Montréal: a year-round circus hub

Culture, arts and heritage
Richard Burnett

Richard Burnett

Montréal is the circus hub of North America. The city is home to the National Circus School and many circus companies such as the Cirque du Soleil. Spectators enjoy taking in the circus arts year-round in Montréal.

National Circus School

Established in 1981, the Ecole nationale de cirque (National Circus School) enrolls more than 150 students from across Canada and around the world each year. The school trains creators, performing artists and educators, and offers preparatory training, its Circus and High School Studies program and postsecondary programs leading to a college diploma. A pioneer of the new circus in Canada and North America, the National Circus School has contributed to the emergence of many circus companies, the most renowned of which are Cirque du Soleil, Cirque Éloize and The 7 Fingers, all based in Montréal.

The city is also home to the École de cirque de Verdun.


Cité des arts du cirque

In 1999, major circus players in Montréal – Cirque du Soleil, the National Circus School and the En Piste circus arts national network – joined forces to build the Cité des arts du cirque with TOHU as its public venue. The Cité hosts the facilities of TOHU, Cirque du Soleil, the National Circus School and En Piste.

TOHU | L'Impro Cirque


Since its inception in 2004, and located at the centre of the Cité des arts du cirque, TOHU is a unique hall in North America, with its 360-degree circular hall seating 1,200 spectators. TOHU is also home to a permanent exhibition chronicling the circus arts in Québec, from their inception in Montréal in 1796 to international stardom. TOHU promotes the global growth of Québec circus with its annual MONTRÉAL COMPLÈTEMENT CiRQUE festival.



Created in 2010, MONTRÉAL COMPLÈTEMENT CiRQUE is the first North American international festival dedicated to circus arts. Each July over 10 days, the festival presents circus shows and events in venues and parks, on streets and sidewalks throughout the city.

Les 7 Doigts - TRIPTYQUE

Famous Montréal circus companies

Here is a sampling of some well-known Montréal circus companies:

Founded in 1984, the Cirque du Soleil has multiple shows on tour around the globe, plus several productions in Las Vegas. The Cirque also presents a show under the Big Top in the Old Port of Montréal each spring and summer.

Since its inception in 1993, Cirque Éloize ranks among the world’s leading contemporary circuses, and its shows play in cities around the globe. Its head office and creative studio are in the historic Gare Dalhousie, the Old Montréal former railway station.

Founded in 2002, The 7 Fingers – also known by its French name “Les 7 doigts de la main”, which is sometimes shortened to “Les 7 Doigts” (The 7 Fingers) – has shows on tour around the world.

Cavalia Odysseo

No horsing around

Created in 2003 by Normand Latourelle – a pioneer of Cirque du Soleil from 1985 to 1990 – Cavalia reimagines the equestrian and theatrical arts with shows that feature horses as well as riders, acrobats, dancers and musicians. Cavalia’s Odysseo show is performed in the world’s largest touring tent called the Big White Top.

Upcoming shows

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The only presenter specializing in contemporary circus in North America, La TOHU presents ESQUIVE with six acrobats from Le Plus Petit Cirque du Monde exploring and paying tribute to the trampoline (April 24 to 28); and the National Circus School presents their Graduating Students’ Show (May 30 to June 9).

The 7th edition of the Montréal Clown Festival presents indoor and outdoor programming in the Quartier des Spectacles from April 25 to 28.

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Cirque du Soleil presents KURIOS – Cabinet of Curiosities under the Big Top in the Old Port from May 23 to July 14.


The 15th edition of the MONTRÉAL COMPLÈTEMENT CiRQUE festival runs from July 4 to 14 at both La TOHU and ESPACE ST-DENIS. This year’s theme is “Impossible is not a circus” (Impossible n’est pas cirque). The festival will welcome artists and acrobats from the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States and Québec. Click here for the full program.

Richard Burnett

Richard Burnett

Richard “Bugs” Burnett is a Canadian freelance writer, editor, journalist, blogger and columnist for alt-weeklies, mainstream and LGBTQ+ publications. Bugs also knows Montréal like a drag queen knows a cosmetics counter.

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