I was in Montreal a few weeks ago and managed to catch the three exhibits around Montreal’s 40th anniversary of hosting the Olympic Games that are on until the end of September. It’s fascinating to look at how this event truly put the city into a financial crisis–and, one can argue that future cities have never learned, and that no one has challenged the IOC to say, Hey, we know you have a lot of money and want this whole “Olympic standard” atmosphere, but the Olympics ain’t immune to financial difficulties either, so we’re going to cut back a little bit.
To which the IOC generally says, No problem, we completely understand you. Here’s another five sports you need venues for. You can come up with something that’s more world-class than what you have today, right?
But I digress. Montreal’s celebrating its hosting at three museums that are all within proximity of each other:
- Souvenirs from 1976 – at Olympic Stadium (Parc Olympique Metro) (stadium tour included; going up in the tower is extra) Here you can walk through each day of the Olympic Games and learn about some of the big events of that day. Thre’s a bit about the building of the stadium as well to prepare you for your tour.
- The Builders Behind the Montreal Olympic Games, Exceptional Men and Women – at Maison de la culture Maisonneuve (4200 Ontario Street East) Here you’ll learn how the Olympics could be broken down into 140 different projects (some really quite massive), and how they all came together.
- The Olympic Park, Architecture Worth Celebrating – at Musée Dufresne-Nincheri (4040 Sherbrooke Street East) This exhibit is all about the building of the Olympic Stadium and really makes you wonder how anyone ever thought this building was a good idea (thought: blame the 1970s). This exhibit is actually on until January 8, 2017, so you do have a little more time to check it out.
Getting in on the three exhibits was a bonus to my weekend, as I was actually there to officiate the first WFTDA Division 1 Playoff tournament of the season, which was held at Centre Pierre-Charbonneau, 1976 Olympic wrestling venue. Today it’s kind of a catch-all rec center with some martial arts studios, a basketball court, a pilates studio, etc. It’s a nice facility considering that it’s been in use since 1960 and has a bunch of small rooms on upper levels that don’t make a ton of sense with the whole fitness theme–a ceramics studio, for instance. It also turned out to be a great venue for roller derby, and we had a great, exciting tournament, during which I was one of the scoreboard operators.
Before the tournament and during my downtime, I got to visit all of the 40th anniversary exhibits and hang out in the park a bit. And I’ll say that while planning and constructing Montreal 1976 was a major disaster, there are some interesting things that have come from it, including how the city is still trying to make things work in that space and with the venues.
I ended up going to the exhibits out of suggested order and started with the stadium exhibit at Musée Dufresne-Nincheri.
Oh, boy. No, seriously, the 1970s produced a lot of bad ideas, and one of them was a giant semi-open concrete stadium in a city that gets a lot of snow. And then tack on a fancy tower that has some Guinness record for being the tallest inclined tower. Who thought that was a good idea?
Apparently a mayor who had a jones for hosting the Olympics and a selection committee who thought it was a great idea to pick an architect who was really into concrete venues with retractable roofs, although at the time, he’d never done an international stadium of that magnitude before.
Excellent idea. Start your calculators on those costs. In how few dollars can you build that stadium, Mr. Tallibert? $130 million you say?
Heh. This turns out to be the biggest math error in the world.
When you head over to the Maison de la culture Maisonneuve to see how the Olympics isn’t just one project, it’s 140 different projects, each with its own challenges–and frustrations. You know, like graft and construction materials walking off site. The stadium barely got finished in time for the Olympics–and while the exhibits kind of joke about it, that’s a big deal. The start was delayed, which meant tons of issues with labor and overtime pay, and the extras didn’t get finished, and suddenly the city’s in for a $1.6 billion Olympic Games that’s going to take decades to pay off. It’s no wonder the place earned its nickname “The Big Owe.”
Anyway, the Maisonneuve exhibit is fantastic and hits on a ton of interesting factoids, like the music for the Games. The album of it went platinum. Another fun fact? They ran out of time and money to build a press center, so they had to commandeer office space in a skyscraper downtown.
While that seemed like kind of a pain, the 1976 Games was the first to deliver same-day results (let that sink into your head with today’s technological capabilities), and they went out twice a day. This Games was also the first to have a cafeteria that catered to a variety of global diets. And more!
One of the better aspects of this exhibit is the sheer number of interviews the curators captured on video–so many, that I didn’t have time to listen to them all–that didn’t really sugarcoat it. The leaders of the Games said, yeah, there were a lot of problems. A lot of problems. But we the organizers got through them as best we could–and we did a bunch of innovative things as well.
That then tied in nicely with the Olympic Stadium’s exhibit on the spectacle and starts of the Games themselves. The organizers had to be besides themselves with joy over Nadia and the first perfect 10 ever in the sport of gymnastics. What more could you ask for to cover up all the general dissatisfaction over cost overruns?
So how about that park? What are the venues like today? Well, it’s not as bad as you might think, though it’s definitely not all sunshine and rainbows either. The park gets a lot of foot traffic, and in the summer they’ve got a lot of programming on to bring people in (I was there during a First Friday food truck festival that was beyond amazing, with dozens of fantastic food trucks, stages, other vendors, multiple seating areas and tons of people). The velodrome has been turned into the Biodome, a place where you can experience different ecosystems. The stadium still has some events, even though the Expos baseball team left town several years ago–but in it is also the swimming venue, which is open to the public (five pools) and a sports center, which boasts that it’s the best in all of Quebec. Olympic Park also has Maurice Richard Arena, the boxing venue, which is still functional, and a small stadium for the local pro soccer team.
The stadium itself though? Well, it was nice to have a tour guide who was a realist and basically said that it’s a white elephant. Somewhere along the way, the management installed a scoreboard that essentially cut out part of the inside of the stadium, so the interior oval is gone. The acoustics aren’t great and there are now better concert venues, so those don’t happen very often. Although it’s wired for convention use, it’s difficult (or perhaps even impossible) to get insurance on the venue. The roof is a disaster–it needs to be fixed again–and the funny thing is that it’s cheaper to put on a new roof to the tune of hundreds of millions, than it is to tear down the whole stadium.
All of the exhibits together are a major eye-opener at how tough it is to put on a summer Olympics–and that’s with fewer sports, nations and athletes than today’s Games. Will the nay-saying be ignored by the IOC? Maybe, since they’re in the business of making sure the Olympics happen every four years; however, with Rome being the latest city to drop out of the race for 2024, perhaps it’d be wise for the IOC to look at history and help find ways to not continually repeat it.