The show is held on the streets around the Pointe-à-Callière museum every August. The year, as the brochure speaks, is set at 1703, with Quebec still under French rule. Governor Louis-Hector de Callière, after whom the museum is named, has just died.
That is the backdrop, setting the scene at Pointe-à-Callière, Montréal’s Archaeology and History Museum Complex, for its 18th Century Public Market, an annual show which takes visitors back to the days of New France (that is what Canada was called in those days).
For the occasion, merchants, entertainers, craftspeople, and natives—all in period costume—meet at the marketplace in the area around the Museum and in Place Royale, in Old Montréal.
Pointe-à-Callière’s Public Market has been one of the Museum’s main events for long but this is the first time I could make it.
In a family-friendly atmosphere, the area around the Pointe-à-Callière is transformed into an entertainment and educational hub reveling in history. And I love history. Especially when it has pink-cheeked women, dressed in 18th Century costumes, acting out routines, like kneading dough, making bread, jiggling their corsets – what? Corsets don’t jiggle? They burst, with the strain? Okay I could live with bursting corsets.
Traditional dress turns me on. These women in period costumes reminded me of the time when I once watched young Bengali women in a Durga Puja fancy-dress show, dressed as 18th Century Bengali housewives, complete with lal-pad tangail sarees, teep and alta, shankha and bala, mehndi and chabir gucho on their tanks. Sweat from the October heat staining their armpits, jeeze, they looked so desirable. Just one thing – pronounce ‘tank’ as the French would, with ‘n’ almost silent – like when you take the word ‘tack’, dip it in an ‘n’ and spray-dry it. The word means ‘waist’.
At the Pointe-à-Callière, a marketplace is recreated on the very site where it stood when the French were in power. At the time, the market was held twice a week and in keeping with European tradition, it was also the city’s main public square. That was where the bailiff would read out decrees and where peasants, merchants, innkeepers, workers, travelers, soldiers, sailors, noblemen, middle-class citizens, civil servants and well-endowed women mingled to buy and sell, while discussing the news of the day and the latest gossip. Strolling musicians, street entertainers and craftspeople also made market day truly delightful.
The Public Market also hosts plenty of other activities involving hundreds of actors enthusiastically re-enacting period scenes. A military regiment, with a fire drill and a native camp, were also be part of the festivities. I had never seen muskets being fired before. These were real muskets with real shots in them.
Looking back, I don’t recall seeing anything like this anywhere in India. I have heard that the Santineketan Poush mela is something similar but I understand that it is more like a music festival that features Bengali folk music.
Oh, I got carried away and took some more pics – of the surroundings – y’know, like cobbled streets with 300-year-old cobbles, horse drawn carriages, there’s John Young (not the famed astronaut, silly, a 19th century Governor General of Canada). He is the dour guy in the pic that has the horse-drawn carriage in the foreground.
There are pics with girls in shorts, so skimpy that they are like lab experiments on the voids that are present in an atom. Some had chests so huge that I’m sure if I stuck my head inside them, I’d think I was in Silicon Valley. But what could the poor dears do? It was hot – 35 celsius.
Then there’s Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve (1612 – 76), a French military officer and the founder of Montreal – at a time Canada was known as New France. He is the dude you see on top of the pedestal. The date (1642) carved on the monument was when he established Montreal as a trading post, for furs and stuff.
The last few photos were of Montreal downtown. Montreal can’t be complete without it’s deadbeat. There was George, panhandling in front of a Mac’s, Mike and Milo trying ta roll a joint in the wind at a car park, Chuck and Andy makin’ music – the lost, not losers – just lost.
They never asked me for money, but I decided to empty my pockets to them anyway.
They are kindred. I’m lost too.