The entrepreneurial spirit takes over Montreal's 375th: Cité Mémoire

You may have already taken in Cité Mémoire, an impressive series of outdoor projections in Old Montreal, or maybe you’re thinking of venturing out one summer evening to enjoy this one-of-a-kind experience. But who’s behind this project? How much time and staff did it take to pull off? What part has this installation played in Montreal’s 375th anniversary? Join us as we go behind the scenes with Martin Laviolette, Executive Producer at Montréal en Histoires.

Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal (CCMM) – Can you describe your business?

Martin Laviolette – The mission of Montréal en Histoires is to celebrate the history of our city with flagship projects that will stay in our collective memory. The concept of legacy is very important. Montréal en Histoires has three components: Cité Mémoire, an installation by Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon in collaboration with Michel Marc Bouchard; a free mobile app with technical and historical content in the form of points of interest and augmented realities; and an educational component with a quiz, archives, and LES for secondary school teachers. To fulfill our mission, all content has to incorporate three key concepts: accessibility (free, multilingual); inclusivity (representative of Montreal’s communities and for all ages); and positivity (each story is rooted in Montreal pride).

CCMM – Can you explain the concept and origin of Cité Mémoire?

Martin Laviolette – The idea came from artists Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon and playwright Michel Marc Bouchard, who wanted to tell stories from history and reveal the soul of the people who built and inhabited Montreal to the people of today as they walk up and down the streets and alleyways of Old Montreal. Cité Mémoire was inspired by Montreal’s history and invites you to meet a multitude of historical figures who witnessed the city’s evolution over time. Made up of about twenty night-time tableaux, Cité Mémoire is the largest open-air projection installation in the world. People can access the soundtrack by downloading the free Montréal en Histoires app.

CCMM – What did this project require in terms of development, time, and human resources?

Martin Laviolette – It took six years to get this major project off the ground, along with an unwavering determination from its creators. Cité Mémoire is above all a human adventure, as over 800 people from completely different backgrounds—costume designers, behind-the-scenes technicians, acrobats, videographers, historians and others—contributed to the success of this crazy gamble by rising to each and every technological and artistic challenge as they arose.

CCMM – For example?

Martin Laviolette – The weather and Wi-Fi. Cité Mémoire is the world’s largest permanent outdoor projection installation. The projections are locally installed throughout the historic district with special housings designed for Quebec weather. They were built to withstand both the rigours of winter and the heat of summer. Our team also worked with Montreal’s Smart and Digital City Office to set up free Wi-Fi in Old Montreal so that people can get the best possible experience.

CCMM – How is Cité Mémoire part of the program for Montreal 375?

Martin Laviolette – Cité Mémoire was conceived even before we thought of the 375th. The initial project was meant to be a recurring celebration of Montreal’s history. When the Society for the Celebrations of Montréal’s 375th Anniversary was launched, it was natural for us to work together as our project had a strong connection to the festivities. Cité Mémoire was going to be unveiled in its entirety in 2016. To celebrate the city’s anniversary, we were delighted to keep key features for 2017, such as the Grand Tableau Cité Mémoire projected on the towering walls of the Palais de Justice, which traces 375 years of history in images and music.

CCMM – What did you enjoy most about being part of Montreal 375?

Martin Laviolette We have been proud to contribute to this amazing celebration! Through Cité Mémoire, Montréal en Histoires was always meant to provide a legacy to Montrealers, and even more so during the city’s anniversary festivities. Our collaboration with the Society for the Celebrations of Montréal’s 375th Anniversary has been very rewarding! 

CCMM – Have you been measuring the impact of your project?

Martin Laviolette – Yes, absolutely. Montrealers and tourists alike have really enjoyed Cité Mémoire because of its combination of art, innovation, technology, and accessibility (the installation is free and available in 4 languages). This is a new way to discover the city’s history. The free Montréal en Histoires app, which helps you get the full Cité Mémoire experience, has been downloaded over 110,000 times! Cité Mémoire has received many awards, including a Prix Ulysse 2017 in the Innovation category, a Coup d’Éclat! award, the Grand Prix Boomerang, and other honours. We’ve had major coverage in both national and international media. This visibility has been a springboard for us, as we’re currently in discussions with major cities in North America and Asia to export our concept. For the entire team behind the project, this has been a true success.

CCMM – If you had to describe Montreal in one word or expression, what would it be?

Martin Laviolette – Montreal is creativity!

CCMMWhat is your next “big thing”?

Martin Laviolette – We’ll be here every evening until 2019! Every night is a big thing for us! [big smile]

Consult the activity program for Montreal's 375th anniversary

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This blog post was produced in collaboration with the Society for the Celebrations of Montréal’s 375th Anniversary.

Photo credit: Cité Mémoire / Jean-François Lemire,

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