by Padraic Gilligan, Vice President, Ovation Global DMC
Montreal = Arcade Fire
The blizzard abated, the snow stopped falling and clear blue skies returned to Montreal. Thus I was coaxed out of the warm cosiness of the Sheraton into the streets of the city hoping to experience something of its personality, its uniqueness, its soul. Somewhere in the recesses of my brain the sounds and images of Montreal based indie band, Arcade Fire, were coalescing into what I imagined the city might be: variously loud and gentle, noisy and beautiful, eclectic and exuberant, magically and curiously harmonious despite the cast of contrasting characters on stage and the implausibly wide assortment of instruments they play. Arcade Fire as a metaphor for Montreal? Now that’s an interesting thought …
The Importance of Being Irish
To slightly adapt a great line from J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye Irish people and Catholics are always trying to find out if you’re Irish or Catholic and I’m certainly guilty of the first charge. For a small island nation the Irish have certainly gotten out there so I wasn’t surprised to discover that James O’Donnell, the architect of the Basilica of Notre Dame, a must-see gothic revival construction located in the heart of Montreal Old Town, was Irish. Ironically he wasn’t Irish Catholic but Irish Protestant although he did convert to Catholicism in the course of the project which was finished in 1829. The Basilica has been magnificently maintained and stages regular “Son et Lumiere” performances which reveal the intricate detail and Gothic motifs that decorate its interiors. A visit must also include the Chapel of Notre Dame du Sacre Coeur. Re-constructed in the early 80s following a fire, the chapel’s centre-piece is an astonishing double height bronze panel by Montrealer Charles Daudelin, depicting humankind in its converging march towards the Trinity.
Old Town Montreal
Restored buildings from the 1700 and 1800s give resonant historical context to the commercial activities for which they’ve now been re-purposed. So the simple act of eating becomes something more: the Crepes your order at Creperie Suzette are served to you in a 200 year old space overlooking the narrow, meandering Rue St Paul, the main road of the nascent city. It’s a lame cliché to describe the experience as “oh so European” but there you go, I’ve just done it! Buildings not turned into independent cafes and trendy restaurants like Laurent Godbout’s Chez L’Epicer – are art galleries, design ateliers or, sadly, tacky souvenir shops.
Meetings in Montreal
In the mid 70s the Montreal tourism authorities conducted feasibility research around the construction of a mid-sized conference centre for the city. Bordering the Old Town and Downtown areas the Palais des Congres finally opened in 1983 and 30 years later is now double its original size. With over 100,000 sqm of meeting and exhibition space, the centre annually hosts up to 400 events generating nearly 150,000 bed-nights for the city and an economic footprint of over $200 million. The Palais des Congres is surrounded by quality hospitality real estate with Fairmont, Westin, Intercontinental, Embassy Suites and Canada’s only W Hotel all within sight or short walking distance of the facility.
Art for Art’s Sake
My walk back to the Sheraton took me along Boulevard St. Laurent and down Rue St Catherine into the Musee d’Art Contemporain de Montreal, the city’s MoMA or museum of modern art. Part of a cluster of contemporary structures astride the large civic space where the Montreal Jazz Festival is held, the front elevation of the building is provocative and audacious, a suitable palate teaser to the explosive artistic feast awaiting you inside its doors. I spent about 90 minutes visiting 3 exhibitions – “A Matter of Abstraction” with over 100 contemporary pieces and installations including works by Montrealers Paul-Emile Borduas, Jean-Paul Piopelle, a showing of photography of Lynne Cohen capturing random moments in time in unidentified locations and an astonishing installation by French artist Laurent Grasso entitled Uraniborg which displays art and video pieces either curated or created by Grasso within a labyrinthine structure of empty corridors and cul de sacs the artifacts and movies sometimes viewed through frame-like windows and sometimes viewed straight on.
Final Night at ADMEI
By then it was time to head back and prepare for the final act in the unfolding drama of ADMEI’s 2013 Conference. Accuse us of having a persecution complex if you like but we Destination Management Companies and Professionals rarely receive adequate credit for what we do. If things go wrong the blame is often pinned on us (however unjustifiable that might be) and when things go right the other partners in the programme elbow us out of the way and merrily hog the limelight. One of the great things that ADMEI does is put the limelight where it belongs for those programmes and events that over-deliver on value and budget. The final night at ADMEI is our Awards night and is always eagerly anticipated.
I first notice George during the pre-event cocktails. This be-suited Dandy blends in well with the elevated sartorial standards of the evening. But who is he with? Looks a bit like Jacqui Bernstein’s type. We make eye contact and smile at each other. Shortly afterwards we connect again but somehow he looks different now. Mmm. Later again I notice him but this time he’s dressed like an Italian Don, spats included. I’m chatting to Filipe Nepomuceno of Altima Concept, Ovation excellent strategic partner for Montreal and suddenly realise the Dapper Don is our entertainment for the evening, aided and abetted admirably by the equally eloquent Mike “Ol’ Blue Eyes” Lyons who MCs proceedings like a Vegas pro. Between awards I catch up with Rhonda Marko and we discuss “Words with Friends” (I had been feeling pretty proud of the fact that I took a game or two from her recently until she showed me she has 26 games operating simultaneously). It’s always a pleasure to chat to Rhonda, one of our industry’s true bright sparks. If you want to know who took gold in a tightly contested race then click here.
Personally I am proud and very humbled to have been selected as Destination Management Professional of the Year.
Padraic Gilligan is Vice President of Industry Relations at MCI and Vice President at Ovation Global DMC, MCI’s destination services division.