The long, gloomy days of February aren’t for the faint of heart. But, amid the never-ending winter, Montreal brought some life and light—quite literally—back to the city. On Feb. 16, Montreal’s Quartier des Spectacles opened its doors to Montréal en Lumière, welcoming teenagers, students, and parents looking to keep themselves busy over spring break.
Located steps away from the Place-des-Arts metro station, this 18-day-long festival included an array of events catered to foodies, concert lovers, and outdoor-activity fanatics. Skating rinks, concerts, shows, DJ booths, food trucks, and outdoor exhibits lined the intersections of Jeanne-Mance, Balmoral, St. Catherine, and de Maisonneuve Ouest. Most of the outdoor activities were free and open for hours on end, making the festival accessible to those with varying schedules. And, for students like myself, with a small budget and some extra time to kill during Reading Week, this was the perfect occasion to ditch the books and get a taste of Montreal’s cultural scene.
Establishing an action plan prior to my arrival would’ve been appropriate considering the festival’s popularity, but, alas, it had completely slipped my mind. As I wandered into Place des Arts at 9 p.m., skates in hand, my friend and I were baffled to see how the length of the queue for the skating rink—or skating “loop,” as it was described—rivalled that of McGill’s Activities Night and how, by 10 p.m., it seemed to be primarily composed of eight to 12-year-olds. After much shivering and endless back-and-forths between the rink and the central fire pit to warm up, we finally made it onto the main rink.
Most of the fun had less to do with the actual skating—or participating in any given activity—and more to do with simply enjoying the ambiance. MingXi Gu, U1 Science (and first-timer at Montréal en Lumière) quickly came to realize this.
“I’ve never seen the city so lit up,” he said. “The energy was amazing—the lights and music truly made the city feel magical.”
Braving the cold and the interminable lines called for a must-needed wintery treat—good thing for Beaver Tails, Tim Hortons, and the event’s signature maple taffy. Although $9 for a Beaver Tail seemed a little bit pricey, nothing beats the feeling of wolfing down a piece of Nutella-coated fried dough after shivering in the -13-degree-Celsius weather for a few hours.
Beyond the radiating energy of the festival, what was most enjoyable was getting outside in the wintertime, which can otherwise be very difficult. Colder temperatures are often an excuse to stay indoors, but Montréal en Lumière’s objective was to make spending time outdoors more appealing to all, despite the colder temperatures of the season. The festival’s various activities and creative ways of keeping participants warm was its way of doing just that.
“Despite people’s general lack of motivation and the season being so dreadful, everyone really came together to make Montreal feel alive again,” Gu shared.
For locals, Montréal en Lumière is an excellent reminder of all the city has to offer and the benefits of getting outside and enjoying the wintertime, even when it seems impossible to do so. But, for international students, it can provide even more—an understanding and appreciation of the city and its culture beyond the few neighbourhoods surrounding McGill’s downtown campus. Conveniently located and low-cost, Montréal en Lumière is a pit stop for those looking to combine fun, accessible, affordable, and creative pastimes.
Unfortunately, the festival—with all of its shimmery lights and loud music—came to an end on Sunday. But, for those who missed out or who are looking for a similar taste of Montréal en Lumière, the city has similar—albeit warmer—events lined up in the upcoming months, including Quebec’s International Film Festival, starting in April, the Jazz Fest, which kicks off on June 29, along with its comedy-centred Just for Laughs festival, which takes place in July.