L’International des feux Loto-Quebec, the international fireworks competition at la Ronde, now in its 35th year, is back with its dubiously nationalistic explosive fun. For the third year running, the Stewart Museum, whose large courtyard overlooks la Ronde, is staying open until 10 p.m. on Wednesdays for its Illuminated Evenings to incentivise some late-night museum wandering just in time for the 10 p.m. pyrotechnic display. It is, even prior to the fireworks, a breezy view of the fat smog-red sun sinking over the Molson Beer horizon.
The first such Wednesday featured South Korea’s display, entitled Dreaming in Montreal, from the Hanwha Corporation (because let’s be real, this is a competition not between nations, but between fireworks companies). The fun in watching the shows is in obsessing with your gathered friends and loved ones about what nationalist symbology the particular company/nation is trying to convey. Moreover, there’s some ostensible theme to each nation’s dazzling nighttime detonations — South Korea’s show was apparently inspired by “movie themes” and “aimed at children.”
Watching the competition out there in the warm summer air is like a vaguely geopolitical game of What Does That Cloud Look Like? wherein you ask “Just what is it with these smiley faces that re-explode into upside-down mauve hearts?” and marvel at the psychedelic clouds of what look like cosmic mould spores and the zigzags of immense wayward sperm. All this of course comes with an accompanying musical soundtrack, broadcast on Rythme 105.7 FM during each fireworks show and featuring the kind of cringy upbeat tunes your local gym plays during peak hours. (I’m looking at you, “Thunder” by Imagine Dragons ).
Now, the Stewart Museum is itself a military arsenal dating from 1824, with two now-defunct “Gunpowder Magazines” and all those phallic canons arranged decoratively around the complex. Far more recently, however, what is now the Stewart housed Camp S/43, an internment camp in which as many as 400 Italian immigrants previously living in England and Scotland were imprisoned between 1940 and 1943. In other words, if you want to ponder the grim spectre of nationalism, the Stewart in fireworks season turns out to be just the place. You can go inside and actually touch one of the cell doors from the WWII-era internment camp, then go outside to watch one country’s decorative projectiles blast across the sky, cuddle up in the breeze and discuss the machinations of war and the paranoia and hatred than can arise out of a fear of the other. It is also, admittedly, sparkling and fun and makes for a lightly thoughtful escape from your undoubtedly sweltering apartment. ■
The Stewart Museum (20 Chemin du Tour de l’isle) Illuminated Evenings continue on July 10, 17 and 24, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., $5, free for children 12 and under. The guided tour of the fort happens at 6:30 p.m in French and at 7:30 p.m. in English.
Fireworks also continue Saturday, July 20 and 27, 10 p.m., and can be watched from the Jacques Cartier Bridge, which closes to traffic between 8:30 and 11:30 p.m. for the display.