Culture a hot topic in Montreal election

Culture is a hot topic in this Montreal election, so citizens, get your burning questions ready for the candidates!

Following two administrations characterized by corruption, cultural destruction, and disrespect for citizen initiatives, Montrealers are praying that the next one isn’t yet another dud. While transparency and professionalism are both hot topics in this election, so is Culture with a capital C, in a city known the world over for its vibrant arts scene, activist cred, stunning heritage, extensive foodie culture and bilingual citizens. In Montreal, there can be no denying that Culture is serious business.

Culture Montreal is inviting the public to a meeting on Tuesday, October 1st at Club Soda. The location could not be more ironic: set in The Main National Historic Site, the venue is right across the street from a block of demolished heritage buildings, the result of political interference, incompetence and greed under the ancien regime, the corrupt Tremblay-Union Montreal administration.

Destroyed Historic Site

The story began several years ago when former Mayor Tremblay, like many of his predecessors, decided to ”clean up” the Red Light District. Unlike during Mayor Drapeau’s regime, where whole blocks of the historic neighbourhood were demolished to build the suburb-like Habitations Jeanne Mance, Tremblay made a decision to “rebrand” the entire neighbourhood as the Disneyesque Quartier des Spectacles. Through a scheme of radical gentrification, it would become possible to simultaneously create a corporate Entertainment District while attacking the original “Red Light” culture, which ironically had made the historic neighbourhood so famous in the first place.

The rebranding scheme set off a wave of wholesale demolition, whereby historic theatres and performance venues, such as the Spectrum, Le Medley, and Saints, were slated for demolition. Rising out of the ashes are questionable glossy buildings that, architectually and vocationally, are completely disconnected  from the historic neighbourhood.

St. Laurent Boulevard is a National Historic Site, defined  as “a group of buildings, structures and open spaces which share uncommonly strong associations with individuals, events or themes of national significance”.  The government’s rationale behind the designation was that ”National historic sites are places of profound importance to Canada. They bear witness to this nation’s defining moments and illustrate its human creativity and cultural traditions. Each national historic site tells its own unique story, part of the greater story of Canada, contributing a sense of time, identity, and place to our understanding of Canada as a whole.” The heritage designation suggested the fabled corridor must maintain a “sense of history”, and to protect it insisted that “intrusive elements must be minimal“.

Furthermore, one of the most important reasons for protecting The Main was its connection to the theme of welcoming and immigration: “In the collective psyche of Montréal, Boulevard Saint-Laurent is the immigrant corridor…Immigrants still see Boulevard Saint-Laurent as the place where they find fellow immigrants; their workplace and their community institutions are there. The cosmopolitan aspect of Boulevard Saint-Laurent intrigues and reassures them.”

However, historic immigrant businesses were made to feel most unwelcome under the Tremblay administration.

Ignoring the National Historic Site that cuts across the island he governed, and totally disregarding Parks Canada’s protective policies, the former Mayor authorized developer Christian Yaccarini to expropriate and demolish a block of historic 19th Century heritage buildings on the Lower Main. The deal included the eviction of small immigrant  businesses, including Epicerie Importations Main, Montreal’s first Middle-Eastern grocery store (established in 1924), the Montreal Pool Room, and others.The intention was to demolish the irreplacable heritage buildings between the Monument-Nationale and Sainte Catherine Street, including the celebrated Cafe Cleopatre, in order to build a glossy corporate office tower.

This flagrant disregard for Montreal’s culture and heritage, by the Mayor himself no less, sparked off a cultural war of unprecedented proportions.

A citizen initiative was formed called the Save The Main Coalition to try and protect the National Historic Site and the culture surrounding it. After a protracted battle that involved everything from public consultations to legal challenges to lobbbying politicians and even pleas to heritage buff Prince Charles, the artists and activists won and the Cafe was saved. A citizen initiative succeeded where politicians had failed.


In an effort to convince the Mayor that there were better solutions to the wholesale destruction of Montreal’s culture and heritage, artists from the Save the Main coalition presented an alternative Urban Plan that would seamlessly incorporate the priceless heritage into the rebranded “Quartier des Spectacles” , while staying loyal to Parks Canada’s policies on commemorative integrity. They also created a popular walking tour of the district to highlight its fascinating history.

In retaliation, the Mayor permitted Yaccarini to use an unethical strategy of demolition-by-neglect to ensure the destruction of the remaining heritage buildings, disregarding both Parks Canada’s policies to protect historic sites and Montreal by-laws on building maintenance. The artists’ worst fears were confirmed.

To mark the sad occasion, Montreal’s cultural figures with the Save The Main Coalition staged a dramatic funeral to mourn the passing of the Lower Main, the most colourful portion of the National Historic Site. Protesting rampant corruption, gentrification and Disneyfication, the artists raised awareness about some of the serious cultural issues affecting the metropolis, including the fact that The Main National Historic Site, a microcosm and symbol of the city, is being devastated both physically and culturally.

National Historic Sites are evaluated with a system that analyzes Commemorative Integrity, a term used to describe the health or wholeness of a site. As defined in the National Historic Sites Policy (of Canada), a state of commemorative integrity can be said to exist:

  • when the resources that symbolize or represent a site’s importance are not impaired or under threat;
  • when the reasons for the site’s national historic significance are effectively communicated to the public;
  • when the site’s heritage values (including those not related to national significance) are respected by all whose decisions and actions affect the site.

The Main is undoubtably Canada’s most abused National Historic Site. Corporations have taken over with invasive and abusive advertising practices such as Billboard trucks, giant advertisements, stealth marketing ploys, “street parties” hosted by online gambling companies, and a host of other manipulative commercial activities. Such blantant violations have led to criticism that The Main National Historic Site, far from being protected, is becoming Disneyfied at the expense of the real culture. Disneyfication is a process whereby something real is replaced by a fake, corporate imitation.

Disneyfication occurs when authentic culture is eliminated in order to replace it with a fake, corporate version that is somewhat akin to a shopping mall. Often called “monoculture” or “Generica”, the Disneyfied space proceeds to disempower artists, small businesses and citizens in order to facilitate profit-making for corporations. Disneyfication is a rampant problem in the Quartier des Spectacles and The Main National Historic Site.

Meanwhile,  as Saint Laurent Boulevard winds just up the hill into the Plateau, corporations are beginning to disfigure the National Historic Site with gaudy, ostentatious branding. While most historic areas, like Old Montreal, are protected from excessive advertising and corporate spam that damage the commemorative integrity of a site, Boulevard Saint Laurent is not. The most recent example saw a Pizza Pizza take over and paint a section of the The Main National Historic Site bright orange to attract customers, undercutting local small businesses with the sort of deep discounts only a corporation can afford…


Given the irony of the location for Culture Montreal’s meeting, one question will be hanging over the heads of candidates on Tuesday:

If elected, what will you and your party do to protect The Main National Historic Site from further demolition and abuse?

While there have been calls form citizens and coalitions for a special by-law to protect The Main National Historic Site for over a decade now, administrators under Union Montreal and Projet Montreal’s Plateau administration have been adamant that the National Historic Site would receive no special attention, despite the fact irreplaceable parts have been demolished, other sections are at risk, and the entire site could lose its historic designation if politicians fail to protect it.

Make your voice heard and demand that the candidates promise to create a by-law that will protect The Main National Historic Site from further demolition and abuse!


Details of the event (in French):

Le mardi 1er octobre 2013

À 19 h 30

Au Club Soda

1225 boul. Saint-Laurent

(métro Saint-Laurent)


Culture Montréal sollicite un engagement concret et conséquent des candidats à la mairie et de leurs équipes en vue d’accélérer l’édification de Montréal comme métropole culturelle durable et a lancé à cet effet une plateforme de 21 recommandations à leur intention.
À l’invitation de Culture Montréal, les quatre principaux candidats à la mairie de Montréal, monsieur Richard Bergeron, monsieur Denis Coderre, monsieur Marcel Côté et madame Mélanie Joly viendront livrer publiquement leur vision du développement culturel de la métropole le mardi 1er octobre prochain à 19h30, au Club Soda.

Nous vous invitons à assister en grand nombre à cette présentation. Il s’agit d’un moment exceptionnel pour s’adresser directement aux candidats à la mairie et pour discuter de ce que renferme leur programme politique en termes de développement des arts, de la culture et du patrimoine à l’échelle de la ville et de ses quartiers.

C’est le journaliste et animateur chevronné, monsieur Michel Désaultels, qui animera cette présentation et qui interrogera successivement les candidats. L’événement aura lieu au Club Soda, 1225 boul. Saint-Laurent à Montréal.

Événement gratuit et ouvert à tous.
Inscription :

Leave a Reply