Skip to content

Closed patios can reopen, but Montreal faces more questions over F1 weekend problems

MONTREAL — Montreal restaurateurs who were ordered to evict some customers on Grand Prix weekend learned Thursday they'd be able to reopen their covered outdoor seating areas, but that wasn't enough to quiet mounting questions over the city's managem
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, of Great Britain, goes through the final chicane on a wet track during the first practice session at the Canadian Grand Prix Friday, June 7, 2024 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

MONTREAL — Montreal restaurateurs who were ordered to evict some customers on Grand Prix weekend learned Thursday they'd be able to reopen their covered outdoor seating areas, but that wasn't enough to quiet mounting questions over the city's management of the major tourist event.

Mayor Valérie Plante said Thursday that the decision by fire prevention employees to order restaurants to suddenly close their patios on one of the busiest evenings of the year was "unjustifiable."

The decision by fire inspectors not only impacted customers and the restaurants on Peel Street but also damaged the city's reputation, she said, adding that the administration will remove parking spots to allow the covered patios to operate on Peel.

"This event must serve as an example never to be repeated," Plante said Thursday.

The headline-grabbing patio incident isn't the only troubling event that has raised questions about Montreal's handling of the race weekend, which is among the country's biggest tourist draws.

The city and race organizers are facing criticism after stormy weather, large crowds and confusing messages during the Canadian Grand Prix events prompted Quebec's tourism minister to say she was "very embarrassed" for the city and the province.

Racing publications Pole-Position and said the issues included mud and flooding at the race site, fans being turned away from a practice session they were led to believe was cancelled, traffic headaches and fans breaching the track at the end of the race.

Paul Desbaillets, co-owner of Montreal's Burgundy Lion pub, said he witnessed a chaotic scene on Saturday near the Montreal casino while he found himself in a large crowd trying to find transportation back to the city after the day's events at the track. He said the crowd was increasingly frustrated by fences that penned them in and by the absence of buses, taxis, and Ubers, which he said were not able to reach the parking lot.

"People starting to get sort of mad, some people were jumping over the fences," he said. "Security was trying to stop people, and we're talking about three not very well-trained people trying to hold back a very worked-up crowd."

He said that in the time he was there, he only saw one bus and the occasional taxi, even as "limo trucks" pulled in to pick up VIPs in plain sight of an increasingly frustrated crowd.

Desbaillets said he eventually decided to walk the eight kilometres home, joined by many other pedestrians who added to the already crowded scene on the roads that connect downtown with the man-made island where the race is held every year. He described the whole experience as "shocking," noting it's "not the first time we host."

"What a what a terrible taste it would leave in some people's mouths if this is the first time they visited our city," he said.

On Friday, lightning, heavy rain and hail rolled through Montreal ahead of the practice start time leading to confusion among fans on whether the event would take place.

Event organizers asked spectators to leave the grandstands amid the inclement weather while police shut down the bridges accessing Notre Dame Island. That led to Montreal's transit authority sending out announcements saying the events had been cancelled due to weather, even though the race organizer insists that wasn't the case.

"There was never any communication from the promoter that the sessions were cancelled," said Sandrine Garneau, spokesperson for Formula 1 Canadian Grand Prix.

While it temporarily stopped fans from entering the track due to safety concerns, "we understood later in the day that the public transit authority … took it upon themselves to announce a cancellation without our knowledge or consent," Garneau wrote Thursday. The organizer said fans were allowed back once the storm had passed.

The transit authority said it "received information of the end of activities and the evacuation of the Grand Prix site" from the police-led command and information processing centre, called CCTI.

"When the Grand Prix organization changed its mind about the end of the activities a few minutes later, we adjusted our messages accordingly," the transit authority said.

Garneau said there were "several challenges" during the 2024 race. "We are conducting a comprehensive post-mortem of our own operations and interactions with all stakeholders, and we are committed to making the necessary adjustments for next year."

The Canadian GP returns to Circuit Gilles Villeneuve next year. The racetrack is under contract with F1 until 2031.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 13, 2024.

— With files from Daniel Rainbird

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press