One of downtown Montreal’s most famous nightlife streets has been turned over to pedestrians this weekend, but it’s not part of Mayor Valérie Plante’s much-publicized campaign to calm traffic in the city.
The Canadian Grand Prix, the unofficial kickoff to Montreal’s summer festival season, is back, and most people on Crescent Street Friday (June 16) were ogling high-priced cars and checking out booths with Formula One-themed activities. On nearby Ste-Catherine Street, sports cars roared by as drivers unleashed their inner F1 driver.
Residents and tourists alike are excited for the return of the race, but some are more enthusiastic than others.
Interviewed on Crescent Street, Christophe Philibert and Lauren Cinq-Mars said they appreciate the tourism dollars the event brings to the city, but they wish the surrounding festivities would put more emphasis on electric vehicles. Philibert pointed to the irony of making a downtown street pedestrians-only to celebrate turbocharged cars “going in circles.”
“Pushing green energy and green cars would be a better way to integrate it into the city’s values” of sustainable mobility, Cinq-Mars added.
Kassandra Tremblay says working in a downtown shop has helped her come to appreciate an event she once disliked.
“I thought it was a bit annoying and too loud,” she said. Now Tremblay recognizes the benefits and is even excited to see drivers revving their engines on Ste-Catherine Street. “Surely for locals it can be annoying,” she admitted. “It’s a bit of a 50-50.”
The Grand Prix draws thousands of tourists each year — a Quebec cabinet minister has called it the “largest sports tourism event in Canada” — but it comes at a significant cost to taxpayers. Since 2017, the governments of Quebec and Canada have committed over $100 million to keep the race in Montreal through 2031.
Jean-Paul Mouradian, vice-president of Feldman Entertainment Quebec Inc., which runs the Crescent Street event, said the government investment is well worth it.
“It’s a lot of money, but it makes a lot of return. It identifies our city internationally,” he said in an interview. “It’s definitely a touristic attraction and it puts Montreal on the map. So it’s a great investment for the economy.”
Organizers reported attendance of 338,000 last year over the three-day weekend as the race returned to Canada after a two-year pause during the pandemic.
Among the visitors to Montreal Friday was Casey Baker, who came from Toronto to take part in the festivities. “F1 fans are some of the best and highest spending fans that there are out there,” he said. “If I could recommend my city Toronto having and hosting it one year, I would be a huge fan of that.”
Anita Astley and Christian Bentley were visiting Montreal from the United States. They see the Grand Prix as an event that brings international attention and tourist dollars to Montreal. “So many things to do and so many things to see,” Astley said of Montreal. “The cars are fantastic.”
It’s only going to get louder as Sunday’s race day approaches. Hannah Girard said the Crescent Street party and the spectacle of loud vehicles on the Ste-Catherine main drag made the Grand Prix more accessible to residents who cannot attend the race.
For Philibert, the noise and excitement are just part of the reality of living in Montreal. “Every summer in Montreal is always really packed with festivals and crazy events,” he said. “I don’t think it’s ever going to change …. it’s one of the things that makes Montreal such a nice city as well.”
Thomas MacDonald, The Canadian Press