The circus holds a special place in the cultural zeitgeist—there’s an instant grounding and association of it with the wonderment of childhood. Unmatched feats of daring and unforgettable moments of entertainment are housed under those big tents, and it has become such a fixture that it is still the most popular destination among would-be child runaways. There’s a rich history of the iconic performing art of cirque within Montreal, and right now at the Pointe-à-Callière Museum, that history is sitting centre ring with It’s Circus Time!
It’s Circus Time!, which runs at the museum until March of 2022, explores the timeline of circus within the province of Quebec, from the early advents in the 18th century all the way up to the modern-day. Pascal Jacob, an avid collector and historian of the circus, is one of the forces behind the exhibition, donating dozens of items from his personal collection. Beyond the informational aspects of this exhibition, interactive elements will let individuals climb into a clown car and test their acrobatic prowess. And throughout this weekend, tightrope walker Laurence T-Vu can be seen crossing a seventy-metre rope.
Montreal has become one of the hubs for circus performance internationally. With major name companies such as Cirque du Soleil calling the city home, it’s no wonder that so many are attracted to the circus offerings of the city, as well as having a world-class training facility in the form of École National de Cirque. But these modern advents aren’t the only major stars in the province of Quebec’s circus history—Louis Cyr, a strongman, had a career spanning the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and with his one finger lift of a 500 lb. weight, he is documented as one of the strongest men of all time; Cyr is even immortalized in statue form in the St. Henri neighbourhood of Montreal.
Dazzling and dreamy and often floating somewhere in our pasts, the circus is a unique slice of the performing arts. It combines theatrical tradition with both physical prowess and sheer spectacle in a brilliantly coloured veil. It’s Circus Time! seem to properly do the due diligence of showing the public just how rich that history is. It is not merely entertainment, but a cultural staple that melds so many creative endeavours under a single, pointed roof. Circus is as much an art as theatre or dance, and the course it has taken deserves its time in the spotlight.