The mid-20th century birthed the modern concept of Nuit Blanche, an annual all-night winter festival celebrating civic life and the arts through the cold hours of the evening. Over 120 cities worldwide now throw a Nuit Blanche party, or a close equivalent. Montréal was the first Canadian city to do so, launching its annual festival in 2003.
My first Nuit Blanche was last year, and it was a protracted and hectic affair of which I mostly remember being cold and irritable. Held in the Old Port of Montreal as it was, participants had a lovely view of the historic heart of the city…while they suffered the buffeting ice winds that come in off of the river at night, without buildings or foliage to protect them. The layout also made crowd management difficult, and there were several times where we had to give up on activities after a long, icy wait, because we knew there was even more frigid time between us and a tour of the Basilica or a ride on the Ferris wheel.
This year’s activities shifted its concert venue into the Quartier des Spectacles, and with good results. As in previous years, there were activities spread out throughout other neighborhoods of the city, including free museum visits, but my colocataire and I had opted for a more low-key, wander-and-enjoy evening with a loosely-outlined plan.
We intended to visit Les Forges de Montréal, to watch a live demonstration of cast iron production at a blast furnace, and the construction of a Wallonia-inspired wall panel. Unfortunately, we we were busing into unfamiliar territory, and we didn’t jump off of the bus at the right point. What followed was a 30-minute nighttime tour of Nun’s Island, under the fear that our bus would take us over the river and to the south shore, further from our objective. We had to make our way back to a metro station, opting to return to the city proper and pass on the ironworks after getting too turned around to re-orient ourselves. It was already almost 8 p.m. by that point, and we knew other spectacles would be starting that we wanted to appreciate.
We metro’d to the Old Port, and took in the live ice carving there. A group of francophone teenagers took the opportunity to put on a dance demonstration, frolicking the carver’s blasting club music while she took her chainsaw to a block of ice and etched out a goalie.
From there, we secured ourselves some maple cider and walked toward the Quartier des Spectacles for the main events.
DJ Mini was keeping the square entertained and lively, and her songs certainly made the wait for the Ferris wheel seem shorter. My attempts at photography from the peak were thwarted by a camera with mediocre low-light capabilities and a moving wheel gondola, but c’est la vie.
Dancing, hot fries, and hot waffles followed as we took in the music and the projection art being cast up on the facades of the buildings surrounding the square. The colocataire and I managed to secure a spot by one of the fire pits (of which there were too few) to warm up and regroup. Unfortunately, by then it was midnight — we had missed the opportunity to take a Basilica tour, or to see some famous trials recreated at the Musée du Château Ramezay. These things, like the ironworks, will have to be investigated at another time. Likewise, with Le Cabaret du Roy, an Old France-themed pub in the Old Port, which was hosting pirate gambling that night. (Though I shudder to think of what fare a vegan might expect from a recreation pirate ship galley…)
The temperature dropped, quashing our desire to run off and catch any last event. We ultimately kept by the fire for so long that our coats now smell of woodsmoke!
There must be a secret to optimizing one’s Nuit Blanche, but I’ve yet to figure it out. The cold and the waits make things ceremonially slow; the key there is having excellent company and a flask of something warm tucked in your jacket.