A funeral for Montreal’s heritage, culture and Lower Main National Historic Site (May 27, 2012, at 3pm)
A funeral for will be held on the Lower Main, beginning in front of Cafe Cleopatra, on Sunday, May 27th at 3pm. It’s being planned by artists, heritage activists and community stakeholders to lament the loss of unique part of Montreal’s heritage and culture.
The dramatic funeral is in response to a cultural disaster that has been unfolding on the Lower Main over the past several years, which is about to meet its tragic and illogical conclusion. Like a slow-moving train-wreck, on Monday, May 14, 2012, workers began demolishing an irreplacable part of the cherished and endangered Lower Main, a National Historic Site, after years of cultural war that saw corporate developers and unscrupulous politicians battle artists, heritage activists and community stakeholders.
The story began several years ago when 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”. Furthermore, according to the policy, the historic corridor must have a “sense of history: intrusive elements must be minimal, and the district’s historic characteristics must predominate and set it apart from the area that immediately surrounds it.”
Ignoring the National Historic Site that cuts across the island he governs, and totally disregarding Parks Canada’s protective policies, the Mayor authorized developer Christian Yaccarini to expropriate and demolish a block of historic 19th Century heritage buildings. 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 colaition of artists and stakeholders called Save The Main was formed, and 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.
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.
Instead of listening to stakeholders in the community, the Mayor opted for a top-down approach, earning him more scorn from artists while fast-tracking the destruction of the heritage site. Meanwhile, Helen Fotopulos, the Montreal Minister responsible for Culture, also turned a blind eye to the community. At the provincial level, Quebec Culture Minister Christine St-Pierre greenlighted the demolition of the buildigs.
Despite last-minute pleas from the Save The Main coalition, Heritage Montreal, The National Theatre School and Phyllis Lambert of the Canadian Centre for Architecture, the Mayor still refuses to listen to the stakeholders and experts and he won’t budge. Failing a miracle, the irreplacable historic site will soon be reduced to a pile of rubble, and be followed up with an empty lot. Adam Bemma has been filming some of the artists and activists’ last thoughts before the demolition, and has been speaking on CKUT Radio about the scandal.
Mayor Tremblay has made it crystal clear that he has no regard for Montreal’s heritage or living culture. As such, with no options left, the artists and stakeholders have little choice but to plan a dramatic funeral for Montreal’s culture and heritage.
Please spread the word that those who wish to participate should email Save The Main organizer Donovan King (firstname.lastname@example.org) with the word “funeral” in the subject to get involved. Below are some details of the tentative plan…
Also, it’s never too late to contact Quebec Culture Minister Christine St-Pierre via her website to demand that the demolition order be reversed immediately. Please ask her to consider Save The Main’s alternative Urban Plan in order to preserve the heritage, while enhancing the cultural value of the Quartier des Spectacles by highlighting our own world-famous Prohibition and Red Light history.
Dear Funeral Processioners,
In lieu of the destruction of our beloved Lower Main, an irreplaceable part of our National Historic Site, we have set a date for the funeral of Montreal’s heritage and culture.
Will be held on
Sunday, May 27th , 2012
At 3 pm
The Procession will begin
in front of
The Funeral Procession is seeking:
1) Flamboyant “red light” burlesque artists to be led by a Burlesque Queen
2) People wearing black clothing, the more formal the better
3) An orchestra, such as the Chaotic Insurrection Ensemble to play music
4) Someone to play GERALD TREMBLAY with a mask
5) Someone to make similar masks of HELEN FOTOPULOS and CHRISTIAN YACCARINI and people to play these roles.