Apparently, not even inanimate objects can escape the effects of 2020. As the city and its boroughs set up a number of winter installations to give residents some semblance of holiday cheer, two structures stand out: the towering, traumatized nutcrackers in downtown Montreal.
With mouths agape and eyes wide and glassy, the statues, like the rest of us, appear to be under the dismal spell of the last year, staring aimlessly down rue Ste-Catherine, preoccupied with the unspeakable horrors replaying endlessly in their minds.
To remind you of good memories and to fill you with wonder, two giant nutcrackers will welcome you.
The street before them might as well not even exist. All they see is the personal hellscape of their own memories.
The nutcrackers are just one installation by XP_MTL downtown this year.
Visitors will also find a giant, festive tree, a "luminous" multi-coloured ceiling, and pink trees adorned with messages from residents.
Other attractions await in Ville-Marie, too, like the return of luminothérapie at Place des Festivals, which this year takes the form of human-powered music boxes.
Also in the Quartier des Spectacles are the "Winter Gardens" opening on December 5 and described in a statement shared with MTL Blog as "a very special path that will lead [...] to the foot of a majestic Christmas tree, facing an incredible Alsatian decor as well as small chalets offering a wonderful scenery."
Standing above it all will be the giant distressed nutcrackers, whose faces will definitely be recognizable to 2020-weary Montrealers.
"These were not cute storybook Eric Carle's 'hungry caterpillar' but rather something out of a horror movie," she said. "One or two would be sweet but to see each tree coated with these critters made us uneasy."
Experts told MTL Blog the bugs are most likely LDD moth (Lymantria dispar dispar) caterpillars, an invasive species that has been defoliating trees and pooping everywhere across Quebec, Ontario and the northeastern United States this year.
The moths, commonly known as "gypsy moths," were first brought to North America in 1869 by French artist Étienne Trouvelot, according to an online resource from the University of Wisconsin.
Without "many natural enemies," the moths were able to expand beyond Trouvelot's suburban Boston backyard to become "one of the most important insect pests of forest and shade trees in the eastern United States," the university explains.
McGill university insect pathologist Dr. Gary Dunphy told MTL Blog that, due to the natural ebb and flow of the population, LDD moth outbreaks occur every seven to 10 years.
They like trees such as oak, white pine, white spruce and birch, according to a fact sheet from the Invasive Species Centre.
Also, the caterpillars' tiny bodies are covered in hairs, called setae, which can cause a rash "somewhat like poison ivy," in some people, though it can be treated with antihistamines and over-the-counter medication, said Dunphy.
"The setae or hairs of the insets may elicit rashes several months after the larvae are gone, the hairs being entrapped in tree bark," he said.
They also poop everywhere and their feces, known as frass, makes an audible sound as it falls like rain, covering outdoor furniture, clothes and hair.
Like all LDD moth outbreaks, this year's problem will take care of itself as fungal and viral infections reduce their population, entomologist Gard Otis told MTL Blog.
"But we don't know what next year will bring," he said. "We don't know if the virus is going to sweep through this year and kill them. Or if we're going to have another high number next year before the virus takes them down."
Some communities spray a bacterial insecticide called BTK to control the pests, which "though totally harmless to your pets, to your children, and to yourself," can harm the food chain as it kills all moth and butterfly species.
"That's the insects that provide all the food for your little baby birds," said Otis. "Most of the songbirds here are feeding their young with caterpillars. So, what are they going to feed on?"
He said a more environmentally-friendly defence involves wrapping a burlap sack around the trunk of any tree in need of protection.
"What happens is the caterpillars crawl down out of the tree and rest on the trunk in the daytime. And they like to hide so they hide in the burlap and then you just shake them off into soapy water and that kills him," said Otis.
"So, if you have a few trees that you're worried about, you could do that and cut the infestation back to the point where it's not going to seriously harm them."
As for the caterpillars' long-term effect on the trees, themselves, Otis suggested that repeated visits can cause some damage.
"You have too many gypsy moths for too many years, a few trees will die, but most of them will bounce back."
"Bill 96 is clear. Anglophones represent 8% in Quebec and they will get 8% of the new places in the future," said Premier Legault.
"We freeze the number of places at the actual level and then the growth is 8% of the new places every year."
In Montreal, French-language CEGEPs will be able to count on an increase of 6,419 spots, compared to 2019. However, enrolment in English CEGEPs will be frozen at 2019 levels to "stabilize growth" over the next decade.
Legault said enrolment at English-language CEGEPs can still grow year over year compared to the 2019 level at which it's frozen, but only by 8% of the total number of new spots at all CEGEPs.
With the new freeze, total enrolment in English-language CEGEPs will represent less than 17.5% of the province's projected enrolment in the Quebec school system as a whole, which is in line with Bill 96's proposals regarding enrolment caps.
On Wednesday morning, Quebec Education Minister Jean-François Roberge and the Minister for Education and Minister responsible for the Status of Women Isabelle Charest announced the province's back-to-school plan for this year. Officials are aiming for the "most normal possible start to the school year for students and staff."
"Our hope is that from day one, everything will be in place for students to return to their school as they knew it," Roberge said in a press release.
The plan will "take into account the fact that at the start of the school year, 75% of the population aged 12 and over will be vaccinated and that a majority of pupils aged 12 to 17 will have received two doses."
It calls for:
the end of mask-wearing for "pre-school, primary, secondary, general adult education and vocational training students"
"the end of [...] stable class groups"
"the return of full-time attendance in educational services
"additional support measures for vulnerable students or those who are lagging behind
"a return to extracurricular activities
"a return to normal school transportation and the use of cafeterias and lunchrooms"
the "maintenance of cleaning and disinfection measures by maintenance workers, especially for frequently touched surfaces"
the "maintenance of hand hygiene routines for students and staff, as recommended by the CNESST
the "continued assessment of symptomatic children and their possible exclusion."
The government will review the plan in August and make any changes if necessary.
"I am convinced that this excellent news will contribute to the maintenance of good mental health in all students," said Charest.
Being a Desjardins member comes with lots of perks. One of these benefits is that when the financial cooperative makes surpluses at the end of the year, it shares part of them with its members in the form of member dividends.
If you're a member, you might have already noticed that Desjardins has deposited an amount into your accounts. That's your member dividend, and it's your share of the surpluses made by your caisse and Desjardins Group.
But Desjardins doesn't just give money back to its members: it also uses its surplus earnings to fund local projects that enrich the lives of communities.
Through its Community Development Fund, Desjardins supports innovative projects that help improve the well-being of people of all ages. Its caring and involvement are what make this financial institution stand out.
This year, Desjardins will pay out $330 million in member dividends and more than $50 million in community dividends, based on its values of fairness, democracy and transparency. If you're an eligible Desjardins member, you could receive your member dividend between May 31 and June 14.
Member dividends are made up of product dividends and volume dividends. Here's how both parts are calculated and how you can take advantage of this great member perk.
You could get a product dividend of up to $50 if, throughout 2020, you had one product in each of Desjardins' four main product lines:
Cards, loans and credit
Savings and investments
Your product dividend also depends on the number of months over which you had an eligible product in each of the four lines. So if you had your products for 6 months of 2020, for example, you'll get half of the dividend. It's that simple.
If you're 30 or younger, you need to have had a product in only three of the four product lines to be eligible. So you could receive a product dividend if you had, say, a savings account, a credit card and car insurance.
And you don't have to be rich to get a product dividend, either: Desjardins just wants to reward you for choosing them and for trusting them with your financial needs.
Desjardins calculates your volume dividend based on the average balance you had throughout the year in each product line and based on your insurance premiums.
Members of your caisse voted on a rate during your caisse's annual general meeting, and that's the percentage you'll get back. This rate is used to calculate the custom amount you’ll receive, based on your account balances and insurance premiums.