Holiday memories - McCord Museum

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In conjunction with the Enchanted Worlds installation

The Mill in the Forest © McCord Museum, 2018

Holiday memories

I was quite young, probably around five, when I first saw the holiday windows at Ogilvy’s. My mother had dragged me and my brother all the way downtown. I say “dragged” because I remember dragging my feet in the metro.

Catherine with her brother and mother in front of Ogilvy’s holiday window, St. Catherine Street, 1987

The journey seemed to take forever, and I felt increasingly weighed down by my coat and boots. We followed my mother into a series of stores. I don’t really recall where we went. However, I do know that Mama shopped for a winter coat at Ogilvy’s and that I sat on a padded footstool for a long time waiting for her. A very long time.

After this ordeal, we left the store by the St. Catherine Street exit. And that’s when I saw the holiday windows for the very first time. I didn’t know where to look first, there was so much to see! I also remember a man playing the bagpipes in front of the store. It was the first time I had ever heard the instrument. Not only that, but he was wearing a skirt! About thirty years later, I found out that one of the bagpipers who used to play in front of the windows every year was Jeff McCarthy, who is married to my colleague, Heather McNabb, the head of the Museum’s Archives and Documentation Centre.

From then on, every year until I was 11, my mother and I would take public transit from our home on the South Shore to see the windows, ending our journey at Laura Secord for a raspberry ice cream cone topped with a little piece of chocolate. It was one of our little rituals.

Years later, when Ogilvy’s handed over the windows to the McCord Museum in 2018, I was named project manager in charge of exhibiting the two magical displays that had marked my childhood.

It’s important to understand that there are, in fact, two different mechanical windows and that Ogilvy’s would alternate them: The Mill in the Forest, which the Museum now displays on Victoria Street, and The Enchanted Village, normally presented inside the Museum (with the exception of this year because of the pandemic).

When the Museum received the windows, it was like having to put together two giant jigsaw puzzles. Piece by piece, with the help of some Ogilvy employees, Chief Technician John Gouws and his team carefully assembled the displays, restored and repaired the stuffed animals, and painstakingly cleaned the mechanisms, some of which were even operational. Damaged bits of scenery were touched up with paint, worn-out mirrored surfaces were replaced, and everything was magically refreshed with fake snow.

Packing crates containing scenery and stuffed animals © McCord Museum, 2018

The next step was to figure out how to exhibit one of the windows outside the Museum to maintain the holiday tradition for Montrealers. After entertaining all sorts of possibilities, we settled on a shipping container.

Our chosen solution nonetheless presented a number of challenges. There had to be an opening on one side big enough to fit the display through it, windows along at least two sides, an integrated heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system, a perfect seal against the elements, sufficient lighting, and a rear access door in case of problems or mechanical breakdowns. Technicians Olivier LeBlanc-Roy, Julie Laframboise, Alexandre Côté, Mélissa Jacques and Patrick Migneault use this door when they have to go in to make adjustments, a challenging, delicate task done in socks, if need be, so as not to damage any surfaces.

Modifications to the shipping container © McCord Museum, 2018

The idea of decorating the container to look like a giant present came quite naturally: covered with red painted wood, dressed up with some graphic embellishments and topped with a metal bow, the festive tone was set! The Mill in the Forest settled into its new home in Victoria Street’s Urban Forest, surrounded by lit-up metal trees and accompanied by music from speakers mounted on the container.

When the holidays wind up in January, it will once again be time to call for the crane to hoist the giant present into the air so we can say: good-by until next year!

Moving the container © McCord Museum, 2019

I would love to see a bagpiper serenading those enjoying the display. I should ask Heather about that… In the mean time, this year, I think it’s my turn to “drag” my mother downtown to see the window. Who knows—maybe we’ll end up at Laura Secord. One raspberry cone, please. And don’t forget the chocolate on top!

Catherine K. Laflamme, Project Manager, Exhibitions
Decembre 2020

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