Under the Cuban Sun with Marie-Victorin
In the Temporary exhibition space* of the Montréal Botanical Garden (until 2012)
As soon as the cold, grey weather arrives, thousands of Montrealers and people across Quebec start planning their next escape south.
Topping the list is Cuba, a sunny little paradise, with its countless sandy beaches, turquoise blue seas and lush vegetation.
Did you know that in 1937, Brother Marie-Victorin, the Montréal Botanical Garden's founder,
developed a real «botanical» passion for this jewel of the Caribbean?
Under the Cuban Sun with Marie-Victorin, an all-new exhibition starting at the
Montréal Botanical Garden on December 5, 2008, presents photographs, texts and even a video describing
the seven trips that he made there between 1938 and 1944. Step over the threshold and you too are sure
to fall under the country's charms as you discover the fabulous beauty and tremendous biodiversity of a (then little-known)
Cuba that was so eloquently described by Marie-Victorin.
1937: Brother Marie-Victorin dreamed of accepting the invitation from his fellow botanist and great friend
Brother Léon to join him in Cuba. The two men had been corresponding for thirty years about its exotic and unique flora.
How could he resist the call of this vision of paradise and its intriguing plants? Yet he had so many obligations here that
made it difficult for him to leave.
Cuba, here I come!
1938 : his dream came true! Marie-Victorin was truly enchanted during his first trip there,
which he made at Christmastime with his sisters. Other trips would soon follow – he made seven in all.
During his expeditions, he roamed the island from one end to the other with two travelling companions,
Brother Léon and his assistant, José Perez Carabia. These botanist-explorers travelled across Cuba using
every possible means of transportation, from planes to cars, horses and boats, their curiosity constantly
taking them ever farther in search of new discoveries. Marie-Victorin found this spectacular environment endlessly fascinating.
The Under the Cuban Sun exhibition presents a series of Brother Marie-Victorin's favourite Cuban destinations and discoveries. From West to East:
The province and city of HAVANA
Discoveries: the royal palm, Cuba's national tree
The province of PINAR DEL RIO
Discoveries: mogotes (steep, rocky cliffs), bohios (peasant homes made from royal palms),
tobacco fields and belly palms, with their distinctive swollen trunks
ISLA DE PINOS (the Isle of Pines, today known as the Isle of Youth)
Discoveries: tropical pines
The province of MATANZAS
Discoveries: in the North, sugar cane and agaves, and in the South,
carboneros, men who burned mangroves to make charcoal for cooking food
The province of CIENFUEGOS
Discoveries: the wealth of Cuban flora and its unique species
The province of SANTA CLARA
Discoveries: the many uses of royal palms in daily life and the work done by a mochador, a very special kind of tree trimmer
ORIENTE (Santiago de Cuba, Sierra Maestra, Pilon, Guantanamo, Sierra de Nipe and Baracoa)
Discoveries: food plants like coconut palms, coffee plants and cacao trees.
E for ECOLOGY
Brother Marie-Victorin travelled completely around the island of Cuba.
As one of the earliest ecologists, he helped tell people about Cuba's splendid flora.
He also brought a large number of his finds back to Quebec with him – over 3,000 herbarium plants collected
with Brother Léon in Cuba (placed in the Marie-Victorin Herbarium at the Université de Montréal's Institut de recherche
en biologie végétale) and several Cuban plants that are still thriving at the Botanical Garden, 70 years later!
It is interesting to note that this attention to preserving the unique Cuban flora
(which he also published in a book, Itinéraires botaniques de l'île de Cuba)
can still be seen today: the Cuban government has created national parks and biosphere reserves
in some splendid natural settings. Some of them are open to visitors – definitely worth a detour on your next trip!
The Botanical Garden's founder was not only a highly regarded botanist, but also an excellent photographer.
Under the Cuban Sun presents some fine examples of his work,
from black and white photographs to colour glass slides and hand-coloured glass plates.
A host of other items are also displayed: personal possessions (his passport), typical Cuban articles
(tobacco leaves, a tool used by a torcedor) and handicrafts (wood carvings).
Under the Cuban Sun: the film
In addition, some brief excerpts from the Under the Cuban Sun lecture given by Brother Marie-Victorin at the Montréal Botanical Garden
when he returned from his first trip will also be screened: a timeless tribute to the island's treasures!
While waiting for your next vacation, come relax Under the Cuban Sun with Marie-Victorin. You can leave your passport and sunscreen at home.
The contest winner is Mrs. Nezha Boumzebra from Montréal.
* The access to the Temporary Exhibition Space will be from the Molson Hospitality Greenhouse.