Pandemic-weary Montrealers rejoiced as a local fine arts museum reopened Thursday after being shuttered for months, telling AFP it "feels so good" to get some cultural exposure again.
"Our first visitor!" exclaims museum director Stephane Aquin, greeting Sylvie Sills at the entrance of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
The 57-year-old visitor says she feels "really moved to be back at the museum" after a "too long" absence.
The city's museums and galleries were forced to close on October 1, along with bars, restaurants, cinemas and libraries as coronavirus cases shot up.
As of Thursday, Quebec reported more than 273,000 coronavirus cases, or about a third of the Canadian total, and more than 10,000 deaths.
The museum, which usually receives more than a million visitors per year -- around 3,000 to 4,000 people on its best days -- is limiting access to only about 800 each day as it eases back to normality.
Visitors must purchase tickets online. Inside, signs remind people to maintain at least two meters (six feet) of distance.
Benches where one could sit and linger have been removed from exhibition halls. Instead, masked visitors wander through the halls carrying folding chairs offered near the entrance.
"It's like a dose of medicine, a breath of fresh air... it feels good to be out," commented Richard Cassidy, 45.
He was echoed by Colette Richer, 61, a regular visitor to the museum prior to its forced closure.
"I missed this a lot," Richer said, explaining: "Even if you can see the exhibitions virtually, on the Internet, it's always better to see them in person, to be present, you feel the artworks more."
The reopening has also come just in time to stave off financial ruin. "The closure was expensive for the museum because obviously we had no ticket sales," Aquin said.
"We will need government support to help us regain a balanced budget," he added, without going into detail.
Staff, too, are glad to be back.
"It's so very special, especially after so many months in lockdown, to be able to see our co-workers again, to be able to see the museum's artworks and new exhibitions presented to the public," said customer service supervisor Louis-Philippe Ouellette.
"The museum above all, in these difficult times, can be an escape from everyday life," the 24-year-old added.