If Montreal was a hit single by pop singer Katy Perry, baby, it would be a firework.
Summer in Montreal officially begins Saturday when the city's most colorful fest takes to the night skies with the 27th edition of the International Fireworks Competition at La Ronde Theme Park.
This year, La Ronde plays host to nine spectacular fireworks displays in all. A new, revamped summer schedule has the pyrotechnic performances moved from an all Saturday schedule last year to an alternating Wednesday and Saturday schedule this year, the way it was presented in recent years past. And if you're a gambler of any kind, a Montreal fireworks display is a pretty solid bet; since the competition debuted in 1985, it has never been cancelled because of bad weather. The first firecracker goes off at 10 p.m., rain or shine. Each show is themed and set to music.
Variety of themes
"We have a very nice summer coming up with new themes for each firework display," said Catherine Tremblay, La Ronde communications manager. "They are like a work of art."
Each visiting pyrotechnic firm gets to choose any theme they wish.
"That's what makes each fireworks display unique and special and original," Tremblay said.
This year, the ideas run the gamut from classic movie magic to Greek mythology, pop music tributes to the vast Australian wilderness.
The 2011 schedule opens with China June 25 and their magical martial arts theme of Kung Fu.
On July 2, the Czech Republic takes an operatic turn with "The Flower Duet."
England presents their show, "Stars of the World," July 9 with a soundtrack that ranges from Edith Piaf to Rihanna.
Italy offers "Angels and Demons" July 13 to portray "the eternal duel between good and evil," according to the press release.
On July 16, Australia offers "The Colours of Kakadu," a tribute to the natural splendor of the country's Kakadu National Park. The Aussie presentation comes with a bonus: a live performance at La Ronde featuring the traditional Australian Aboriginal instrument, the didgeridoo.
Somewhere over the pyrotechnic rainbow, the United States will also present "The Wizard of Oz" July 20.
Canada goes Greek with a heavenly god and goddess tribute to "Eros & Psyche" July 23.
And then it's time for a little Francophone flair as France pokes fun at itself with "Maudits Français" July 27.
If you've ever wanted to know what Lucy in the sky with diamonds really looks like, then join La Ronde for the out-of-competition "Tribute to the Beatles" festival closing show July 30.
In all, eight international teams will compete for the coveted Jupiter Award. The top three winners receive a gold, silver or bronze award, respectively.
The shows are judged on a number of criteria, including diversity and richness of color; soundtrack; synchronization between music and display; technical design and use of space; and concept.
The jury is comprised of 19 judges in all, and for each show, a guest judge is invited as well. Hockey player Steve Begin is the first guest judge of the season for the June 25 display. One of the judges is Plattsburgh native and fireworks aficionado Aaron Raml. The Plattsburgh High School alum attended McGill University and now shares his time between Montreal and the Adirondacks.
Navigating the night
You can view the fireworks for free at a number of places in town, including near — or on — the Jacques Cartier Bridge. The bridge is closed to traffic on fireworks night starting at 8 p.m., so you'll want to get into the city before then. In fact, it might be a good idea to ditch the car entirely on fireworks night.
To get to the Jacques Cartier Bridge by public transportation, take the Metro to Papineau station and simply follow the crowd.
Other suggested vantage points include the Gay Village, the Old Port and Jean Drapeau Park along their respective waterfront promenades, as well as along Highway 132/20 East in Longueil on the South Shore.
Tune in to radio station 105.7 Rhythm FM to hear the accompanying soundtrack.If you really want an up-close and personal pyrotechnic experience, book a seat at La Ronde. Adult admission (those 54" or taller) on fireworks nights with grandstand seating costs $52.99 for the gold section, $44.99 for the silver section and $43.99 for the bronze section (taxes extra, rides included)
For more information, call (514) 397-2000 or visit www.montrealfireworks.com.
Steven Howell is the author of Montreal Essential Guide, a Sutro Media iPhone travel app available at iTunes.com.