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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Photo du jour: an angel among us

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When I discovered Tam Tams, to my great delight, at the age of 13 or so, I remember dozens and dozens of drummers vying for spots the steps of the monument to Sir George Étienne Cartier. They sat facing the mountain, surrounded by wild-haired, flailing-armed, barefoot dancers, and you could hear the beat from blocks away.

Last Sunday, while there were thousands of people gathered on the slopes of the mountain for Tams, there were only a few drummers clustered in the upper left (technically south-west) corner of the square. The old sax playing wizard and a few others sway to their own rhythm in the northern corner. Hmh, I wondered, when did this migration happen?

Meanwhile, for several years there’s been an abundance of jugglers and acrobats on the surrounding slopes: as much as Tam Tams is an enduring institution, it seems to be carried by internal ebbs and flows of it’s own.

Of course evolution is a good thing, it’s a sign of resilience. This is no hollow tradition: it’s a living, breathing, let-loose-and-enjoy-the-sunshine celebration. Bongos and hippies may go out of fashion but this thing we call Tams isn’t going anywhere.

Any other tam tams trends spotted by our readers over the years, or before my time (I was 13 circa 1995)?



  1. I’ve seen a lot of amateur tightrope walkers in the wooded area just behind the monument.

  2. This was before my time in Montreal, but I remember reading a Montreal Mirror story that described people selling beer and food in the 1990s, which was one of the reasons the city instituted the permit system for street vendors. 

    When did the larpers (those medieval warrior people) start fighting in the woods? I don’t recall seeing them when I first visited in the early 2000s but it’s possible that I just overlooked them.

    I’m always fascinated by the factors that determine the size of the crowd. The first warm days of the year always attract a huge crowd — thousands and thousands of people — but by mid-summer, around the construction holidays, there are noticeably fewer people.

    The combination of the tam tams, street vendors, larpers, picnickers, jugglers, soccer players and random park-goers makes this whole corner of Montreal the absolute best place to be on a Sunday, even if you’re like Radio Radio and you don’t like tam tams and djembés.

  3. Medieval combats started about 12 years ago. We were only a few at first 6 or 7 exactly!), so that’s why you might not have noticed. We always fought around the same area, allthough we started among the trees, just north of our actual arena. It’s wonderful to see such an underground activity gain in popularity over the years! :)

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