MosaïCanada plant sculpture show finishes with over 1.3M visitors

Gatineau's bright, flowery MosaïCanada plant sculpture show came to an end on Sunday, a project for Canada's 150th birthday that drew a number of visitors far beyond expectations.

About half of visitors came from outside Ottawa-Gatineau, survey suggests

Organizers of MosaïCanada in Gatineau say word-of-mouth helped them blow past their expectations of 800,000 visitors for the three-and-a-half month show. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

MosaïCanada's finale on Sunday was a soggy one, just like it was on opening day back on June 30.

But this weekend organizers of the plant sculpture show marked an important milestone — they welcomed 1.3 million visitors since day one, well over the goal of 800,000 people.

"[I'm] flabbergasted," said Lise Cormier, the executive vice-president and general manager of Masaicultures Internationales, which organized MosaïCanada in Gatineau's Jacques Cartier Park.

"At the opening, it rained and rained. My colleague told me, 'Look at the people!' … there was a lot of people who came with umbrellas. It's unbelievable."

Lise Cormier with Mosaïcultures Internationales said several visitors told her they had MosaïCanada recommended to them as the most important thing to see in Gatineau. (CBC)

Whether making their first visit or their fourth, visitors Sunday said they were wowed by the plant sculptures, which included scenes from Indigenous artists, each province and territory and Canadian history.

"The simple beauty of it, you just don't see this every day," said Karen Cayer from Ottawa, making her second trip through the free show.

"We have something so world-class in [Ottawa-Gatineau], why would you not come back?"

"They're all so good. You think you've seen the nicest one and you walk around a corner and see another one," said Kenneth Warren from Ottawa.

MosaïCanada in Gatineau drew more than 1.3 million visitors to Jacques Cartier Park. A survey by its organizers suggests slightly more than half came from outside Ottawa-Gatineau. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

Cormier, who read praise from the U.K., France and New Zealand during the closing news conference, said the show's popularity had a lot to do with word-of-mouth marketing as visitors were looking for ideas on what to see.

"It's unique, you don't have this kind of exhibition anywhere in the world," she said.

"It's plants, it's flowers, people love plants and flowers. Don't forget horticulture is one of the most important and popular leisure [activities] among the population."

Significant number of tourists

An August survey of 1,500 visitors suggested just under half came from Ottawa-Gatineau, with about a quarter coming from outside Quebec and Ottawa.

The final number crunch on tourism and economic impact is expected to be released by the end of the month.

Jihad Chararad runs a convenience store near Jacques-Cartier Park and said the influx of tourists contributed to his best summer for business since he started in 2000.

"They're asking about directions ... [buying] small things like chips, soft drinks, chocolate bars," he said.

Jihad Chararad from Dépanneur Chénier & Frères in Gatineau says MosaiCanada brought in enough tourists to make it his most successful summer yet, despite some traffic and parking challenges. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

As for what happens now, some of the smaller sculptures will go to greenhouses or back to the province that designed them.

Other bigger structures will stay in the park for the short-term future.

Cormier, the National Capital Commission and Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pednaud-Jobin each expressed a desire to see something like this happen again, while acknowledging the logistical and financial challenges of doing so.

CBC Ottawa asked viewers to share their best memories of the show over the last few months. Here is what some of them shared with us. 

With files from Joe Lofaro