Why Montreal wants you to visit in the winter

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Laura Marchand was helping her parents clean out their vacation cabin when she came across a Montreal tourism brochure from 1937.

Aimed at American tourists, the brochure touted the city’s “ideal” winter weather. “Sunshiny skies, clear invigorating air and equable temperatures mark a majority of the days,” the grandiloquent description said.

“This is one of those things where you’re not lying, but you’re kind of misrepresenting,” said Marchand, who wrote about the pamphlet for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, where she works.

It’s a generous description of a season that is — let’s face it — cold, but the native Montrealer still recommends the city to visitors. “I think that Montreal is so beautiful in the winter, and there’s so much to do,” she said.

The largest city in Canada’s French-speaking province of Quebec, Montreal is best known for summer events such as the Montreal Jazz Festival and the Just for Laughs comedy festival. But the city also has a distinctive winter culture and an increasingly busy calendar through the colder months.

The season starts with a December winter festival, Montréal en Fêtes, in Old Montreal, the city’s historic district. Co-founder Martin Durocher says he and his brother wanted to create the kind of pop-up spaces that proliferate in the city in summertime. They created the “Place Nordique,” with fire pits and vendors selling mulled wine, as the setting for free activities that include live music, children’s story time and Zumba classes.

The final night of the nearly two-week festival is a New Year’s Eve party. Quebecois musicians take the stage for a free two-hour concert before fireworks at midnight. In 2017, when historically cold weather led Ottawa and Toronto to cancel their New Year’s celebrations, Montreal persisted despite below-zero temperatures with 92,000 attendees.

“Whether it’s a good year in terms of temperature or a bad year, people show up anyway,” Durocher said.

With the new year comes Igloo­fest, an electronic music event that bills itself as “the coldest music festival in the world.” Its 14th edition in 2020 will include outdoor concerts in January and February. Igloofest grew out of the summertime festival Piknic Électronik, which brings electronic music out of its usual club setting and onto outdoor stages. The winter edition draws between 2,000 and 10,000 spectators a night.