The rhythm will draw you in from blocks away. You’re strolling after Sunday brunch, heading for a walk up Mount Royal, when suddenly, faintly, you’ll hear the beckoning beat. Drums, tam tams, tablas and wooden sticks striking the back of park benches all mesh together to announce the official, bona fide, arrival of summer in Montreal…
It’s hard to believe for newcomers to the city how many people can actually fit on the field that extends between Pine Avenue and Mont-Royal Avenue at the foot of the city’s most famous monument, the St-Georges Étienne Cartier sculpture that marks the bottom of Mount Royal. Montrealers may have delusions of grandeur when we call our beloved bump a mountain, but it doesn’t diminish how naturally splendiferous and pleasant it is in this park landscaped by the man behind New York’s Central Park. When Frederick Law Olsmsted conceived of things in 1874, though, I bet he didn’t picture the massive gathering of half-clothed picnickers, dancers and drummers that gathers here every Sunday.
Started unofficially in the early 1990s, the Montreal Tam-tams have become a genuine institution. From noon to sundown every Sunday it’s like a communal garden party, featuring everything from bocci games on the lawn to cucumber sandwich-picnics to hacky sack battles, to capoeira demonstrations and LARPING galore. There’s also a bustling marketplace too, set out on blankets, where you can buy craft jewelry, vintage clothing, juggling accessories and percussion instruments of every sort.
The centerpiece, though, is the alfresco, sunbathed dance floor that forms on the marble steps around the monument, and the masses of percussionists – most amateur, some good enough to be pro – surrounding them. The beat sets the tone for the whole neighbourhood, wafting in and out of jams like the beating of so many hearts. After you’ve taken in the scene and people watched your heart out, make sure you stroll up that bump for a while – as the beat softens with every step, you’ll find a whole other kind of sensorial escape.
Montreal Tam-Tams takes place at the foot of Mount Royal, on Parc Avenue between Pine and Mont-Royal, every spring and summer Sunday from noon to sundown.
Photos by Eva Blue