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Wide choice of facilities in a vibrant city


Roger St Pierre reports from Montreal

Canadians have somehow managed to soak up the best of American, French and British influences, leaving behind the worst features of those nations. Montreal may be the largest city in the determinedly French-speaking Quebec province but it’s a welcoming, warm-hearted and truly cosmopolitan place, with Greek, Italian and Chinese quarters as well as a thriving gay village. And the rest of the world flocks to this gracious metropolis set on the broad, fast-flowing St. Lawrence River just an hour or so from the US border.

It’s a great place for weekend breaks and for meetings and incentives, too. Few cities can boast such a jam-packed all-year-round events’ calendar nor offer such a diverse range of venues in which to stage them.

Hub of all the activity is the newly created Place des Festivals – a massive outdoor plaza at the heart of the Quartier des Spectacles entertainment district, hosting all manner of celebrations and major cultural events like the spectacular week-long Présence Autochine Montreal First People’s Festival, which had its 22nd annual staging last August and continues to broaden its appeal.

It’s a fitting event to be staged in such a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic city showcasing as it does the art and creative talent of aboriginal peoples – not just the First Peoples Native American tribes of Canada and the USA, but the original peoples of other countries round the globe.

A colourful procession, lectures film show, art displays, Amerindian gastronomy demonstrations and all manner of happenings – both spontaneous and arranged – are all part of the fun. Poetry readings, film shows, plays, music and dance from traditional to avant-garde, seminars, discussion groups, painting, sculpture all have a place. Events radiate from the Quartier to theatres, cinemas, galleries, bars, restaurants, clubs, social halls, churches and other spaces across town and beyond to the Kahnesatake pinewoods. For a week, the drum beats to a very special rhythm, celebrating the incredible cultural splendour and diversity of the First Peoples.

One of the highlights for me was watching a Moroccan Berber tribesman, in exotically flowing robes, playing manic down-home hillbilly blue grass music on an electrified version of an ancient violin-like bowed instrument. The great Innu artist Florent Volant was on sparkling form. A Tribe Called Red and DJ Mood were other standouts. Montreal also hosts the world’s largest comedy festival, featuring more than 2,000 stagings.

For more formal business events there’s a world-class convention centre. Located downtown and linked to 4,000 hotel rooms by the city’s underground pedestrian network, the Palais des Congrès de Montréal features 551,520 sqft (51,000sqm) of exhibition surface area and 113 rooms, as well as 18 loading docks with levellers, in a building that has been awarded BOMA Best (Go Green) environmental certification. A total of 13,364 delegates can be accommodated theatre style.

The attentive staff offers personalised planning services, cutting-edge technology and eco-responsible options to make each event unique. In the commercial gallery, restaurants and shops meet the various needs of visitors.

Other Montreal venues include the Centre Mont-Royal with its 730 seat Symposia Theatre, six conference halls for up to 850 people, 10 meeting rooms, pre-function areas with floor-to-ceiling windows, plus a useful newly opened terrace area. Here state-of-the-art technical facilities were fully integrated into the architect’s design.

The downtown Centre de Conférences 2001, with four versatile rooms for up to 400, the 15 rooms of the Plaza Volare Convention Center and the 1,500 banqueting capacity Place Bonaventure Exhibition Halls are other options while, in this vibrant city most major hotel chains have properties with spacious meeting facilities.

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