The reigning Formula One World Drivers’ Champion knows the wall well. During a morning practice session at last year’s Grand Prix, the wall – located on the final turn of the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve racetrack, and so named because it has ended races for 11 driving champions, including Montreal’s own Jacques Villeneuve – ate his nearly $7-million car for, as they say here in la belle province, petit-dejeuner (breakfast). The wall is also noted for one other thing: the enduring irony that was the “Bienvenue au Québec” (Welcome to Quebec) sign posted on it. And the welcome mat for both drivers and racing fans alike is again being rolled out for this 43rd running of the race.
The most elaborate of the many Grand Prix activities is the hugely popular (for good reason) three-day Crescent Street Grand Prix Festival, which goes from June 7 through June 9. This giant outdoor party takes place all day on a closed-off section of this centrally located restaurant and nightclub hub, home to much-loved Montreal mainstays like Sir Winston Churchill Pub (or simply Winnie’s, as it is known to locals), Thursday’s and Newtown (a play on the English translation of the last name of racing legend Jacques Villeneuve, who founded the upscale resto-bar).
Each day features numerous Pit Stop Challenges (competitors are invited to change a tire in record time), F1 driver autograph sessions, DJ performances, and live bands in the form of The Removers and Blushing Brides, This Side Up and Freddie James and the Bud Light All-Star Band. And best of all, everything is free.
As free outdoor events go, one of the other perennial faves is the four-day Grand Prix on the Main, which closes down a section of Montreal’s storied north/south Saint-Laurent Boulevard, June 7-10. Popular hotspots like Globe, Buona Notte and McKibbons Irish Pub open street terraces to the sound of DJs in a celebratory environment dedicated to all things F1. And this year Montreal’s public transit system (the STM) will provide a free shuttle service for the entirety of Saint-Laurent.
For the nightlife-inclined, many – if not all – of Montreal’s major dance clubs have special events planned for the occasion, such as Muzique (which has three days of special red carpet parties planned promising “celebrities, seasoned jet setters and nightlife connoisseurs”), Club U.N. (whose official F1 Weekend Launch Party on June 8 features DJ sets by Alain Vinet and “Little “ Louie Vega), and the 9,000-square-foot Club Arena, which will kick off Grand Prix weekend with a live performance by none other than Gnarls Barkley.
For those whose tastes aren’t necessarily of the $120-bottle-of-vodka variety, internationally-renowned indie music festival Pop Montreal is teaming up with Fiat’s 2012 Little Italy Racing Weekend to present their annual Spring Pop music and culture event.
The Little Italy Racing Weekend (a car enthusiast’s dream, stretching along a closed-off section of Saint-Laurent between St-Zotique and Jean-Talon in Montreal’s bustling Little Italy district, June 8-10) will co-host numerous Spring Pop happenings, including concerts by the likes of Fanny Bloom, Katie Moore, Mozart’s Sister and many, many more at the corner of St-Zotique and St-Laurent. In addition, family-friendly daily workshops and activities – Cooking Italian Style, Music Makers and Community Mural Project – hosted by Kids Pop will take place between 1 pm and 4 pm at the corner of the not-very-Italian-sounding Shamrock Street and St-Laurent (June 9-10).
And also on June 9 and 10, the ever-expanding, über-fun indie arts and culture flea market that is Puces Pop takes place between 11 am and 6 pm at the nearby St-Enfant Jésus Church. Expect handmade artisanal items, jewellery, food, art of all stripes, clothing and kid stuff that will blow the brain away. And the whole thing wraps at 7 pm on June 10 with a fashion show.
In short, there’s more than enough to do before you yourself hit the proverbial wall.
Montreal Grand Prix, June 8-10, 2012
Guest blogger Jamie O’Meara is a Montreal editor and journalist who covers arts, culture and, er, stock car racing. Formerly the editor in chief of Hour Magazine, he is now an editor at Roverarts.com.