I grew up in the pretty little suburb St. Lambert, across the Seaway Canal from the Island of Montreal. At the end of my street, I had a clear view of the canal and its ships, the Expo Islands, and then the city. Mount Royal loomed behind them all. At night I could clearly see its brightly-lit white cross; one of my favourite views.
To reach another favourite view, my family occasionally rode an overnight train to Amherst, Nova Scotia; and then drove twenty minutes out to our relatives’ cottage country. My Maritime relatives spent their summers perched above the Northumberland Strait, near the tiny community of Tidnish. From a grassy perch over the beach, I could see out into the Strait; the view changing from ocean to tantalizing mud flat, depending on the tide.
While in Tidnish, there was nothing to make me want to go back to the city. But during my 1978 trip there, Pope Paul VI died. I found out that the cross on Mount Royal was now purple. By the time I got home, a new Pope had been chosen and the cross was white again. In my shallow 17-year-old mentality, I was less concerned about the death of a Pope than I was about the fact that I had missed out on seeing the purple cross.
A short time later, the new Pope was dead, and the cross on Mount Royal was purple once again. This time I was home and got to see it.
What amazes me most about the Year-of-Three-Popes-and-two-purple-crosses is the technology. In 1992, The Mount Royal cross was converted to fibre-optic light, allowing for easy changes to purple (also to red or blue). In 2008, it was converted to polychromatic LEDs, allowing for easy changes to any colour. But back in 1978, city-workers would have had to change every light bulb from white to purple, and then back to white again…twice.