MONTREAL – While Montreal winters are long and the days are short, the city is committed to maintaining its reputation as a festival-hosting, culturally unique nightlife capital all year round.
UNESCO declared 2015 to be the International Year of Light – a theme particularly well-suited to Montreal’s winter festivals and celebrations, many of which share the goal of illuminating winter days.
Here’s a roundup of what the city has to offer:
Every winter, Montreal’s main open-air concert venue hosts a different interactive sound-and-light project designed to showcase the city’s creativity.
The chosen project for this year is called “Impulse” and consists of 30 working see-saws of different sizes that emit sound and light as they move up and down.
The see-saws, which are activated by members of the public, are complemented by large-scale video projections on the surrounding buildings.
Marie Lamoureux, a communications consultant for the organizers, said the goal is to “have something interactive and creative that gives people a deeper appreciation of winter and encourages them to interact with public space.”
Luminotherapie runs from Dec. 10 to Jan. 31, 2016 in the Place des Festivals on Jeanne-Mance Street.
Night snowshoeing on Mount Royal
Mount Royal, the 250-metre peak in the middle of the city, is home to Montreal’s largest park and the place to go for dramatic views of the city, especially at night.
Les amis de la montagne, a not-for-profit group dedicated to protecting and enhancing the mountain, offers evening showshoe tours on Friday and Saturday evenings in January and February.
The 90-minute treks are led by one of the organization’s environmental educators, who speaks about the history of the mountain and the park.
According to Helene Panaioti, the group’s communications director, the trip provides a chance to experience both the city’s urban landscape and its natural beauty.
“The city lights and the reflection of the snow create beautiful natural lights,” she said.
“You really see the whole city.”
During the day, Mount Royal also offers skating, sledding, snowshoeing, tubing, hiking, and kilometres of cross-country skiing trails.
Equipment rental is available.
Nativity scenes at Saint-Joseph’s Oratory
The city’s largest and arguably grandest church, the Saint-Joseph’s Oratory, includes a museum with a permanent exhibit of more than 200 nativity scenes from 100 different countries, with a special collection of creches by Quebec artists.
This year a second, temporary nativity scene exhibit inspired by UNESCO’s theme of light and by the music of Acadian singer Angele Arsenault will run until the end of March.
The Oratory will also host weekly concerts of traditional Christmas organ music every Sunday afternoon until Jan. 3.
Christmas in Old Montreal
Montreal’s historic district hosts a Christmas celebration throughout December that includes a Christmas market, free outdoor movies and yoga, a telephone line direct to Santa and strategically placed warming stations.
The skating rink at the Old Port is another popular destination thanks to dramatic city views and musical-themed evenings.
It’s open every day beginning at 10 a.m. until March 6.
Montreal hosts a number of outdoor winter festivals that aim to get people outside in the snow.
The family-friendly Fête des neiges carnival takes place over four weekends from January 16. to Feb. 7 and includes paid and free activities including tube sliding, sled dog tours, skating, shows and music.
Then there’s Igloofest, a 12-day outdoor electronic dance festival spread over four long weekends in Montreal’s Old Port featuring ice-and-steel decor, snowsuit contests, and local and international DJs.
It runs Thursday to Saturday, Jan. 14 – Feb. 6.
Ages 18 and up.
Continuing on the theme of light, the Montreal en Lumières, which runs from Feb. 18 to March 5, celebrates the city’s food, arts and culture and includes massive outdoor lighting displays with family-friendly activities.