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Official Review by Sean MacDonald, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Montreal football has a long history that started in 1872 and has seen the local team play under many monikers and in various stadiums. The team joined the CFL in 1946 and took the Alouette name after the famous song about plucking a skylark.
After playing at Delorimier Stadium (also home to the minor league Montreal Royals), the team moved to Percival Molson Stadium which had opened in 1915. They subsequently changed venues twice more before settling in Olympic Stadium in 1976 where they stayed until they folded in 1986. Ten years later the franchise emerged from the ashes of the Baltimore Stallions and again moved into Olympic Stadium.
Poor attendance for the first two seasons led many to think the team would fail yet again, but U2 saved the day in 1997. A playoff game was scheduled for the same day as a concert by the Irish band. The Als had to move its playoff game to Molson Stadium where it sold out.
Somebody finally realized that playing in one of the worst venues in professional sports is not a good way to entice fans to attend. The team returned to Molson Stadium permanently in 1998 (playing one regular season game and any playoff encounters at Olympic Stadium), selling out every home game there until a renovation in 2010 increased capacity by nearly 5,000.
The Alouettes were the most successful team in the league during the 2000s with three Grey Cup victories; no doubt, the move to Molson Stadium was a key reason for this run of good fortune.
Originally dubbed McGill Graduates Stadium, the venue was renamed in 1919 for Percival Molson, a great-grandson of the famous brewer who was killed in action in France two years prior and who provided $75,000 to the university in his will to help complete the stadium. It has stood the test of time and is definitely a fascinating place to visit as it begins its second century.
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There are several small concession stands throughout the concourse offering a few items other than the typical stadium fare. Food menus here are only in French, but should be understandable for most fans. Mais soufflé is popcorn and arachides are peanuts-not spiders. The only thing you really need to know is "Viande Fumée," which is smoked meat. A sandwich of this variety is $8 and excellent even though it is pre-made and served in aluminum foil. Turkey drumsticks, pulled turkey, and poutine are other local flavors to enjoy at the stadium.
Coca-Cola products are widely available, as is beer (no points for guessing which brewer provides it).
There is an officially sponsored tailgate party next to the main entrance that starts 2 1/2 hours before kickoff and includes several food trucks as well as barbecue grills to use if you bring your own meat. Beer cans are also allowed, but no beer bottles please. There is also music from local radio station CKOI and inflatable games.
Molson Stadium was originally used as a track-and-field facility, hence the seating bowl curves around the field and is not ideal for football. There are only benches in the seating areas, making it not the most comfortable place to watch a game.
Still, the location is one of the most scenic of any football stadium, with the east side looking up Mount Royal, where the Mount Royal Cross is located. Looking southeast from the upper concourse, exists the picturesque Montreal skyline, very beautiful at night.
Concourses here are narrow and dark, as you would expect from a stadium entering its second century of use. The upper concourse on the east side is the best place to relax, as you get the view above and are protected from any rain by the seats above you.
The best thing about seeing the Alouettes is the game day experience. From well before the game, an in-game host excites the crowd into cheering and generally succeeds. The most commonly used phrase is "Faites du Bruit" (make some noise) which is uttered only in French to get fans cheering. Another cheer is heard whenever the Larks get a first down as the announcer shouts "Premier essai! First down!" followed by the fans yelling "Montreal!" in tandem.
Individual plays are announced in both languages, which might make scorekeeping difficult if you are not bilingual. I could go on, but you should definitely experience it for yourself.
Molson Stadium is located at the northwest end of the McGill campus, at the foot of Mount Royal. Although there are no establishments in the immediate vicinity, you are only a few short blocks from Rue St-Catherine and Rue Peel, both very active streets with plenty of bars and restaurants to choose from. One option is McLean's Pub a couple of blocks southeast of the Peel Metro Station.
Montreal is a beautiful city that seems more European than North American, particularly in the old town, which has a dedicated museum, shops, and restaurants situated in antique buildings and cobblestone streets.
If the opportunity arises, you should consider walking through the beautiful McGill campus, which offers a combination of old architecture and greenery, creating a scenic trip into the stadium.
Alouette fans are loud and proud and make noise at the right times throughout the game, helped by the PA announcer. That long sellout streak is to be respected. A brief drizzle chased many away from the game we attended, but the team is still at 86.7% capacity on the season.
Driving in Montreal can be tricky for first-time visitors, but the Als do provide public transit options from suburban metro stations if you want to avoid downtown during rush hour. Should you drive, there is street parking nearby. It is not free, but is still the best option.
If you attending a weekday evening game that starts at 7:30, the best advice is to drive along Avenue Des Pins east of Avenue Du Parc just before 6:30, which is when the no-stopping period expires. Just pay for 2.5 hours parking ($7.50, a good way to get rid of all that Canadian change) and walk a few minutes to the stadium. From here, it is easy to get back to the highway should you be staying outside of downtown.
The stadium is located on Mount Royal just northwest of downtown, and you will have to walk up a small hill to get to the main entrance. The public tailgate is here as well.
Inside the concourses are narrow and they do get crowded at halftime. There are several staircases to the upper decks and these do not get overly congested.
Restrooms are old and lines form during the intermission, keep that in mind and scurry down just before the clock strikes zero if you need to take a break.
The cheapest ticket at the box office is $34 to sit in the end zone and prices go up from there, generally with a different price for every section you get closer to midfield and a little difference for the upper and lower decks. An upper deck seat at the 40-yard line has a face value of $113 Canadian ($84.13 American).
The secondary market is preferred here, and you should be able to locate some friendly neighbourhood scalpers willing to negotiate.
Including food and parking, a game will easily exceed $100 for a couple (and could go north of $250 if you want the best seats), but it is well worth it for the quintessential views and game day experience.
Just inside the main entrance is a series of panels detailing the history of the venue that is worth a look. It is in both English and French and will take several minutes to read through.
All of the Grey Cup banners are just inside the main entrance though note that the team does not recognize the 1995 championship won in Baltimore as the CFL considers it a different franchise.
There is also a small plaque commemorating the 2012 ceremony that honoured the 1981 Montreal Expos.
A final point for no nets in the end zone to block field goal kicks. Balls are caught by the fans and tossed back to the field.
This old-school venue is probably the best place to visit for CFL football for the overall experience. Most of the stadiums in the league are simple and clean, but Molson's location is unbeatable, the atmosphere unique, and the smoked meat sandwich a great final touch. Add on Montreal's beauty and culture, and you have the makings of a great weekend trip. Montreal is only six hours from New York City, so keep it in mind if you live in the northeast and want to try a different type of sports experience.
Member Review by profan9
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.
Member Review by 25grapes on Aug 07, 2014
It really is a great place to watch football. Location is great and the fans passionate and loud. Saying that it could use some touch ups. I know it was renovated only a few years ago but that was only for capacity. Montreal probably has the highest priced tickets in the CFL and its all bench seating. I would like to see individual seats brought in even if it reduces capacity by a few hundred. Concessions and other facilities could also use some touch ups. What really makes this stadium special are the crowds and sight lines of the city.
710 rue Sainte-Catherine Ouest
Montreal, QC H3B 1B9
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