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Published on: June 20, 2016 | Last Updated: January 10, 2017 10:49 AM EDT
It’s a revival that might delight history buffs and inform younger generations of a simpler time before La Ronde. A time where roller-coasters were high and admission fees — only 35 cents — were unthinkably low.
The Society for the Celebration of Montreal’s 375th Anniversary launched a large-scale call for proposals two years ago for the 2017 celebrations, seeking “projects that create connections between cultures, communities, generations” across the city.
“Immediately in Cartierville we thought about Parc Belmont,” said Nathalie Fortin, director of the Conseil Local des Intervenants Communautaires (CLIC) of Bordeaux-Cartierville. “It is a real, strong symbol of our borough.”
Revellers of the past will remember spotting the wooden slopes of attractions like The Cyclone while driving across Cartierville’s Lachapelle Bridge. Others will remember the Magic Carpet Ride, or white-knuckling the sides of the cart when the Wild Mouse veered dangerously close to the edge of its tracks. It was the place where a garish papier-maché lady laughed the same recorded laugh for 50 years, flanked by carousels and “Kiddieland.”
The project, contrary to some reports, will not officially reopen or restore Belmont Park to its former glory. With the city of Montreal’s grant of $85,000, the project is expected to unfold creatively in three parts over the course of summer 2017.
The first is a revival of the park before it was considered an attraction — when rich Montrealers would visit in full skirts and hats to canoe on the Rivière-des-Prairies and picnic in the park. A Victorian-style carousel will be erected on-site, and the venue — now an open green space — will host live musicians and comedians on a number of nights.
“The goal of the first week is not only to restore a nostalgic element, but also to build bridges between the communities,” Fortin said. She said that in Cartierville, an estimated 52 per cent of the population was born outside of Canada. This project, while exciting for former patrons of the park, is also an exercise in communicating Quebec culture and history.
“We want to make (non-native Montrealers) understand what Montreal was at the beginning of the 20th (century). We want to build bridges and open a dialogue,” Fortin explained.
The second phase involves the construction of a mobile Belmont Park — a pop-up carnival that will replicate, in smaller scale, some of the identifiable elements of the original park. These trick mirrors, arcade games, and other mementos will pack up into a truck and move across boroughs throughout the summer, so citizens can transform any of Montreal’s parks into a temporary, retro amusement park.
As a third phase, children who are enrolled in Cartierville’s day camps will work on Belmont Park-themed costumes and puppets that will be displayed during a parade through the neighbourhood streets to close the summer.
The original Belmont Park opened in 1923, and entertained patrons for 60 years. Following a police raid in 1982 — sparked by suspicion of illegal gambling and safety concerns — traffic at the park slowed considerably. It closed permanently in 1983. In 1986, four years after the illegal raid, a Quebec Superior Court judge sharply criticized MUC police and ordered theMontreal Urban Community, one of its lawyers and four police officers to pay $90,000 in damages to the park’s owners.