After being named the top destination in North America for hosting international conventions by the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) in 2016, it’s clear that plenty of attendees are putting Montréal on their must-visit lists. But out-of-town guests aren’t the only ones with action-packed itineraries. When Tourisme Montréal hosted Convene on a press trip tied to C2 Montréal in late May, we discovered that the city’s residents have equally busy calendars. This year marks the 375th anniversary of the founding of Montréal, and more than 175 events are planned to celebrate the discovery of the island that’s home to the second-largest city in Canada.
Our host hotel for the trip, Le Mount Stephen, offers an ideal setting for preserving the past while fueling the future. Originally used as an elite social club in the early 1900s, the national historic site recently reopened as a 90-room luxury property with a ballroom that can accommodate 400 attendees. The entryway’s original stained-glass windows transport guests back in time, while in-room bells and whistles such as remote-controlled curtains and heated automatic-opening toilet seats put Le Mount Stephen at the head of the pack of the hospitality industry’s technological revolution.
Le Mount Stephen is the well-deserved talk of the town, but the conversation will soon feature even newer names. A $250-million, 163-room Four Seasons will open in 2018, and just three blocks away, the 1,039-room, 21-story Fairmont Queen Elizabeth — one of the sites of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s 1969 “Bed-In for Peace” — is in the midst of a $140-million renovation that includes a partnership with one of the most-recognized names in business events: C2 Montréal. Joanne Papineau, regional director of public relations for the Fairmont, told me that an area on the top floor of the hotel called Espace C2 will serve as a “catalyst for the most innovative events at the hotel.”
While I didn’t get to see Espace C2 in person — the hotel’s renovation won’t be completely finished until December — I returned home with a good sense of the kind of mind-bending meetings that can unfold on the 21st floor of the Fairmont. The focus of the press trip was C2 Montréal, the annual three-day celebration of creativity and commerce that has established itself as an experience designed to shatter conference norms. Hosted at Arsenal, a shipyard complex that has been converted into a hip art-exhibition space, C2 offers an alternative approach to networking and education that this year introduced more than 6,000 attendees from 60 countries to a distinct Quebec experience.
“C2 could not have come about anywhere else in the world than Montréal,” Chloé Langevin, vice president of partnerships at C2 Montréal, said in an interview with Convene. (Look for a feature on C2’s reinvention process in our September issue.) “With the city’s creative energy, booming startup community, and government appreciation for can-do entrepreneurial spirit, the conference is a reflection of the values of our home.”
The best view of that home is from the top of Mount Royal, a 734-foot hill from which the city takes its name (from the French: mont réal). On the final morning of my visit, I hiked to the top for a perspective dominated by milestones from the last 375 years — the Old Port in the St. Lawrence River, which served as the city’s first trading post in the early 1600s; Olympic Stadium, where the world gathered for the 1976 Summer Games; and McGill University, where Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earned his bachelor’s degree in 1994.
But amid all those historical markers, the view tells another story — about what lies ahead. Construction cranes dot the landscape as Montréal continues to push forward with plans for a massive urban-renewal project that will transform the skyline. As more attendees flock to Quebec province for upcoming conferences and conventions, they’ll find that after 375 years, Montréal is just getting started.