Two important events took place in Montreal on Earth Day in April, just after the release of the new APEX/ASTM Environmentally Sustainable Event Standards. First, over 250,000 people gathered in downtown to form a giant tree to show their solidarity with Mother Nature. Second, the Green Meetings Industry Council kicked off their annual GMIC Sustainable Meetings Conference at the 395-room Hilton Montreal Bonaventure. The purpose of the conference is to bring together leaders in the sustainability sector and like-minded planners to discuss innovations in green meetings.
As a founding member of the GMIC Florida/Caribbean Chapter, I participated as a speaker and toured Montreal to learn about some amazing group venues and experiences here in North America’s most European city.
A popular part of the event is our new Bl!nk Presentation, which is similar to a TED talk, except you only have 2-5 minutes to convey your message. My topic, “A Sustainable You,” focuses on a harmonious union of mind, body and spirit. I asked the audience to sit up straight in their chairs, turn their palms up and focus on their breath only. Each day we have over 60,000 thoughts running through our minds. Even when we sleep our mind is active. By simply calming the mind and focusing on one simple, essential life sustaining force, we can give our minds a well-deserved break.
The vision of 200+ people peacefully smiling as I guided them through this short exercise in conscious breathing was euphoric. Adding mind breaks throughout a conference is a key element when thinking of your attendees’ health and well-being.
In another session, GMIC board members Michael Luehrs, sustainable business advisor at MeetGreen, and Jan Peter Bergkvist, sustainability advisor for SleepWell AB, discussed the need to readdress the definition of sustainability. They said it’s necessary to go beyond the triple bottom line of “People, Planet, Profit” because environmental concerns, like increasing drought in the U.S., are hampering economic development.
Bergkvist suggests that we are a society dependent on our biosphere first and foremost, but we as a community are not seeing the big picture.
Luehrs made the analogy: “When we want to cross the street, we will have better results if we consider the whole situation around us rather than just the little white ‘Walk’ sign exclusively.”
This reminded me of Buckminster Fuller’s words that we are all on one spaceship. Fuller designed the unique architectural symbol of Montreal’s Expo 67, The Biosphere, located on the Saint Lawrence River. It’s a great offsite venue for dinners, receptions, and tours of the innovative exhibit space.
BIG TOP CITY
As an experiential conference session, we visited La TOHU. This outrageously fun facility is one of the world’s largest training sites for circus arts, production and performance, founded by the National Circus School and the world famous Cirque du Soleil, which was founded in Montreal.
Valérie Beaulieu gave us a tour of the sustainable facility which is built on the largest reclaimed site in North America. Afterward, we sat down with scissors, glue, old newspapers and brochures to create cool eclectic kites for the Saint-Michel district festival Grain de Ciel (Grain of Sky).
Cirque du Soleil’s Creation Center, located next to La TOHU, encompasses training areas with trapeze artists swinging high above, performers walking tight ropes, and costume designers immersed in hordes of spectacular fabrics. This is home to one huge family of creative people from all corners of the world, and it’s a beautiful place to be with a group of colleagues.
On the top floor, there’s a large funnel symbolizing the collection of water in honor of founder Guy Laliberte’s One Drop Foundation. The large windows surrounding the room offer a great view of La TOHU and the city beyond. Plan a reception/dinner for 250/175, or add a small original performance to create an exclusive evening for groups up to 100.
If anyone in your group wants to try out the high ropes, take them to Trapezium. Planners can book exciting 2-hour trapeze lessons for ideally 10 people at a time. This, by the way, is even harder than it looks.
The adrenaline is rushing as I climb the tall narrow 21-foot ladder. I don’t look up or down until a hand pulls me onto the small already crowded platform.
The net below seems miles away, but owner Simon Fortin emphasizes, “It’s not about strength, it’s about following the swinging momentum.” I listen intently trying to hear above the sound of my heart beating so fast.
My harness is checked one more time and I jump! It’s almost impossible to describe the exhilaration. I’m flying and I love it and I just want to keep on swinging. After a few more swings, I pull my knees up onto the bar and keep swinging. How cool is this? Letting go and falling through the air to the net below is a blast. And now I get to do this four more times before attempting to be caught in mid-air by the professional flying on another trapeze. I nearly made it on my second attempt, and I have already booked my next trip to Montreal and Trapezium to try again.
MONTREAL MEETING HOTELS
The 395-room Hilton Montreal Bonaventure was game to participate in greening the meeting following the new APEX standards. Their 2.5-acre living roof is now filled with plants, trees and a marine habitat for ducks and wildlife. Looking out at the rooftop landscaping, I was often surprised when I realized we were on the 9th floor of an urban building and not in a park. Outside the upper lobby and across from the registration desk, the steam escaping from the outdoor rooftop pool has a mystical look and feel. The steam is a by-product of recycled heat produced from the building to keep the pool warm. For meetings and events, there are 28 multi-purpose spaces, including a 20,000-sf ballroom.
The Fairmont Queen Elizabeth is now “The Green Queen” with four queen bees overseeing production in the rooftop beehives next to a bountiful herb and vegetable garden.
“I was just on the rooftop picking herbs and flowers this morning while two of our resident beekeepers were checking the hives,” says Joanne Papineau, president of the environmental committee for Fairmont Eastern Canada. “The frames were dripping with honey and it was delicious.”
Papineau says they’re starting to pick fresh strawberries, edible flowers, herbs and tomatoes. “Our melons are coming out nicely too,” she notes.
Executive chef Alain Pignard complements the hotel’s garden delights with produce from local farms. To our delight, we dined at Le Montréalais Bistro-Bar-Restaurant during the Festival of Scallops from the Magdalene Islands. Some of us raved about the succulent roasted scallops immersed in blood orange caramel and ginger. I savored the crispy scallops with coconut, curry and Thai basil emulsion while my cohort devoured the swiftly-sautéed scallops enhanced with star anise. A zesty Mission Hill pinot blanc from British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley is a perfect pairing.
In addition to the splendid dinners, breakfast at Le Montréalais is the place to be seen in Montreal. Guests from around the world mingle with locals at the daily buffet, featuring awesome omelettes with herbs from the rooftop garden, local seasonal fruits and freshly baked homemade muffins and pastries. Private space on the Mezzanine Level seats 60. A second room adjacent seats 110 with a beautiful view of Notre Dame cathedral.
The historic 1,039-room Queen E is Montreal’s grandest convention hotel, specifically designed to host large congresses with a total of 46,500 sf of meeting space. The newer Executive Floor on the third level has seven meeting rooms and there are an additional 100 suites with salons throughout the hotel that can be used for small meetings as well.