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.”