"560 km": a focal point for celebrating spring

May 13, 2016

Main text of post

Urbanites will have the chance to immerse themselves in the dance of the river drivers – the workers who left their mark on Quebec’s history by floating timber down the province’s rivers. Until May 29, hundreds of logs will form an art installation on Sainte-Catherine St.

560 km creates an original way to use the pedestrian zone in the heart of the Quartier des Spectacles. The installation is more than just street furniture: it gives people a way to reconnect with nature and rediscover an important part of our history.

We spoke with architect and KANVA co-founder Rami Bebawi and scenic artist Laurence Boutin-Laperrière.

What is 560 km?

Laurence Boutin-Laperrière : It’s one thousand logs placed on Sainte-Catherine between De Bleury and Clark. As in the era when timber was floated down the rivers, the logs occupy the street and passers-by wander among them, smell them, touch them. We are trying to recall the days of river driving, which continued in Quebec until 1996.

Where did the idea of the log boom come from?

Rami Bebawi : We were interested in the history of Sainte-Catherine St. and its importance for Montreal. We saw an interesting parallel with the St. Lawrence River, since both were major arteries for the city. The river drives made an important contribution to Montreal’s growth. We are presenting the piece in May, when, after the spring thaw, the lumberjacks would leave the forest to drive the logs downriver. We adopted the river drivers’ vocabulary to arrive at an artistic reinterpretation.

How did you bring that idea to the heart of downtown and the Quartier des Spectacles?

R.B. : First we made a lot of models and drawings. We even bought bags of firewood to test the concept! But what was most useful to us was to visit various sawmills. That helped us understand how we could illustrate the different stages of the drive, right in the street: preparing the wood, floating logs down the river, arrival at the paper mill. The sawmills’ help was essential for creating the concept’s final form.

L.B.L. : A sawmill is a pretty impressive place. Everything is outsized: the trucks, the amounts of wood, even the men and women who work there! Everything is on a different scale.

What do you want people to take away from 560 km?

R.B. : Putting something so natural and raw in the heart of the city could lead people to think about our relationship with nature. We don’t want people to just be content to photograph the installation. We want them to look, smell, touch, brush by, occupy…

L.B.L. : The importance of this installation is first that people make contact with the material. Then, there is the memory aspect, revisiting the log drive, which has so important to Quebec’s history. When we watch NFB films like Log Drive, with Félix Leclerc, or Log Driver’s Waltz, we understand just how agile these workers were, the way they jumped from one log to another, as if they were dancing. It’s fascinating.

What will happen to the logs after the installation is removed?

R.B. : They will be returned to the sawmill and processed into everything imaginable. Nothing will go to waste. It’s important to note that before processing, timber is always dried outdoors at the sawmill. In this case, the drying step is taking place on Sainte-Catherine St.!

Why is it important for you to use the street?

R.B. : Because art needs to be taken out of the gallery and made accessible to all. The Quartier des Spectacles understands this, offering visitors an open-air museum full of interactive works. We also believe that every work must tell a story. That is how we create places that people want to make their own.

L.B.L. : Creating places that break with routine, places where people can gather, is essential. With 560 km, the public can enjoy the spring weather, have an ice cream while sitting on a log, and reconnect with the beauty of nature.

560 km a few numbers

1 000 : number of raw timber logs placed on Sainte-Catherine St.
12 to 16 : length, in feet, of the logs
10 to 14 : diameter, in inches, of the logs 560  : the length, in kilometres, of the Saint-Maurice River, which inspired the installation’s title.

560 km

May 5 to 29
Sainte-Catherine Street, between Clark and De Bleury