Montrealers react to demolition of the Lower Main National Historic Site – with a dramatic funeral!


A dramatic funeral for a prominent National Historic Site, presently being demolished, was held in Montreal on Sunday, May 27, 2012.  There was an outpouring of grief by over 40 mourners and funeral-goers for the Lower Main, an irreplaceable part of The Main National Historic Site, one of Canada’s most endangered heritage zones.

Led by Burlesque Queen Velma Candyass and Father Anthony (played by Donovan King), the somber funeral included two large coffins (one representing Montreal culture, the other heritage), a procession of over 40 mourners, and a lone tuba player from the Chaotic Insurrection Ensemble.

Photo © S.E. Amesse 2012

Beginning in front of the fabled Café Cleopatre, the procession moved south down the Main past the Monument-Nationale, then turned west on Réné-Levesque, before heading north on Clarke Street. The ceremony was held behind the devastated Victorian heritage buildings in full view of the the terrible damage being wreaked on the site.

Photo © S.E. Amesse 2012

Media at the funeral was thick and included various TV and radio stations, newspapers and bloggers, podcasters and photographers. Television reports appeared on CTV News and the CBC (from 5:42 – 7:21), radio reports on CBC,  CJAD, and CKUT (Monday June 4th in the 1st hour of The Monday Morning After beginning at 19:45), a podcast on, and news reports from The Gazette, Forget The Box, Rover Arts, the OTL Blog, and Montreal Open File. Talented photographer Stéphanie E. Amsse also published an album of the somber occasion.

During the ceremony mourners lamented the loss of  a National Historic Site that actually did not need to be demolished at all. The circumstances surrounding the demolition were described as “Shameful” by Heritage Montreal’s Dinu Bumbaru: Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay ignored federal guidelines to protect the commemorative integrity of the National Historic Site and municipal by-laws on building maintenance in order to hand over the site to his friend, developer Chrstian Yaccarini of the Angus Development Corporation.

Together, they attempted to expropriate the immigrant businesses and performance venues in a National Historic Site devoted to the themes of immigration, small business, and entertainment. They succeeded in shuttering Main Importations, Montreal’s first Middle-Eastern grocery store, in displacing the famous Montreal Pool Room and Katacombes, and they also shut down other small businesses. The final nail in the coffin was allowing a strategy of demolition-by-neglect to effectively destroy the Victorian architecture, hence reducing a once-vibrant National Historic Site to a pile of rubble.

Photo © S.E. Amesse 2012

Funeral-goers listened to Father Anthony condemn the authors of this crime to “eternal damnation”, for their sins against Montreal’s culture and heritage: Mayor Gerald Tremblay, Montreal Minister of Culture Helen Fotopulos, and developer Christian Yaccarini. No other politicians were present at the funeral from municipal, provincial, or federal parties, depite being invited to support Montreal’s culture and heritage. Not surprisingly, the politicians were also largely absent during the fight to protect the National Historic Site or to save the historic Café Cleopatre, signalling a very broken democracy indeed.

The crowd took holy communion, then proceeded to the Midway Tavern for the a tearful reception. Overall, it was a very sad and devastating day for Montreal’s culture, heritage, and soul. It could have turned out so differently if only politicians had listened to the alternative Urban Plan presented by the Save The Main coalition, which would have seamlessly incorporated a rejuvenated National Historic Site in to the rebranded neighbourhood –  as its star attraction. Sadly, greedy corporate interests won over common sense and decency, and the casualty is very serious.

Several days after the funeral, Dinu Bumbaru of Heritage Montreal and Phyllis Lambert of the Canadian Center for Architecture rallied to make a final plea to the politicians not to destroy the cherished site that is so important to Canadian national identity. Failing a miracle (such as getting the politicians to listen to reason), it looks like the needless destruction of the cherished National Historic Site will continue unabated.

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