Envisioning a better plan for the Lower Main

Montreal’s Lower Main has been the site of controversy as of late, with powerful business interests squaring off against artists and heritage activists to determine the future of the historic stretch of road that was once the heart of Montreal’s bustling Red Light District. The battle has been characterized by powerful business interests dislocating the area’s businesses and culture, with artistic protests falling on deaf ears at City Hall. Ironically, it wasn’t long ago that the City was actively studying and considering ways to enhance the area by highlighting its heritage.

For a while it looked as though the business interests were going to win and accomplish their goal of destroying the historic site, including the living culture within it, to put up a soul-less office tower. In collaboration with the City of Montreal, developer Christian Yaccarini and his Angus Development Corporation have been systematically evicting tenants on the historic block through buy-outs and threats of appropriation, resulting in a dangerous eyesore being situated in the heart of the new Quartier des Spectacles.

Historic Site cum dangerous eyesore

Café Celeopatra, the last hold-out on the block, refuses to go without a fight. As a result of both economic woes and legal action brought on by Café Celeopatra to prevent the appropriation, the entire project has been shelved until the legal issues can be resolved.

Crumbling Historic site

This stroke of good fortune has given artists and heritage activists more time to envision and propose superior alternatives to the current arrangement: an ill-conceived business plan that is both autocratic and soul-less, resulting in the destruction of living culture and a historic site. The plan also appears to be at odds with the formal objectives of the Quartier des Spectacles, which aim, among other measures to support culture, to “Develop vacant spaces that meet the needs of festival-goers and activities featured at entertainment venues.”

With the business plan delayed due to Café Cleo’s legal challenge and ongoing cultural protests, it looks as though the City of Montreal is now ready to listen to the artists and heritage activists. In early April, PechaKucha Montréal, in collaboration with the borough of Ville-Marie, put out a contest to envision the future of the Lower Main – from Sherbrooke Street to René-Levesque Boulevard.

Frustrated with the sloppy planning and top-down approach, and given the potential to highlight the area’s fascinating burlesque heritage, we at Optative Theatrical Laboratories decided to submit our own proposal, including 3 JPEG images:

Why Montreal should incorporate its burlesque heritage it into its brand image

 By Donovan King, heritage activist

 The Lower Main was once Montreal’s favourite destination for entertainment. Montreal became famous for its elaborate burlesque shows, as thrill-seekers flocked to the Red Light district during the days of Prohibition. Today, only Café Cleopatra maintains the area’s famous burlesque tradition.

Tourists in Prague soon learn that the city has many “Black Light Theatre” shows on offer. These illusory performances are part of Prague’s tourist experience – and brand image. Montreal should strive to resurrect burlesque as its traditional form of spectacle, and restore the Lower Main to its former glory as a major destination for entertainment.

Since “The Main” is already classified as a historic site, the stretch in question should commemorate the Red Light District and Prohibition. It should be the centrepiece of the new Quartier des Spectacles, offering visitors an authentic experience reflecting Montreal’s Prohibition history. The stretch should be as bustling as Broadway, and the look should be as architecturally close to Prohibition days as possible, with bronze plaques commemorating famous venues, stories, and people.

To facilitate this desired outcome, old buildings must be restored as performance venues, restaurants, clubs, and artist residences. To ensure a steady flow of visitors, famed artists such as the Cirque du Soleil and Robert Lepage should be commissioned to create unique burlesque shows for the restored venues, while Parks Canada should open an historical interpretation centre. A burlesque school should also be founded. By reclaiming its burlesque heritage, Montreal’s brand image is enhanced, encouraging vibrant culture, and attracting more tourists.


I am pleased to announce that our proposal has been accepted, and we are scheduled present our vision to city officials and other authorities on Friday May 7. Our task now is to create 20 images that encapsulate our vision in the following format:

  • 1024 x 768px JPEGs, name your pictures with your initials followed by successive numbers, for instance : BD-001.jpg (numbered in their order of presentation)
  • QuickTime movie of slideshow. 640 x 480 (or higher)

We are now urgently seeking visual artists who want to submit images for this presentation. We are going to need 20 realistic-looking JPEGs of images reflecting the proposal. For example, the list might look something like this:


IMAGE #1:    Parks Canada Sign  

IMAGE #2:    Aerial Map of Quartier des Spectacles

* add words “Quartier des Spectacles”

IMAGE #3:    Historical photo

IMAGE #4:    Burlesque performance

IMAGE #5:    Café Cleopatra with nightlife

IMAGE #6:    Image of current plan with a red X through it

IMAGE #7:    New Plan needed

IMAGE #8:    Black Light Theatre in Prague

IMAGE #9:    Montreal should reclaim its burlesque heritage


IMAGE #10:  How the area used to look


IMAGE #11:  Street revamped

IMAGE #12:  Statue of Lili St. Cyr being watched by cop & priest on NE corner of Ste. Catherine & St. Laurent

IMAGE #13:  Bronze marker quoting Lili St. Cyr

“À Montréal j’étais la femme fatale que j’avais toujours rêvé d’être. Quand je déambulais rue Sainte-Catherine pour me render au théâtre, des attroupements se formaient sur mon passage. Les hommes cessaient toute activité pour me regarder passer.” – Lili St. Cyr

IMAGE #14:  Parks Canada Interpretations Centre


IMAGE #15:  Marquee with burlesque show by Cirque du Soleil


IMAGE #16:  Burlesque School


IMAGE #17:  Spectacular Burlesque pic

IMAGE #18:  Happy Tourists

IMAGE #19:  Brand image pic

IMAGE #20:  Formal credits for all artists involved          


Thank you so much to all the artists who helped realise this project! Everyone is invited to the presentation on Friday, May 7, at the SAT:

En collaboration avec l’arrondissement de Ville-Marie
Vendredi 7 mai 2010
Ouverture des portes @ 19:20
Début des présentations @ 20:20
Société des arts technologiques [SAT]
1195 Saint-Laurent

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