Montreal’s Quartier des Spectacles offers unique, fun activities

There's always something going on at Montreal's Quartier des Spectacles, but spring and summer is when it really comes alive.

In the relatively few years it has officially been in existence, the Quartier des Spectacles has established itself as a must-visit destination for locals and visitors alike. Located in eastern downtown, it’s lively enough during the winter months but spring and summer is when the area can best flaunt what is has to offer.

When representatives from the city decided in 2001 that they wanted to create a cultural hub, they didn’t choose the location by accident. The Quartier des Spectacles overlaps with what used to be Montreal’s red light district and was already home to a number of performance venues. The city wanted to highlight those venues while creating a space to host outdoor festivals and special events.

The neighbourhood’s history goes all the way back to the 19th century, when the Gesù Theatre on Bleury St. opened inside Collège Sainte-Marie (a Jesuit school that has since merged with UQAM). Those who are curious to learn more about the area’s past can take a walking tour, given by graduates of Montreal’s tourism and hospitality academy. During the two-and-a-half hour tour, you’ll walk from Place des Festivals east toward Place Émilie-Gamelin and discover the history of some of Montreal’s iconic cultural venues.

The walking tours are free and given in French on Thursdays from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and in English on Saturdays from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

One of its unique attractions is the 21 Swings installation. Set up between de Maisonneuve Blvd. and President Kennedy Ave., each swing emits a musical note similar to what you’d hear coming out of a piano, guitar, harp or vibraphone. And if you needed extra incentive to propel your swing toward the sky, the note changes the higher you go. At night, the swings light up, adding a visual element to this audio-driven show. The swings will be set up until May 29 and then again from Aug. 8 to Sept. 5 from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday to Wednesday and 10 a.m. to midnight Thursday to Saturday.

For those wanting to channel their inner Kent Nagano, Maëstro is returning for a second year. Wannabe conductors use a sensor-equipped baton to control the Place des Festivals fountain, conducting the spouts to spray water in tune with music by Bizet, Tchaikovsky or Beethoven. And changes to the technology mean this year, it should be even easier to look like a pro while commanding your very own ‘orchestra.’

Maëstro will be back for most of May and is open Monday to Wednesday, noon to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., Thursday and Friday from noon to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday from noon to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 2 to 7 p.m.

For more information about the Quartier des Spectacles, call 514-879-0009 ext. 232 or visit quartierdesspectacles.com.