Joining the medieval battle on Mount Royal

Most Montrealers know about the tam tams. Hell, the weekly drum circle, market and gathering around the Sir George Étienne Cartier Monument on Mount Royal is even used by Tourism Montreal to promote the city. But what about the fighting that goes on in the woods behind the tam tams?

Every Sunday, just a few minutes’ walk from the traffic of Park Avenue, past the trinket vendors, dancers, drum players, drug dealers and picnickers that sprawl across the park lawn, is a weekly mock battle between dozens of people dressed as medieval warriors. They fight with elaborately weapons — swords, daggers, lances, shields, battle-axes and more — crafted entirely from foam and duct tape. Most of the warriors are young men, but every week, as the battle draws more attention, it seems to attract a more diverse crowd that includes some women.

I have no idea how this battle got started. When I wrote an article on the tam tams for the Gazette, in 2003, I can’t recall that it existed. It must be fairly recent, then. In any case, it’s hugely entertaining and it takes place with the same spontaneous organized chaos as the tam tams. In fact, it feeds on the bizarre energy that the tam tams bring to Mount Royal and Jeanne Mance Park every Sunday, a kind of energy that turns normally exclusive activities into large, welcoming and communal ones.

Yesterday, I went down to Mount Royal to check out the fight with some friends. It turns out that anyone can join the fight; there’s even a guy who will loan you weapons. Armed with a couple of makeshift swords from the dollar store, one of my friends charged in only to stand in the dust, bewildered. He was, of course, killed. As he walked back, a man with a shaved head, clad in leather armour, turned to him and said, “I will avenge your death.”


Crossposted to Urbanphoto.

17 comments

  1. Hey, did you know about when, a couple of years ago, the Indie kids dressed up as zombies and crashed the midievil battle on the mountain?

  2. I lived in Montreal until 2003 and it was always going on when I went to tam tams in the years before that. It looks a lot bigger from the pictures you have, but it definitely isn’t a new thing.

  3. According to a commenter on Urbanphoto, the battle used to be located in Jeanne Mance Park, but it moved to its current location a few years ago.

    As for the zombies, there was an article about it two years ago in the Gazette:

    When zombies attack: A midsummer day’s tale
    Montreal Gazette
    Saturday, July 23, 2005
    Page: A1 / FRONT
    Section: News
    Byline: JOHN MACFARLANE
    Source: The Gazette

    It was another ordinary Sunday afternoon in Mount Royal park for a few hundred extraordinary people.

    Damage to their shields and swords from the week before had been patched with duct tape. Broken arrows had been replaced with unbroken ones and bruises had healed.

    In a sun-dappled clearing where the day’s cruel heat was less oppressive, the battle had begun anew.

    And then the zombies arrived, and any trace of the ordinary – even for those accustomed to shields, swords, arrows and battles – was erased.

    But wait. Back up, back up. Before we tell this story – which features impressive amounts of chivalry and heroism, people with big imaginations, the Internet, the intersection of at least two unusual subcultures and the possibility of a genuine original thought – perhaps we should quickly summarize a few other stories.

    - – -

    On Sundays in the Plateau, it isn’t unusual to see handfuls of youths pedalling toward the mountain on their bikes, carrying jousting poles.

    Nor is it odd to cross the street next to someone wearing chain mail and wielding a battle axe.

    In the summer, on any given Sunday, there will be as many as 200 similarly attired people, mostly male, mostly (but not exclusively) around 20 years old, fighting medieval-style in a dusty area a few hundred metres from Park Ave.

    The weekly battle in the park is more or less an unstructured, amateur version of much more serious combat re-enactment that takes place in locations both urban and rural around the world.

    What happens on Mount Royal isn’t exactly this thing called larping (live action role playing) – it’s like a practice session for a larping farm team.

    “On the mountain, all you need is a foam sword,” said David Ip, 30, a bespectacled part-time student with a thick, courtly goatee, who co-captains a troop of Sunday warriors called Knights of the Lion.

    “It’s very loosely based. There’s no organization that runs it.”

    It’s safe to say that most of the participants on Sunday afternoons are Dungeons and Dragons fans, or Tolkien fans, or Star Wars fans, or all of the above. Tens of millions watched Lord of the Rings and, in the darkness of the theatre, yearned for a life more heroic. These are the people who have acted upon that yearning.

    It’s also safe to say that a considerable component of the Plateau/Mile End population – as well as others who happen to be in the vicinity of the mountain on Sundays – tend to instinctively dismiss the fighters as geeks or outcasts in the same way that anything “not normal” generally tends to get dismissed.

    Everyone has a way of escaping from reality, Ip observed.

    “Some people collect stamps,” he said, sounding like he has had to explain his hobby on more than one occasion. “Some people go out and get wasted on Saturday nights.”

    S S S

    The idea of dressing up as zombies and attacking the mountain fighters was originally a joke, said Katie Hooper, a pensive, zombie-fascinated Mile End resident. But her friends immediately loved the idea, and so Hooper pursued it, eventually getting a friend to post a message about it on stillepost.ca, an online forum loosely devoted to indie rock.

    Fringe music and zombies have close ties. Punks famously became zombies in George Romero’s Return of the Living Dead, and there’s now an unwritten rule that contemporary zombie flicks must include decidedly non-top-40 music. A considerable number of bands – pioneered, possibly, by New Jersey’s Misfits – have made careers out of the use of undead themes. All this to say that if you’re trying to get people to dress up as zombies, indie rock fans should probably be at the top of your list.

    Thus, on a Sunday in early July, a few dozen zombies came lurching and groaning out of a St. Laurent Blvd. apartment and made their way – very professionally made up and completely in character – toward the mountain.

    “I was expecting something cheesy and unprofessional,” said Marie-Elaine Guay, 22, a tattooed Plateau resident and stillepost regular who didn’t dress up but went along for the ride. “But it was very impressive.”

    After a brief stop at McDonald’s (where Hooper saw an opportunity to highlight the oft-suggested zombie-like nature of corporate and fast-food culture with a macabre dance party that amused the clientele and irritated the manager), the zombies regrouped in the woods near the fighters.

    It might be expected that the medievalists, having never experienced an intrusion into their Sunday reality, would have been stunned when a small army of dishevelled zombies staggered out of the woods toward them. But this was not the case.

    “It was like they had been waiting for this moment for their entire lives,” Guay said.

    “They formed a battle line and charged,” said Kate Irvine, 20, another message board regular and spectator. “They didn’t stop and look confused even for a second.”

    The medievalists advanced, as heroic in near-reality as they had been in fantasy. The zombies, vastly outnumbered, but, you know, behaving like mindless zombies, shuffled toward them. An hour-long battle ensued, in which the imaginary carnage was heavy. Brains were devoured. Zombies were cut down, only to rise again.

    “It was incredible,” Hooper said. “It went from a joke in the woods to, ‘It’s a battle.’ I lost track of time for 25 minutes.”

    “A lot of these kids fantasize about dragons and warriors and all that,” Ip said. “And suddenly, there they are – zombies.”

    S S S

    The attack that Sunday afternoon was the first of its kind. So, perhaps not surprisingly, news of the zombie ambush spread around the world. Internet sites devoted to larping and similar pursuits pulsed with the news that in Montreal an outside group had entered the medievalists’ alternate world.

    “I have friends in North Carolina, and their (larping) friends told them about it,” Hooper said. “It’s all over the Internet.”

    On stillepost, a few days after the battle, a poster from an Aberystwyth, Wales, larping group invited the zombies to pay them a visit. “All I can say is that I wish our locals would make the effort to do that to us (I can’t believe the extent you lot went to with the goo and the ripping),” he wrote.

    It’s highly unlikely that Hooper will reassemble her army of the undead for a trip to Wales. But she does allow that there will be copycats.

    But any future iteration of the Montreal zombie attack, in any other city, won’t be quite the same. There will be a knowledge that what was happening had already happened before. Every future instance will be inspired by what happened here.

    S S S

    Much effort has been made here to avoid referring to the Mount Royal fighters as geeks, nerds, or dorks, and a similar amount of effort has been expended to resist calling those who dressed as zombies “hipsters.”

    But this is pretty much how each group refers to the other – much to the other group’s dismay. Hooper – who, it should be said, has much respect for the fighters – was even forced to explain on the message board that her plan did not amount to “showing the geeks who’s boss.”

    Groups and communities, sadly, tend not to mix. It’s rare, for example, that someone invites their flag football team to hang out with their book club. And so this intersection of two subcultures, however brief, is all the more fascinating – not least because both groups tend to be a bit insular and obsessive.

    There’s obviously something ironic about mocking a group of people who dress up in costumes and attack each other by dressing up in costumes and attacking them. And so those zombies who perhaps weren’t initially very interested in Hooper’s more spiritual goal of seeking escape by playing a role, and who really just wanted to “stick it to the nerds,” were subject to a revelation.

    “It was those who were the most hard-headed about ‘the geeks being an embarrassment to society’ who afterward said they had the best time of their lives,” Ip said.

    It’s quite apparent, said Irvine, that the zombie types were “just a different kind of nerd.”

    “A friend of mine, just as the whole thing came to a close, he said ‘What a great gift these guys have given us,’ ” Ip said. “Some of the younger kids had the greatest experience they’ve ever had going to the mountain.”

    jmacfarlane@thegazette.canwest.com

  4. I live in Toronto, but went to McGill… damn I miss Montreal.

  5. Hello.. I live in Pelican Rapids MN and i am 17 years old and very interested in this….. Do you know of any other mock battles that occur like this one…. and when does this one go on?…. Please reply back… oh and im thinking of starting a website up and was wondering if you might B interested in being a editor

  6. Hi David
    This battle goes on every sunday on a clearing a few hundred meters away from TamTams, on the corner Park and Rachel.
    The TamTams season officially starts on May 11th, but I went there today (since it’s 420, and TamTams is known for attracting weed fans), and the mock battle as well as the drum players were already goin on.
    I don’t know of any other battles like this one, and can’t imagine another anywhere else than in the free-spirited, spontaneous and pleasantly chaootic atmosphere of Montreal’s Sunday Tamtams!

  7. this looks realy cool. whish i lived in canada. : (

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  9. Every week on the Lord’s day we march on the mountain. Our battle calls and songs are echoed by the cries of our enemies as we bury our swords in their foul bodies.

    hahaha yeah every sunday, as soon as the snow thaws, so this year we began by the end of april.

  10. This is a blast – we make it up to Montreal from Connecticut every summer. My son absolutely loves this – probably nearly as much as I love TamTams! Best Sunday afternoon of the year, hands down.

  11. does anyone know till when in the season it goes on? i wanted to go check it out october 4th but i dont know till when they do this.

  12. Hey Chris,

    Im a local producer for a Web company called Watchmojo. We are interested in doing a piece on the sunday battles at Mont Royal. Im looking for contact to direct me in the a few details and subjects for the shoot. i.e. when, how long, who are the kee players/organizers, when the events end before the snow falls. Please forward me any info!

    Craig Conoley
    WatchMojo.com – Producer/Editor/Host
    acc_24@hotmail.com

  13. HI all
    well as a Warrior of the mountain i am sure i can answer most of these questions.
    ok
    so in first place…
    -Any one can join the battle , as long as the weapons they use are safe ( yours or rented ) , their parents are there ( if under 13 years old )
    AND RESPECT THE RULES!!!
    its a game, and games loose they r fun if someone cheats, so buff up your fair-play. A good way for this is to count the hits you revived and not the one you give.

    Body hits go like so:
    -If an arm gets hit , you loose it. Same for a leg ( no jumping on 1 limb…your going down) if you loose 2 limbs ( 2 arms, 2 legs or 1 of each ) your dead.
    A torso or a back hit means your Dead. NO FACE HITS ( that means the head in general) Because accidents happen more often if we do and beat up warrior wont fight anymore.
    Keep in mind that its almost a child like fantasy so please…Dont take yourself to seriously.
    I’m tired of wannabe Ninjas and so called ”kung fu master” . When you enter the battlefield you must forget all you think you know about sword fight. Most of it is Garbage taken from movies and games. Start from the ground up. We all did. Ain’t no one walking around the battlefield that’s better then others, only more arrogant or maybe faster to run away.

    So if you wanna try, express your feelings, keep your kid away from the xbox and so on, pass by the mountain on a Sunny Sunday and grab a sword, i dare you not to
    i double…i TRIPLE DARE YOU!!!
    Franck Lee

  14. I have seen them fight on the Mont-Royal park ceveral times. Quite fun.
    I was also part of a LARP group myself but moved to more realistic type fighting. As a matter of fact, for those of you interested in LARP or real medieval combat, we will be giving a real medieval combat show this weekend (July 30th just north of montreal). The show is free. Everyone is welcome. We combat will be gladiator style pairing, using real swords, real armors, full contact. If intersted, you could email us for details on the address. Our email is webmaster@darksword-armory.com

    Steve Stevens ( http://www.darksword-armory.com )

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