The city’s 375th anniversary kick-off underwhelms

The bridge lighting was just the start of a series of expensive events that will attract loads of protesters along with casual spectators.


In a battle between the cutting-edge technology of computer-controlled LED light displays and good old gunpowder, it’s safe to say that the tech of 2,000-year-old fireworks were the highlight of Wednesday’s Jacques-Cartier Bridge light show.

Even from a vantage point near the foot of the bridge on Notre-Dame Street, the light show was underwhelming as the hundreds of thousands of Montrealers attracted by the hype over the $40-million installation watched in largely bemused silence until a burst of fireworks near the beginning and at the end of the 28-minute show gave them something to cheer about.

Although the organizers had heavily publicized the existence of an accompanying soundtrack by Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s Orchestre Métropolitain and other artists — accessible via a downloadable AmpMe app or through radio station Rouge FM — if anything, the crowd around me was much more unplugged than usual. Perhaps it was because, like us, people had trouble even accessing their wi-fi, so a century-old tech called radio proved more reliable than the latest app.

In fact, the best seats in the house were probably at your own house, if you had a decent view and a reliable Internet connection. Ex-pat Toronto friends who could see it from their balcony and listen to the soundtrack on their stereo told me it was “raaaaaaaad.” So I plan on inviting myself over to their place for the Loto-Québec fireworks competition, which also has a bitchin’ soundtrack and will no doubt add a dozen more A’s to their description.

If you want to fully appreciate the show, though, complete with music and multiple camera angles, from the river and the air, you could watch it here to fully savour what you missed by watching it live.

(In all fairness to mayor Denis Coderre, the city only wasted $9.5-million on this; Ottawa chipped in $30-million as part of celebrations of the country’s 150th birthday.)


There’s no doubt the event drew plenty of onlookers, Old Montreal was packed with the curious, though the crowds were thinner and more subdued than they were when I was last down there for the Montreal International Fireworks competition last summer.

Yesterday’s light show won’t be the norm, of course, for the 10 years the “disco bridge” is supposed to be in operation. Drivers and local residents might find a flashing and constantly changing display a tad distracting, annoying or even dangerous when the bridge is actually opened to traffic (which it wasn’t last night). Instead, the 365-colour palette (why not 375?) of LED lights is henceforth supposed to reflect the mood of the city on any given day, so expect a lot of blue from January to March.

Or red, when Montrealers begin to realize that the price tag for celebrating the artificial “milestone” of 375 years of colonial settlement cost taxpayers more than$1-billion, according to Radio-Canada.

It also seems a tad late to be studying how the lights might affect the psyche of Montrealers living near the bridge. Yet the Journal de Montréal reports that researchers from Université Laval — with the aid of an American firm hired for another $29,000 for a total cost of who-the-fuck-knows — will look at whether the lights can help relieve seasonal affective disorder among the impoverished denizens of the nearby Centre-Sud and Hochelaga-Maisonneuve areas. (I can’t help thinking it might have been cheaper to hand out free strings of Christmas lights.) They’ll also be looking at the bridge’s contribution to light pollution and the effect of the lights on local fish and fowl — the kind of studies I would have thought should have been done before you sign a $40-million, 10-year contract.


Yesterday was also a big day for protesters, with a contingent of 2,000 cops marching on city hall (one of the few occasions where police estimates of crowd size probably exceeded that of objective observers) to protest their 3.5 years without a contract. Cops also rented space on four huge billboards to mock mayor Denis Coderre for his “mépris” (contempt) for the city’s boys and girls in blue. Or should I say multicoloured camo? They also tried to disrupt the light show with chants and huge spotlights of their own, and have promised further disruptions this summer to spoil the mayor’s party.

Animal lovers also gathered at city hall to vent their anger over a mayor that many view as arrogantly contemptuous of their concerns over the city’s ban of “pit-bull-type” dogs, the welfare of calèche horses and the treatment of animals in a rodeo the city has commissioned as part of the 375th party.

Coderre has refused to back down on the rodeo plans despite opposition from the SPCA and animal welfare groups concerned about the traumatization and possible injury to animals in rodeo events, which are hardly part of Montreal’s heritage. Despite promises that the animals will be well-treated between shows and vets will be on hand to treat injuries, it’s a little like saying you’ll treat your cat to kibble and cuddles before chasing it around the apartment with an air horn.

The three-day event, which starts Aug. 24, is well on its way to becoming a huge black eye for the city and is attracting condemnation from animal welfare activists from across the country. (You can chime in by signing the petition here.) The poorly publicized protest outside city hall yesterday will no doubt pale in comparison to the pickets and rallies you can expect when the rodeo rides into town this summer.

On that day, they might want to consider colouring the bridge black. ■

Peter Wheeland is a Montreal journalist. His sardonic observations about the city and province appear on Cult MTL every week. You can contact him by Email or follow him on Twitter.