There is something about the light at this time of year that makes it more magical than any other. Trees are lit up golden: fires above the rooftops of the stone-walled duplexes of Montreal. An already beautiful city becomes achingly so — red exclamation points drawing your eyes to details you might otherwise have missed.
As the vegetation bursts with colour before winter’s darkness sets in, a perfect afternoon’s activity is a visit to the Montreal Botanical Gardens, where you can wander through the changing foliage as the sun sets, before entering the Chinese Garden for the annual lanterns.
While I love the Botanical Gardens, I had never before visited during the Chinese Lantern Festival. I was skeptical. While the idea is lovely, I was wary of the possible hokiness of the lights. But as we wandered through the trees into the walled garden, I was delighted by the beauty of the figures. April beamed. There were pandas and princesses, glowing and colourful, ready to act out the scenarios of her imagination, take the pretty pantomimed jewellery she offered them, become fodder for dreams and bedtime stories for weeks to come.
A fter wandering through the winding stone paths of the Chinese Garden, we headed across to the Japanese Gardens, where we entered into an entirely different scene. Mystical yet modern music played as we walked through massive illuminated trees, an eerie aspect in the blackened Japanese forest. A waxing half-moon shone through the nearly naked branches, casting a magical glow on the trees. I held my breath. It felt as though we had stepped into a forest of ancient myth.
Walking down the long path toward the car I was overwhelmed with love for this city and grateful for the opportunity to share such a gorgeous evening with my family. April was a star even though it was bedtime by the time we left (and we still hadn’t had dinner) and Charlie simply slept in her baby carrier. If you’re ever in Montreal in the autumn, this is an activity not to be missed.
Photographs by Chloe Ellingson