The rocky history of the Montreal Alouettes has been put in the rearview mirror. What is now the model franchise in the CFL has come a long way, and they may just owe it all to Bono, The Edge and the rest of U2.
In 1872, the original Montreal football club was founded. Eventually the team was renamed the Alouettes, or Skylarks in English. From 1946 through 1981 the Alouettes had an up and down existence. With a short life as the Montreal Concordes, the Alouettes ceased operations in 1987.
Enter the ill-fated CFL American experiment, which yielded only 1 successful team. The Baltimore Stallions were a success on and off the field. Such a success that they caught the eye of Art Modell who moved the Cleveland Browns there, ending the days of the Stallions. In 1996, Stallions owner Jim Speros returned the only American CFL team to Canada, as they moved into Olympic Stadium and were re-christened the Alouettes. After being sold to current owner Robert Wetenhall, the Alouettes were in trouble again as poor attendance at cavernous Olympic Stadium was becoming a concern.
In November 1997 the Alouettes surprisingly made the playoffs with a home date. Unfortunately for them, Olympic Stadium had been booked for a U2 concert. The solution was to play at much smaller Percival Molson Stadium on the campus of McGill University. This single event breathed new life into the Alouettes, and they have been selling out their games ever since.
After being built in 1914, the stadium at McGill University remained quiet for 4 years during World War I. McGill graduate, Captain Percival Molson was killed in action in France during World War I, and left the university $75,000 to pay for most of the costs of the stadium. The stadium has remained Percival Molson Memorial Stadium since 1919.
Today, they are home to the McGill Redmen athletic teams, as well as the defending Grey Cup Champion Montreal Alouettes. They have become a model CFL franchise and are easily the best CFL experience that this traveler has participated in.
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It appears that the focus at Molson Stadium is simplicity. There are numerous concession stands throughout the stadium that sell the same, expected items. Nothing overly fancy and not a huge selection, but the quality of the available items was solid. Popcorn, soda, candy, ice cream, hot dogs, pizza, water, wraps and pretzels are on the menu.
Coca-cola is the soda of choice. The beer selection is also limited with a Molson Export going for $9.25. There are combos that are offered between $14 and $16 for pizza, hot dogs or sandwich, chips and a soda. The prices are average.
The one unique item that you should try is the "sandwich viande au fumee" or Montreal Smoked Meat sandwich. A local delicacy, served on rye bread and even better with mustard, is something you must have when visiting Montreal. The quality of the sandwich at the stadium was a pleasant surprise.
Upon walking into Molson Stadium, wow is the first thing that comes to mind. The college influence is not lost in Montreal, and being on the campus of McGill, one of the oldest universities in Canada, is an advantage. The seating bowl is intimate, which is surprising due to the wider field, with a track, that usually makes the other side of the field seem miles away. The north stands are built into a hill, and have a fairly steep slope, making sightlines excellent. The south stands also have a fairly significant slope, and seeing the field was easy, even sitting behind a tall individual.
The simple focus continues throughout the seating bowl. There is definitely a distinct lack of technology present, but it is not missed. CFL games are never played at the same time, so an out-of-town scoreboard is not necessary. The video board is adequate but not overwhelming. There are no ribbon boards or anything like that, but they are not missed. In fact, more technology would probably take away from the natural and traditional feel the stadium has.
Being located at McGill, the stadium is surrounded by trees, which give the stadium a more natural feel, and the liberal use of wrought iron and no sign of chain link anywhere gives Molson Stadium that traditional college feel to it. The east endzone features the banners commemorating the 5 Grey Cup victories that go back to 1946. The south stands also feature signs commemorating those Grey Cup victories as well as the retired numbers of former Alouettes Mike Pringle, George Dixon, Herb Trawick, Pierre Desjardins, Peter Dalla Riva, Hal Patterson, Junior Ah You, and Sam Etcheverry.
Part of the excitement of the Alouettes game is the marriage of English and French culture. Music in the stadium is a healthy mix of popular English and French artists, and the PA announcer addresses the fans in both English and French. The people that work at the stadium are friendly and easily switch between English and French if you are not overly comfortable with the French language.
The U2 influence is not lost at the game. Sunday games usually feature a prominent playing of "Sunday, Bloody Sunday." The game that we were attending had such fantastic fall weather that "Beautiful Day" was the song of choice.
Molson Stadium is located at the northeast end of the McGill campus, at the foot of Mount Royal. Although there are no establishments in the immediate area, you are only a few short blocks from rue St-Catherine, the main street in Montreal. There are numerous options for before and after spots. There are many spots you could try out, I have had good luck with Celine Dion's restaurant Nickel's.
Also a key to the centre-ville area, are the numerous hotels in such a close proximity to the stadium. With access a bit of a challenge (see below) a close hotel may be a key to your gameday experience.
If the opportunity arises, you should consider walking through the beautiful McGill campus. The beautiful old campus offers a combination of old architecture and greenspace, which makes for a nice trip into the stadium.
I will admit that my experiences with Montreal fans in general have not been overly positive. The fans at the Alouettes games are friendly and intelligent. They are quiet for the offensive huddle, and crazy loud for the defense. They made themselves a factor in the game at key defensive situations.
One thing that I will give Montreal fans is that they treat sports like theatre. During the game, the concourses are pretty much empty. There are very few fans that go in and out during the game. The fans are most definitely at the stadium to watch the game, which is a refreshing change from some of my other experiences.
Parking is definitely an issue. There is street parking available on a limited basis and there are a couple of lots at a distance that offer a shuttle service. There were no real surface lots that I saw.
What keeps this mark from being lower, are the vast number of hotels in the area as well as the strong public transit system. We stayed at a hotel within walking distance and left our car at the hotel. Even after checkout, we were charged a minor surcharge to keep the car there a little longer. This led to a beautiful walk through the McGill campus to the stadium.
There are also numerous Metro stations around the campus. This may be the option for you if you are not willing to pay downtown hotel prices. The subway system around Montreal is excellent and you can get just about anywhere with it.
Tickets for the Alouettes range from $35-$150. This is fairly average for the CFL, which I have viewed on the high side overall. Concession prices are decent. Overall a trip to Montreal is well worth the effort and well worth the dollars.
An extra point for the beautiful campus of McGill University, and the beautiful surroundings of Montreal.
An extra point for the coolest way to say first down - Premier Essai!
An extra point for no nets in the endzone to block field goal kicks. Balls are caught by the fans and thrown back.
An extra point for the echo throughout the stadium of "Faites du Bruit!"
A final extra point for the culture and uniqueness of the city of Montreal.
The Montreal Alouettes are a wonderful excursion and could be part of a fantastic trip to the city of Montreal. With the uniqueness and culture of Montreal and the intimacy of Molson Stadium, you can't go wrong when going to see an Alouettes game. In most cases a trip to the Olympic Stadium leaves one feeling incomplete and unimpressed but a trip to Molson Stadium is a fantastic experience, and we have U2 to thank for that!
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710 rue Sainte-Catherine Ouest
Montreal, QC H3B 1B9
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