Peace Park celebrates 18th birthday in style – courtesy of MQC

Peace Park, a cultural crossroads for the city’s underground community, celebrated its 18th birthday on November 20th in style. The party was organized through social media by MQC, producers of the critically-acclaimed skater documentary Peace Park (2012).

Spearheaded by skateboarder David Bouthillier, the film documents not just years of skateboarding on the park’s granite ledges, but also the often dysfunctional relationships between some of society’s most disadvantaged people (“The Lifers”) and everyone from skaters and cultural workers to police and urban planners to the neighbourhood’s new condo-dwellers. Tracing the park historically, Bouthillier exposes often-sinister historical and cultural forces at play, including various attempts to “clean up” the park through oppressive measures from police aggression to gentrification. As the old Red Light District is rebranded as the “Quartier des Spectacles”, Bouthillier’s film convincingly suggests that more tolerance for the disadvantaged local population is needed.

The birthday party seemed like a fitting proposal.

To quote the information provided by MQC on the facebook invite:


“Since it’s inauguration on November 20th, 1994 Peace Park has been a huge part of Montreal’s because of it’s location. The park is not only at the heart of the city’s Red Light District, it’s in the middle of literally everything that represents Montréal’s from it’s skating, graffiti history, historical attractions, and cosmopolitan life.

Historically the lot of land that is now Peace Park has always been a public space where people came together for a sense of belonging. In 1829, it was officially declared the first market outside the walled city of Montreal, and in 1994 it became Peace Park where there is still a strong tradition of community.

Some other important reasons why there is a community rooted here, are Montreal’s shelters, a native center just up the street from the park, and prevention centers. Even the boards around the park during it’s construction served as a canvas of Montreal’s first graffiti productions, and the fact that Peace Park perfect for skating which has come to the heart and soul of skateboarding in Montreal. The skateboard and graffiti scene as we know it today started at Peace Park.

As a natural place for street people to congregate, all walks of life pass through Peace Park where they have learned to coexist through tolerance and respect, which brings equilibrium to the city that is extremely important.

So come celebrate Peace Park as a ground of freedom of expression on it’s 18th birthday, November 20th, 2012 in the park.”

The party offered everything from Boombox DJs SPOONY BEE & BOOTS and prizes for skateboarding tricks to a photo booth and live printing. There was even a birthday cake and PBR “refreshments”.

When I arrived around 4 pm, the party was in full-swing and the cake was well-eaten.

Hundreds of people, many of them apparent stakeholders in Peace Park, were celebrating in style.

I had the good fortune to see many old friends partying the afternoon away in the park, as though without a care in the world. I then managed to find organizer David Bouthillier, the very President of Peace Park, standing right next to the boom box.

We had a good chat about the latest developments that have unfolded in the neighbourhood since the film’s release, namely the destruction of an irreplaceable part of The Main National Historic Site, just across the street from Peace Park. What was once a row of Victorian buildings is now an empty lot surrounded by a fence.

We marvelled that despite all the best efforts of those fighting to save the neighbourhood, the developer had suceeded in destroying irreplacable heritage buildings. Given the recent frenzy into exposing corruption, we wondered if the whole Lower Main scandal would ever be investigated properly.

Unfortunately, I had to go teach a class, otherwise I would have loved to stay and celebrate more. Peace Park’s 18th Birthday was initiated by the underground community, and as such had a gritty and authentic vibe that Montreal’s corporate festivals can only dream of. Attending a celebratory mingling between skaters, artists, street people and others made me hopeful that there is still some authentic culture left in the Quartier des Spectacles.

It’s up to the people to support local artists fighting for the culture, be it at the Café Cleopatra in Peace Park, or elsewhere. Artists like David Bouthillier, burlesque star Velma Candyass, and the many people at the Save The Main Coalition deserve far, far more credit than they get. As the government pours millions of dollars into gentrifying the neighbourhood, including brand new festivals, the long-established artists who fight for authenticity, living culture, and human decency in the old Red Light District usually don’t get a dime.

Montrealers can thank their lucky stars they have passionate artists like these who consistently create authentic works and events, be they films, walking tours or burlesque soirees, that are rooted in the history and living culture of the storied neighbourhood.


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