MONTRÉAL EN LUMIÈRE is shining brightly at 20

This article was updated on February 15, 2019.

It’s almost hard to believe that MONTRÉAL EN LUMIÈRE has been thumbing its nose at winter — and giving Montrealers an excuse to scratch their festival itch all year ’round — for 20 years already. Conceived in order to bring a little warmth, light and some festive life to the dead of winter, MONTRÉAL EN LUMIÈRE has evolved to become one of the largest winter arts and culture festivals in the world. The following is a first taste of what the festival has in store for its prestigious anniversary.

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Let there be light

Organized by the same festive folks who produce the globally renowned Festival International de Jazz de  Montréal and the Francos de Montréal French music festival, MONTRÉAL EN LUMIÈRE — which this year runs from February 21 to March 3 — draws some 1,300,000 visitors. The fest features an expansive and eclectic program of entertainment and activities encompassing an array of performing arts (live music, theatre, dance, circus arts and more), an especially extensive journey through several realms of gastronomy this year, free outdoor family attractions/distractions, more than a few surprises and the always hugely anticipated festival-closing Nuit Blanche à Montréal all-night arts party (see below).


A site to behold

The MONTRÉAL EN LUMIÈRE free outdoor site is nestled snugly in the heart of the Quartier des spectacles, itself in the heart of downtown. Jammed with all manner of vibrant activities for young and old and all points in between, the site is the epicentre of the action. Free shows on the giant outdoor concert stage, a fully-tricked-out Ferris wheel, a 180-metre zip-line over the site, immersive and interactive installations (including an extraordinary downtown circuit of ten luminous works courtesy of Illuminart), warming-up areas, gourmet pit stops, street performers, fireworks and the always ridiculously popular, 110-metre urban ice slide are all popular features of this colourful, dynamic and family-friendly winter village.

This year, those with a competitive streak can indulge their athletic side, either alone or as a team, in the RBC Sports Zone at three fun and lively, Olympic-themed installations: ice hockey, curling and mogul skiing. There are even prizes to be won. Extra bonus: real-life Olympic athletes will be on hand for fans to meet. And on the north side of the site above Place des Festivals is the Place de la famille du Lait, where you can grab hot chocolate and grilled cheese sandwiches, and where the wee ones can play on the giant games and slides.


A lot of gourmet food for thought

Fine-dining is the self-proclaimed cornerstone of MONTRÉAL EN LUMIÈRE. To wit, in the 20 years since the fest was founded, some 575 renowned chefs, wine producers and speakers representing both Québec and international gastronomic traditions have taken part in this annual ode to culinary discovery. This year the theme is “A journey around the world… and to the heart of the world,” and anchoring that are the Air France Finest Tables, featuring exceptional menus from the chefs of 45 of Montréal’s most innovative kitchens. And more than 40 of the most creative chefs from around the world will be pairing up with their Québec counterparts to create gourmet meals representing some fifteen different countries. But it doesn’t stop there — not even close.

New this year is the Quartier Gourmand, two floors in the Maison du Festival where the pleasures of the palate will be highlighted during several conferences, tastings, gourmet offerings, talks and workshops — 45 activities in all, including more than 30 free ones. On the first weekend of the festival, February 21 to 24, the Quartier Gourmand is where you can enjoy soups from all over the world (Japan, Québec, India, Portugal, Mexico) as well as soup and wine pairings. You can also try different flavours of maple syrup at the Québec Maple booth and discover the world of edible seaweed courtesy of harvester Antoine Nicolas.

The second weekend of the fest, February 28 to March 3, will focus on urban agriculture: discover a modern henhouse, an urban mushroom farm and even Buddha’s hand. The myths and realities of kombucha will be investigated, and Gourmet vegetarian food will be offered by Le Kitchen restaurant. Throughout the festival, there will also be culinary tours with experts, cooking demonstrations, a festival of cheeses, cider tasting with over 20 local producers, and the very first Nuit Gourmande for hungry night owls. It will take place in four zones representing four areas of the city (Petite-Italie, Wellington, Saint-Henri/Petite Bourgogne and Downtown). Check out the full food programming.


The sound of music

From music icons to emerging artists, MONTRÉAL EN LUMIÈRE’s musical options run the stylistic gamut: pop, rock, jazz, blues, dance, classical, world, indie, electro, experimental and more are all well-represented at free outdoor as well as paid indoor concerts. This year’s set list, so far, includes singer/songwriter Dominique Fils-Aimé, whose original, emotive work touches on many genres — down tempo jazz, blues and pop among them — without being beholden to any of them. If it’s “ethereal folk, psych rock, spaghetti western, intergalactic blues and dark pop” that you want, the always amazing Whitehorse have got you covered. And rounding out the music artists announced so far is pop singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and rising star Soran, performing on Nuit Blanche. 

On the outdoor site every night, DJs and VJs will get the crowds warmed up with sets that begin at 9 pm. And over at the Chalet Bell — a vast, heated pavilion — live music to satisfy all tastes is on the programme: Alfa Rococo (February 21), Seba & Horg (February 22), Zach Zoya (February 23), De Temps Antan (February 28) and Beat Market and guests (March 2).

Hear ye, hear ye — the White Night cometh!

All the festivities wrap up with the epic Nuit Blanche all-nighter starting on Saturday, March 2 and ending well into Sunday, March 3. It’s the best-attended single-day event in Montréal, drawing some 300,000 nighthawks out on the annual urban adventure. Nuit Blanche invites both visitors and locals to partake in upwards of 200 (mostly free) activities spread out over more than 140 places throughout the city. 

This year, Nuit Blanche looks towards the future: discover visionary works, new points of view and surprising futuristic performances taking place at nine hubs around Montréal (e.g., the Quartier des Spectacles Hub, the Quartier Latin and Village Hub, the Old Montréal Hub, the Mile End Hub, etc.). And activities this year are divided into 12 categories: action, visual arts, film, dance, exhibits, fantasy, games, light, words, music, comedy and multidisciplinary. Of note, the Quartier des Spectacles Hub will serve as the epicentre of Nuit Blanche, with free DJs and bands (including the very popular Montréal hip-hop collective Nomadic Massive) and almost innumerable activities, including the Tim Hortons Head-to-Head Challenge, where you can test your puck-shooting skills against a virtual goalie.

So, grab a metro — which is open all night especially for the occasion — and go catch a head-spinning spectrum of live music, film, dance, performance art, improv, interactive installations, storytelling, digital and visual art, great food and much more at this fitting finale of the fest.

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.


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