lawrence River. Landlubbers and sailors alike will also be able to learn about the colourful history of the Port of Montréal and the Pier by visiting an exhibition space on the second floor of the terminal.

Jamie O’Meara

Jamie O’Meara, blogger

Jamie O’Meara is a writer for The Montreal Gazette, C2 Montréal, Moment Factory and more. He also manages the PR Team at the Just For Laughs Comedy Festival and is the former Editor-in-Chief of alt-weekly newspaper HOUR Magazine.