Montreal's Urban Rodeo began Thursday evening roped in controversy.

Dozens of peaceful protesters turned up on night one to take a stand against it.

NomadFest takes place in the Old Port and includes multiple concerts, food with a southwestern theme, and four evenings of rodeo performances in a 5,000-seat ring.

The organization that puts on the annual western festival in St-Tite is handling Montreal's urban rodeo. The St-Tite festival is the second-largest rodeo in Canada and routinely draws 600,000 people.

But Montreal's rodeo didn't go off without a hitch.

At least two animal rights groups are set to protest every day of the event, saying scheduled events including bull riding are dangerous for animals.

"We're going to protest at least two hours before the rodeo begins so we can persuade some people not to go. By getting tickets and by contributing to this, you are contributing to the discomfort and exploitation of animals," said one of the protest co-organizers, Christina Vassilatos.

“None of the animals want to be in the rodeo.”

NomadFest organizer Maxime Lefebvre said the protesters have every right to speak out, but that he hopes they take a look at how they treat the animals.

“We invite them to come and see what we do. We’re pretty proud of the way we work with animals and the way we really care about our animals. Instead of protesting they should come and see how we work with them,” he said. “We’re really proud of it. It’s amazing.”

Animal rights groups say the protests will be peaceful and held in memory of the animals that have died during rodeos.

The Montreal SPCA also opposes the rodeo, saying in a statement: “Rodeos subject animals to fear, stress, and undue risk of injury or even death, all in the name of so-called 'entertainment.”

Meanwhile Montreal city councillor Marvin Rotrand said the city has offered employees up to eight free tickets, each.

“For any municipal employee who wants up to eight free tickets call this number and you will get your tickets. It had a sort of air of desperation about it,” said Rotrand.

Considering free tickets were also given away for the Formula E race, and the city refuses to say how many tickets were actually purchased, Rotrand said that's a bad sign.

"The public increasingly is fed up with the 375th anniversary," said Rotrand.

"Canada's 150th birthday, coast-to-coast, $500 million. Montreal's 375th? One billion plus, and a lot of that wasn't durable, a lot of that was parties."

Lefebvre said Rotrand’s comment about the rodeo ticket sales is overblown.

“There was a contract – we had to give them 1,000 tickets – that's what we did. We gave them tickets as we did to all our partners,” he said, adding “We're looking at 4,700 (people attending) per night only for the rodeos and we're looking for at least 10,000 people for the shows.”

Lefebvre said NomedFest had no reason to give out more free tickets than necessary.

“We have to make money on this event,” he said.

Earlier this year a Université de Montreal law professor and students filed an injunction to stop the rodeo, but that was dropped after both sides agreed that a veterinarian will be able to examine animals before and after events.

The general manager of the Festival Western de St-Tite said the animals are treated well and that a team of veterinarians will be on hand at all times to monitor their welfare.

"This is an opportunity for everyone to see our best practices and come to understand the breadth of our sporting competitions," Pascal Lefreniere said in a statement.

"As in St-Tite, animals are treated with the best protocols in force. Their well-being remains a priority for our team."

A legal challenge to stop the Montreal rodeo was dropped in June after opponents of the event reached a deal with organizers to bring in further measures to ensure the well-being of the animals.

With files from The Canadian Press