Every winter, the streets of Quartier des Spectacles in downtown Montreal light up in celebration of Montreal en Lumière, one of the largest winter festivals in the world. The festival began in 2000 as a way of introducing people to Montreal’s winter scene. Combining performance art, gastronomy, unique art exhibits, and family-friendly activities, Montreal en Lumière showcases the best of Montreal’s diverse culture over two-weeks. Nuit Blanche, which literally translates to “White Night,” is a night-time festival that wraps up Montreal en Lumière each year. On March 4, over 200 events occurred in tandem in many different locations around the city, sending a pulse of energy through Montreal’s already bustling nightlife for the evening.
Despite the sub-zero temperatures and chilly winds blowing in my face, I was determined to make the most of Nuit Blanche. I started off the night at Atrium le 1000, an indoor skating rink inside the building 1000 de la Gauchetiere. Although I hadn’t skated in nearly eight years, and the prospect of going on the ice was daunting, I squeezed on my skates and made my way to the ice. The rink was lit up in hues of neon light—bright greens, pinks, and blues and, combined with the Beatles music playing overhead, the setup resembled a retro roller skating rink.
The actual skating part was difficult at first but I found myself more enthralled watching the people who were on the ice on a Saturday night. A mix of teenagers, young children with their parents, and couples were skating around in circles under the bright lights. This diversity gave the arena a very welcoming feeling, pointing to Nuit Blanche’s unique ability to bring out many different demographics on this singular winter night. Not long after I found my balance, the rink became incredibly full, which I took as my cue to move on to my next stop for the evening.
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts was my next destination. It hosted a stained glass workshop inspired by the museum’s current main exhibit, Marc Chagall’s Colour and Music, a multidisciplinary exhibit heavily influenced by Russian music and folklore. The workshop took on an arts and crafts approach, giving people the freedom to paint their own makeshift stained glass using plastic film and acrylic paints. The stained glass workshop included a free vodka and pretzel-tasting session, as well as live jazz performances. Although the lineups were incredibly long—especially for the vodka—the mood was festive. With the jazz ensemble playing in the background, people in line danced along to the music. While was fun, what was notably missing from the evening was an educational aspect, and I left with a desire for more information on how stained-glass is actually created.
I ended the night at Place des Festivals, an outdoor area that hosted many different activities. The area was full of attendees: Crowds danced to EDM, waited in line for the ferris wheel, and sipped coffee inside the warmth of tents. The winter weather encouraged a communal atmosphere among the festival’s attendees, as people crowded around fire pits with sausages and marshmallows to roast over the open fire. I enjoyed chocolate stuffed waffles from a food truck with hot chocolate, and suddenly the cold didn’t seem so biting anymore.
Despite the chilly weather and long lineups, my first Nuit Blanche experience was incredibly interesting, and I left feeling a stronger sense of community with fellow Montreal residents. I got to see a fun, artistic, and cultural side of Montreal, meeting new people at each of the events I attended. The one downside is that it only occurs once a year—now all that’s left is to wait for next winter.