Montréal’s 375th anniversary celebrations are also an opportunity to remember past celebrations. Over the course of its 375 years, the city has had many reasons to celebrate its history. Montréal’s 300th anniversary celebrations took place in 1942, an entirely different era. Let’s take a trip down memory lane to see how Montrealers celebrated their city back then.
All big parties require considerable planning and organization. The groundwork was laid in 1936 when future mayor Adhémar Renault worked the idea of celebrating Montréal’s 300th anniversary into his electoral platform. When he was elected in 1940, he put the wheels in motion to make ensure the festivities would be spectacular. The municipal council created the Montréal Commission for the Third Centenary, which would be responsible for organizing and managing the events. Léon Trépanier was at the helm, with notary Victor Morin, president of the Dupuis Frères stores Alfred Dupuis, jeweler Henry Birks and architectural landscaper Frederick Todd all lending a hand. The absence of women was striking and Thérèse Casgrain complained to Trépanier.
The Montréal Commission for the Third Centenary had major projects in mind: construction of Montréal’s first 5,000-seat concert hall, a train and marine terminal to welcome tourists, a planetarium, an aquarium, an agricultural museum and a historic village on Mount Royal! All of this with a budget of only $500,00! They were banking on Montrealers to pitch in as well as on their interest in developing the city’s cultural and tourism offer. Unfortunately, these projects fell by the wayside, chiefly because of the Second World War (1939-1945) which, evidently, ate up a lot of the financial resources of the three levels of government. Neither the provincial nor the federal government donated a dime to the commission. So Léon Trépanier resigned as president of the Commission.
Faced with this void, the city of Montréal called on Montréal institutions to take the initiative and organize activities. Only one major institution came up with any projects: the Church of Montréal, led by Archbishop Joseph Charbonneau. The activities had a more religious tone to the ones originally planned, to say the least. A historic pilgrimage, masses, a Bonne chanson festival, a historical parade and more were part of the plans. Total budget? A mere $35,000. Montréal’s 300th anniversary celebration didn’t leave much of a mark, contrary to those of the 375th anniversary, which will leave an important legacy for Montréal for the future.