Noël dans le parc turns 30!

December 21, 2023

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Since it was launched in 1994, the Noël dans le Parc festival, founded by the late actor Reynald Bouchard , has only gotten bigger and better. Over the years, the event has earned a special place in Montrealers’ hearts thanks to its original cultural offerings and creative ideas. We spoke with the festival’s executive and artistic director, Alain Gingras-Guimond, to find out more about the event’s history and what’s in store for this 30th anniversary edition.

How did Noël dans le Parc start?

The first official edition took place in 1994 in Parc Lahaie, with a trio of Gypsy musicians playing by an oil-drum fire. At the time, the festival’s founder, actor Reynald Bouchard , was leading workshops on artistic action in various institutional settings (prisons, halfway houses and so on). He decided to fund that project by selling Christmas trees in the park. The borough granted a permit on the condition that there would be some form of entertainment. So Reynald enlisted some musicians to provide background music for his tree-selling business. Before anyone realized it, a new festival was born!

What is the festival’s mission today?

Our basic mission is to celebrate the Christmas spirit with fun installations and performances by many different kinds of artists: puppeteers, circus acts, performance artists, musicians. Starting with the second edition, we did something unique with the Cabane Magique, a big log cabin where we would put on shows. By putting our artists inside, where it’s warm, and leaving the public outside where they could come and go as they pleased, we did something new. Today people are starting to embrace that format – including in a francophone community in Alberta – but we’re still the experts.

How has the festival evolved over the years?

The festival has gone through a few distinct eras, and has been held in a variety of places – Parc Garneau, Monk Blvd., three editions on the Sun Life Financial Esplanade at the Olympic Park. But for the last seven years, we’ve found a nice balance with our current format, in which we use three sites at once: Parc Lahaie in Mile End, Parc des compagnons in the Plateau, and Place Émilie-Gamelin in the Quartier des Spectacles.

What are your fondest memories of past editions?

I have to say that the first three years with the Cabane Magique were very special! Unfortunately, the 1998 ice storm forced us to shelve the concept for a while. I have some great memories of the early 2000s, when we had groups like Loco Locass and the Quebec Redneck Bluegrass Project. When you’re expecting 500 people and 7,000 show up it makes for a truly unforgettable experience!

Tell us about this year’s edition and some of the surprises it has in store.

What’s interesting this year is the large number of small events within the big event. On December 21, we’ll celebrate the Winter Solstice. This year we’re fortunate to have plenty of Indigenous artists on our program: Akawui, Matiu, Laura Niquay and her guests. At sunset on December 21 – 4:13 p.m. on the dot – we’ll light a symbolic fire, and at 5 p.m. we’ll raise a large totem pole. Then it will be story time with Nicole O’Bomsawim, and we’ll share some bannock (Indigenous quick bread) with everyone. At the end of the evening, there will be a screening of 12 short films from the Wapikoni Mobile. The hour-long film series will play in a loop until sunrise. And during the rest of the festival, between frigid Sundays and festive afternoons, there will be all kinds of surprises!

Do you have any special plans for New Year’s Eve?

The big party on the 31st will be extra fun this year because the legendary village of Saint-Élie-de-Caxton will be paying us a visit. The artists appearing that evening, including Elemât, Les Frères Lemay, Les Tireux d’roche and Les Grands hurleurs, all come from Saint-Élie. So people who aren’t able to visit the famous village can get a taste of its ambiance by heading to Place Émilie-Gamelin. There will even be Mr. Samson’s sugar shack, complete with maple taffy on snow. There will be a traditional festive ambiance with dancing, square-dance callers, sets carrés… It’s going to be a special evening with a nod to a summer event that we organize in Saint-Élie called Noël dans l’Caxton. We thought it was a shame that all our decorations and such sat in storage for ten months a year, so we had the idea of joining forces with the Noël des Campeurs to put together a Christmas-themed summer event.

Noël dans le Parc
Place Émilie-Gamelin
Until December 31