Fête or flop? Looking back on Montreal's year-long birthday party
$125M events budget was meant to lift Montrealers' spirits, and many were satisfied, says oragnizer
Imagine celebrating your birthday for an entire calendar year. Think of all the parties you could throw.
Montreal turned 375 in May, and in honour of our fair city's anniversary, more than 200 events were held over the course of the year to mark the occasion.
For some, it was a year to celebrate. For others, it was a year to criticize the cost of those celebrations.
Alain Gignac, one of the organizers of those celebrations, said he felt the atmosphere in the city had become kind of grim over the last few years, and a big bash was in order.
"We were aiming to get Montrealers to unite to celebrate this great city, give it a little bit of momentum," said Gignac, general manager of the Society for the Celebrations of Montréal's 375th Anniversary, the non-profit organization tasked with organizing the festivities that unfolded over the course of the year.
His organization had a budget of $125 million. Some of the events went on over a number of days. Some were large in scale, others less so.
And with 6 million visitors to the events, of those, 1.8 million unique visitors, Gignac believes the birthday party was a success.
Can't please everyone
Accounting firm KPMG was hired to measure what's called the satisfaction index among those who attended the events, and found it to be 96 per cent, which Gignac takes as a sign that attendees enjoyed themselves.
Still, many questioned the large-scale festivities, wondering why we were celebrating a seemingly random milestone, chalking it up to a Denis Coderre vanity project in an election year.
But Gignac doesn't see it that way.
"We can't please everyone," he said in a recent phone interview.
He said that the organizers feel the "action was needed and extremely well-received."
Most people may remember the biggest events because they were the flashiest — the lighting of the Jacques Cartier Bridge and the giant marionettes that paraded through the city in May, for example — but mainly, Gignac believes Montrealers will remember that for a year, the city was abuzz.
A budget surplus? In Montreal?
To be clear, Gignac's organization wasn't in charge of all the projects for the 375th.
Infrastructure projects, such as covering the Ville-Marie Expressway and lowering the Bonaventure Expressway, were managed by the city and the province.
Radio-Canada estimated the entire price tag for the birthday bash at $1 billion.
The society's $125 million budget is mainly made up of public funds — only $12 million comes from private sponsors.
He added that they were very judicious in the awarding of money to different projects, mindful of the fact that their budget is made primarily of taxpayer dollars.
Some events also didn't pan out, which helped them come in under budget.
In March, they will release a more fulsome financial picture of the festivities, he said, including the price tag of individual events which were closely guarded.
How to top this?
With all this hoopla for the 375th, it's only natural to wonder how the city will celebrate its 400th anniversary in 25 years.
Gignac said the festivities don't necessarily have to be bigger, they could just be different — more neighbourhood-centric celebrations, or events that spotlight the river, for example.
"There are so many ways you can slice this. Who knows what the future will bring? I think it will be very positive," he said.
"I'm sure it's going to be an outstanding event for the 400th."