DJ tunes and cannabis smoke wafted over a bundled-up crowd celebrating the annual Montréal en Lumière winter festival. Daredevils in hockey skates raced between French and English canood couples. It was a very Canadian evening.
“I think we’ve finally turned the corner,” said Yves Lalumière, president and CEO of Tourisme Montréal. “Everyone is working hard now. Every reservation is important.
Recovery has been slow. Hotel occupancy in February was just 33.1%, according to preliminary results from global hotel data and analytics firm STR, compared with 62.1% for the same month in 2020. For two years, tourist festivals in Montreal have been reduced or completely canceled. When they return in 2022, Lalumière wants the world to be with them.
The circus is serious business in the city. “Montreal is nicknamed the home of the new circus,” said trapeze artist Guillaume Blais, co-founder of the non-profit circus organization Le Monastère. “Not only do we do acrobatics and flexibility, but almost all the artists do theatre, dance, music. It’s very versatile. Some circus performers and technicians have left the profession amid the pandemic, Blais said, but those who remain are keen to perform.
New additions also abound on Montreal’s thriving digital art scene. With three galleries and two light exhibits, the 21,000 square foot Oasis Immersion digital art museum opened in February 2021 on the ground floor of the Palais des Congrès. The current exhibition, “Recharger/Unwind,” runs until April 18. Inside, “Floralia” by Canadian artist Sabrina Ratté imagines a futuristic archive of extinct plant species; Maotik’s interactive “Flow” is inspired by fluctuating tides.
Featuring kinetic laser installations, Japanese artist Shohei Fujimoto’s ‘Intangible Forms’ exhibit runs through April 10 at Griffintown’s converted coal-fired power plant, New City Gas. In 2021, non-profit 0x Society opened Canada’s first non-fungible digital art gallery, or NFT, on the ground floor of New City Gas, with free tickets available online. (Private 45-minute tours are also free and especially helpful for the “What’s an NFT?” crowd.) Outside the building, visitors wander through a labyrinthine open-air installation of gallerists. Station 16, whose recent ventures include a Westmount gallery and an NFT project of its own.
Ask Montrealers about the city’s creative history and you’ll quickly arrive at Expo 67: the legacy of the World’s Fair can be found throughout the city, including the Buckminster Fuller-designed geodesic dome above the Biosphere and the brutalist model community Habitat 67. Also built for the expo was the 614-room Marriott Chateau Champlain hotel, whose 38-story grid of arched windows offers magnificent — and subtly fish-eyed — views of the center -town. (It’s called “the cheese grater”, because these windows look ready to grate cheese.) Sleek renovations completed in 2021 respectfully modernize the 1960s interior, with playful nods to the original designs of Quebec architects Roger D’Astous and Jean-Paul Pothier.
New in June 2021 is the 193-room Hotel Humaniti Montreal, billed as a “smart vertical community” for integrating residential units, hotel rooms, commercial spaces and restaurants. Artwork is scattered throughout the downtown property; Stop in the outdoor courtyard to see “H Anima” in bronze and aluminum by artist Marc Séguin. Trendy short-term rental provider Sonder has added 251 units in Montreal since March 2020, including a 53-unit location in the ever-cool Plateau Mont-Royal neighborhood.
As spring dawns, hopes are high for the recovery of Montreal’s battered hotel industry. The city is open, the border too. Now many are betting that American tourists are ready to cross again.
Prospective travelers should consider local and national public health guidelines regarding the pandemic before planning any travel. Information on travel health advisories can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s interactive map showing travel recommendations by destination and on the CDC’s travel health advisories webpage.