A neighbourhood illuminated, everyone gathers for the festivities!
December 11, 2018
For those that have passed through the Old Neighbourhood lately, it has been impossible to ignore: The neighbourhood is in full-swing for the approaching end-of-year holidays! All dressed in lights along the roads and in shop windows, and festive menus everywhere, there is no doubt that Old Montreal has shaped itself to be the place for the holidays!
It must be mentioned that since this year and the previous two at least, the oldest part of the city’s neighbourhood has massively invested in winter lighting and its community as a whole has gotten involved. Mario Lafrance, director of the Société de développement commercial [business development corporation] (SDC) of Old Montreal celebrates this fact in saying: “The biggest thing that I take away from this movement is the collective effort of the SDC members, and the support of Old Montreal and the neighbourhood of Ville-Marie. It’s like a reassuring pat on the back, and I know its a step in the right direction.”
To incentivize members to decorate their window displays in the spirit of the winter lights, a contest has been organized by Radio-Canada, and besides the public prize, the most popular window display will also be rewarded. “There is a small monetary component to the prize,” Mario Lafrance mentions. “But the main reward is helping more businesses learn how to use social media to promote their products or services. This is something that is meant as to evolve as well as incite the public to discover the neighbourhood and make them want to come to Old Montreal.” Hoping to double the number of participating windows for next year’s campaign, Mr. Lafrance is also looking to be inclusive: “My objective is also for the public to follow in the stores’ footsteps, because of the 6000 residents living here, a great number of them live above the shops in the commercial district.”
Before asking its members to participate in the holiday beautification of the neighbourhood, the SDC wanted to do its part. “You cannot ask your neighbour to spruce up his yard so that it is cleaner and lit brighter if yours isn’t up to snuff!” Mr. Lafrance exclaims. So the SDC has done its homework and has turned to the city to support its vision in the short and long term. They are receiving financial support as well as the support of good faith, through via the artistic direction that Mario Lafrance is singing praises of. “We are creating uniformity – we have one theme that will allow people to identify the territory of Old Montreal, and in the three main entryways: the end of Victoria Square, the Côte de la Place-d’Armes, and the Champ-de-Mars metro station on Gosford Road, there will be arches illuminated with winter lights.”
The SDC of Old-Montreal’s favorite theme? The tree – but not just any tree. Since 2010, the first lit-up specimen was installed in Place Royale. An idea that has had time to grow in the Old neighbourhood. “It’s not just a tree, but a tree of life. Not just a fir tree. When we installed it, it wowed crowds, then we placed one in the Place d’Armes and in the Square des Frères-Charon. Mario Lafrance recognizes that it has been years since it could proceed any further, but these setbacks have not discouraged him. “I went to see the city to tell them that we absolutely need to light up Old-Montreal, and not just for the holiday season. The tree is a symbol of time that is long-lasting and has life to it, and we could continue this symbolism now and forever by keeping up the first three trees, with their simultaneous cool and warm shades of white.”
All the decorations that the SDC has acquired this year, as will be the case for the coming years, revolve around the theme of hardwoods. A judicious choice that will allow for lasting decorations, even after the holidays, and one that echoes the historic heritage of the neighbourhood. Contemporary North American history takes root in part in the centuries-old streets of Old Montreal… “Here, people come for the restaurants, the bars, to take walks… You feel like you’re on vacation when you come to Old-Montreal,” Mr. Lafrance explains. “But at the same time, there are also shops, so we would like to see an increased level of activity that would last from mid-November to mid-March. An event can be interesting, but usually only lasts 2-3 hours.”
“I just dined in the neighbourhood recently, on a Wednesday evening. It was just packed with people!” Mario Lafrance enthusiastically proclaims. And as people are coming readily for the gastronomic offerings of the neighbourhood, the SDC wishes to capitalize on this draw of attention to let their commercial and cultural offerings shine as well. “Old-Montreal is an open-air market!” Mario Lafrance says. “During the holiday season, for the past 3 or 4 years, I have been astounded to see the amount of people that come here, outside of the 40,000 workers who are already here every day!”
The party du jour of the year and its’ plethora of activities also bring in nearly 70 to 80,000 people to the neighbourhood. “If we can gather people to the Old Neighbourhood because it’s fun to tour, because it’s beautiful and well-lit, because it’s wonderful to visit among friends, co-workers, or family… then at the same time, the people will discover the decorated windows and things they have never seen before, and they will want to come back.” Mario Lafrance emphasizes, ecstatic to build a neighbourhood brimming with life that holds an engaged business community and ever increasing residents that give the Old Neighbourhood its character that is so authentic.