Fête Des Neiges and Parc Jean-Drapeau

Welcome to the first MONTREAL MONDAY! Every Monday I detail something new about la belle ville! Updates on things going on in the city, or new neighbourhoods I explore. This week: Parc Jean-Drapeau and the annual Fete Des Neiges!

This past Saturday, the Hubby and I experienced our first festival in Montreal. It happened to be Fete Des Neiges, an outdoor celebration in Parc Jean-Drapeau. It is part of a larger schedule of winter activities at the former site of Expo ’67.

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The crowds of Fete des Neiges, with the Biodome in the background

Parc Jean-Drapeau spans over two small islands in the St. Lawrence River. The larger island, Île Sainte-Hélène, is home to La Ronde (the 6-Flags amusement park) and an aquatic centre. Is is also home to the magnificent Biosphère, a museum dedicated to environmental concerns (not to be confused with the Biodome, which houses the aquarium!).
The smaller Île Notre-Dame was artificially constructed for Expo, using rock and dirt excavated to create Montreal’s first Metro lines (more on the Metro another time, since it was quite revolutionary from an international mass transit perspective). It is home to a small lake whose beach is open for recreation in the summer, the Montreal Casino, and the Floralies Garden. It is also the location for the F1 Grand Prix held here in the summer.
The Hubby and I went down to Fête Des Neiges on Saturday. We were quickly crammed onto the yellow line of the Metro by large crowds of families laden with sleds, snacks, and strollers. Some old man was so intent on pushing me through the crowd he almost forced me to run over a small child!
The Hubby and I wandered through the park, checking out the activities available. There was a zip-line ($2 for an hour long wait and a 10 second ride!), dog sleds, horse-drawn carriages with giant Clydesdale horses, a tube slide, and a small ice skating pond. For a small entry fee, you can explore the Snow Village, which also hosts a gourmet restaurant and entertainment throughout the winter.

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An outsider's view of the Snow Village

There was also the promenade of ice sculptures including an ice-carving station for kids – the display of their artwork amounted to hundreds of blocks slashed every which way with smiley faces and hearts carved into them. So many smiling blocks…

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Festival mascot Boule de Neige holds a tiny attendee! photo credit: About.com

The sheer amounts of children at the festival was a bit daunting. If you enjoy people watching, family watching is even more hilarious. Between their lack of coordination, lack of societal filter, and abundance of energy, children are incredibly hilarious subjects. One booth was giving away maple candy on a stick, which I swear was a recipe for parental nightmare. Not one kid we saw could properly eat them without smearing their face, hands, and parents with sticky, sugary drool. Also, every single kid was wearing a neon-coloured Maggie Simpson-esque snowsuit, adding to the adorable quotient.
Our main reason for going down to Jean-Drapeau was for me to try out cross-country skiing. The Hubby has been a few times, and these days I’m always on the lookout for workouts that don’t feel like workouts. Also, what better way to enjoy our first “real” winter than indulge in snow sports! Parc Jean-Drapeau rents out skis and snowshoes and maintains a small network of trails in the winter. The trails are generally no more than 1.5 km, so they are a good choice for a n00b like me, who wasn’t sure if she would love or hate this new sport.
Good news is I loved it! I was having such a good time I forgot to take any pictures! The bad news was the conditions were terrible. Montreal has been experiencing a milder winter than usual, with way less snowfall. It snowed Friday, but not enough to alleviate the trails. The snowpack was thin and icy, so many falls were had by both the Hubby and me. It was still a good time, and we plan to take a day and go to Mont-Tremblant in a few weeks.
All in all, I am really looking forward to more festivals in this city. People really turn out in droves and engage in the activities. The atmosphere is lively, fun, and full of good spirit!
-W-

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