Creating 18 Shades of Gay

Look up to the sky in Montreal’s gay village and you will see a rainbow.

Six years ago, Claude Cormier and Yannick Roberge of the landscape art & design firm Claude Cormier + Associés Inc. brought a little magic to a stretch of St. Catherine street with over 150,000 pink balls cascading overhead. In celebration of Montreal’s 375th anniversary, the pair decided to take things even further with the 18 Shades of Gay project and the results are inspiring.

“We did the pink ball over the past 6 years, [but] we always had the idea of creating a promenade of colour on the street to evolve the project into a new experience,” explains Yannick Roberge. “We transformed it into a promenade of 18 shades of colour.”

An incredible tribute to the neighbourhood, the installation aims to add a little bit of extra magic to the Montreal street. “This reference to the gay flag, it is more than just gay and lesbian, it is LGBTQ+, it is a project that reflects the diversity of the community,” says Roberge. This year Montreal has been selected to host Canada Pride, the first ever Canada-wide pride parade as a part of the Montréal Pride festivities. It could not have been a more perfect year for this project to be pushed to the next level.

The production of these balls takes a lot of planning. In December the colours were chosen and the production plan was approved. That’s when Mario Martin, the chief of the atelier, and a group of eighteen workers got to work. In a span of 3 months over 180,000 balls were created and strung on more or less 3000 strings.

The original plan for the balls took St. Catherine’s density into account. Moving the installation overhead meant no interference with foot traffic, terraces and deliveries during the day and night. While they were satisfied with overtaking the skies, this year the firm added one hundred and fifty potted willow trees at street level. “It just brings that notion of the pleasure of promenade, I think the weeping willow has that effect of creating a really summery mood,” says Roberge. The willow trees are a way to “bind the sky with the ground.”

Reflecting on the past, present, and future of the experience, Roberge hopes that they’ve made a positive impact on the community as a whole. Looking around, he feels that the Village has really blossomed in the past five years with the help of a younger generation of dynamic restaurateurs and entrepreneurs. “We hope that this project is a part of this transformation,” Roberge says.

Unsure what the future holds, they do hope to continue to expand and to connect different parts of the city. One thing’s for sure, the project has had a huge impact on Montreal’s image and increasingly has become a symbol of the city: they are now visible from the Jacques Cartier Bridge and have, of course, become a popular stop for tourists. With the power to capture people’s imagination, Cormier and Roberge may be redefining Montreal, making it a little more colourful and a lot more beautiful.

Words by JUSTINE SMITH | Photos by RAPHAEL THIBODEAU

This article is part of Issue 1: Illumination