Montréal in March: 10 Now-or-never events to experience — whatever the weather
Celebrations that make a last-minute Montréal escape a must-do.
Has the winter weather been keeping you from visiting Montréal all season long? We understand: the toe-killing cold doesn't really invite an influx of tourism, and even us Montréalers are reluctant to venture outside during our five-month hibernation. Spring comes upon us in fits and starts; some miraculously sunny days in February; melting snow reveals rusty, forgotten bikes in March; by April we're all wearing shorts, dodging the last lumps of ice and preparing for the real deal: Summer Time in Montréal.
But Montréal never really stops being amazing, even when it's wet and dreary outside. If you've been planning a trip to the city and aren't sure when to come, consider a month you might not have thought of: March. Of the million-and-one exhibits and events taking place this month, many of them are on for March only, or are in the final days of their seasonal run.
So it's not without a little urgency that we present our top 10 now-or-never things to do in Montréal this month.
Skating at the Old Port (ends March 18th) and Olympic Village (ends March 25th)
These two great rinks keep their facilities open until mid-March. The annual Winter Village festival at Olympic Park offers a lot of fun cold-weather activities including a skating rink, slides, equipment rentals, an outdoor bar, and restaurant options. Access to the park is free. If you're planning a late Marth visit, it might be a good idea to phone the park in advance to inquire about the rink's surface conditions: 1-877-997-0919.
The Old Port offers their annual Natural Skating Rink, which is a bit pricier but offers a much bigger, more picturesque rink perfect for dates and full days. Check out their website for rink conditions, theme-night listings, and directions.
TEDxHEC Talks: Changes That Matter (March 17th)
The latest edition of TEDxHEC Montreal is set to start on Saturday, March 17th. This bilingual event presents 12 different speakers in the classic TED style: activities, food, and unlimited inspiration. The space itself is limited, however, so you may want to jump on this as soon as possible. More information on speakers and ticket sales can be found on the event's Facebook page.
Sugaring off at The Arboretum (March 8th and 25th) and the Sucrerie de la Montagne (ends mid-April)
Dipping a wooden stick into a trough of snow and pulling out a frozen maple syrup treat is just about as Canadian as it gets. March finds many a Cabanes a Sucres in full-swing, as maple trees start to wake up and produce the precious sugar-water galore. The Morgan Arboretum and the Sucrerie de la Montagne both offer the traditional maple-on-snow snacks, which are great for kids (and adults!) as well as other sugaring off activities.
Art Souterrain (ends March 25th)
Art Souterrain is a 7km continuous exhibit running through the heart of Montréal's (often confusing) underground passageways. The festival offers a variety of activities including workshops, lectures, and artistic performances. Since its foundation in 2009, Art Souterrain celebrates the architecture and cultural heritage of Montréal's subterranean city by bringing the work of local artists and performers out of traditional exhibition venues. This year's theme, Labor Improbus, will weigh in on the role of the individual in the modern workplace.
The International Festival of Films on Art (March 8th to 18th)
The 36th edition of the International Festival of Films on Art is set to kick off on March 8th. Focusing on the niche genre of films about the process and celebration of art, FIFA is the largest festival of its kind in the world. They offer a rich and distinctive program of international films, a series of special events, and an awards ceremony. No less than 36,000 festival-goers attended last year! To this day, the Festival has presented nearly 5,000 films from 71 countries.
End-of-season skiing on Mont Tremblant (closes early April)
Mont Tremblant offers year-round activities, but it's best known for its ski slopes which will close in early April this year. Tremblant's summit sits at 875 meters (2871 feet) and offers a breathtaking view onto the Laurentians. After you check out all 96 ski trails, head down to the beautiful town of Tremblant below for a warm fireplace and a classic apres-ski. Though the mountain is not technically in Montréal, it's close enough to warrant a day-trip or two.
The Leonard Cohen exhibit at the MAC (ends April 4th)
This multidisciplinary exhibit combines visual art, virtual reality, interactive installations, performances, music, and much more — all celebrating and exploring the life of famous Montréal-native Leonard Cohen. The artwork being showcased at the Contemporary Art Museum (MAC) was specifically commissioned and designed for this exhibit, and offers a truly immersive (and sometimes eerie) deep-dive experience. The collection caters to diehard Cohen fans and passers-by alike; it's worth a mind-bending visit no matter how well you remember the lyrics to So Long, Marianne.
The St. Patrick's Day Parade (March 18th)
Make sure you include a little green in your luggage if you plan on visiting Montréal over the March 17th weekend. The Montréal St. Patrick's Day Parade starts at noon, March 18, on Bleury and de Maisonneuve (the parade no longer runs along Saint-Catherine due to the never-ending construction), and celebrations go late into the night. Get ready for big crowds, boozy floats, green balloons, shamrock sunglasses, and lots and lots of bagpipes.
Free circus activities at TOHU (ends March 9th)
Is Cirque du Soleil one of your reasons for visiting Montréal? Did you know that we also have TOHU, a "Mecca for circus performers," which hosts shows and events all year round (at a considerably lower price)? This March, there are numerous free events at TOHU, including an outdoor snowshoeing adventure animated by characters on stilts, and indoor exhibits for families. There are four March-only paid performances as well. If you're starved for Cirque-level wows, then TOHU is a great winter alternative.
Butterflies Go Free at the Botanical Gardens (ends April 29th)
The annual Butterflies Go Free exhibit at the Montréal Botanical Gardens is a perfect way to welcome the spring season. Every year, the gardens release a total of 15,000 to 20,000 butterflies into their main greenhouse, where visitors get to roam free amongst some 50 different species. This year's Butterflies Go Free theme looks at the relationship between butterflies and their habitat, and visitors are taught how to make their homes more butterfly-friendly in the summer.
Chloe Rose Stuart-Ulin is a Montréal-based journalist and editor. Her non-fiction work has appeared in Ha'aretz, CBC, Lilith, Maclean's, and The Garden Statuary. Follow her @chloerosewrites.