History and vision of the Quartier des spectacles

With a history stretching back more than 100 years, the Quartier des spectacles neighbourhood has always been a popular cultural and entertainment destination in Montreal.

In 2003, the Quartier’s purpose was officially defined with the creation of the Quartier des spectacles Partnership. The Quartier acquired its own visual identity and a shared vision: Live, Learn, Create and Entertain Downtown.

A brief history of an enduring cultural neighbourhood

The present-day Quartier des spectacles largely overlaps the site of Montreal’s former Red Light district, whose history extends back to the beginning of the 19th century.

At the end of the 1800s, important teaching institutions such as the Bibliothèque Saint-Sulpice and Collège Sainte-Marie moved into the neighbourhood. The Gesù theatre, the neighbourhood’s first cultural establishment, opened its doors in 1865 within Collège Sainte-Marie.

Other theatres followed: the Monument-National, birthplace of francophone professional theatre; the Gayety Theatre in 1912 (today the TNM); and the Théâtre Saint-Denis in 1916. In 1913, the Imperial Cinema was erected on Bleury Street, becoming one of the first “super palaces” to be built in Montreal.

Between the 1920s and the start of the 1960s, the neighbourhood was home to an impressive number of cabarets that headlined famous artists. Montreal garnered a reputation as a fun-loving city, and tourists started to arrive in great numbers. The American Prohibition (1920-1933) increased Montreal’s popularity, but also created conditions that led to the growth of organized crime, prostitution and illegal gaming houses. It is during this time that the neighbourhood was christened the Red Light district.

Beginning in the 1950s, professional theatre started to take hold, notably with the founding of the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde. In the 1960s, Montreal experienced a period of unprecedented modernization (the Quiet Revolution). In the neighbourhood, this new energy took shape in the construction of Place des Arts, the metro system (three stations service the Quartier) and in the establishment of Hydro-Québec’s headquarters.

The following decade was marked by the building of Complexe Desjardins, which spurred commercial activity in the area, and the campus of the Université du Québec à Montréal, a university founded on the values of the democratization of knowledge and culture.

Meanwhile, the network of performance venues expanded and the Cinémathèque québécoise set up on De Maisonneuve Boulevard in 1982. That same year, the Montreal International Jazz Festival presented outdoor concerts in the neighbourhood for the first time. The natural vibrancy of the downtown area along with the many empty lots supported the proliferation and expansion of festivals over the years. Important cultural events became one of the Quartier’s motors and one of the principal attractions of the city for tourists and locals alike.

During the 1990s, the landscape changed once again with the opening of the Pierre-Mercure performance venue, the Musée d’art contemporain, the Société des arts technologiques and Club Soda while the TNM underwent a complete renovation. To this day, the neighbourhood continues to draw cultural establishments and organizations.

This cultural flourishing laid the foundations of the Quartier des spectacles.

The Quartier des spectacles project

In 2001, one year before the Montreal Summit – a major meeting that aimed to define a common vision for the future of Montreal – a number of representatives from the cultural sector came together at the ADISQ offices to consider what proposals they could bring forward to energize Montreal’s cultural scene. The result of this reflection was the idea to create a Quartier des spectacles (QDS), positioning culture as a key development tool for Montreal.

At the Summit, the City of Montreal made the QDS a top priority, with the goal of establishing the presence of major festivals in the downtown area and showcasing its cultural institutions and performance venues. The task at hand was not to create a neighbourhood from scratch, but rather to identify it, highlight its rich cultural assets and equip it with the infrastructure to accommodate outdoor events. The Équipe Spectra, which is behind the Montreal International Jazz Festival and the Francos, also advocated for the sustainability of public spaces and grounds around Place des Arts for festivals and outdoor events. Their approach for a festival-friendly neighbourhood was integrated into the grand Quartier des spectacles project as it will be built in 2007.

One year later, the Quartier des spectacles Partnership was founded, with 20 stakeholder members. Extensive consultations were begun in order to develop a vision for the Quartier’s expansion.

During the Rendez-vous 2007 – Montréal, the City of Montreal and provincial and federal governments gave the project a further boost when they committed to fund the development of the Place des Arts sector. Since then, new public spaces have been created (the Place des Festivals, Parterre, Promenade des Artistes) and many private and public real estate projects have been built, including several with a cultural focus, notably the 2-22 and the Maison symphonique de Montréal. The Partnership was then given the responsibility by the city to promote the destination, manage its public spaces and bring them to life.

For the last few years, the Partnership has thus been responsible for activities at the neighbourhood’s public spaces. It manages not only the calendar of events – the Quartier hosts over 40 events each year alone – but contributes to enhancing the outdoor cultural offering through its own projects as well as logistical and financial support of other initiatives. This mandate is carried out with the constant aim of endowing the Quartier with a distinctive identity grounded in creativity and daring.

Vision: Live, Learn, Create and Entertain Downtown

To develop this vibrant downtown neighbourhood, members of the Partnership have collaborated to create a vision focused on enhancing its cultural assets.

The 10 main development orientations of the Quartier des spectacles

1. A neighbourhood in balance

The Quartier des spectacles is characterized by the harmonious cohabitation of its diverse residents and functions: community life, student life, artistic life, an urban crossroads and an international destination. A colourful neighbourhood, it is as refreshingly different as it is safe and inclusive. The Quartier des spectacles sits at the junction of economic, cultural and urban life.

2. A hub of artistic creation, innovation, production and presentation

A true cultural centre, the Quartier des spectacles has what is necessary to draw businesses that promote, produce, create and present culture. The Quartier des spectacles Partnership, along with its partners, develops the necessary development tools – financial or otherwise – to foster the establishment of cultural businesses, artists’ residences and programs to help its residents, including artists, become property owners.

3. An international centre for artistic creation and cultural destination

Montreal in its very essence, the Quartier is a popular international destination, both as an artistic and cultural centre and an urban tourist site. It attracts foreign visitors and artists and gives local creators visibility.

4. The street: live wire and path of discovery

Visitors first experience the Quartier des spectacles through its streets, which offer a stimulating place of discovery. Dominated for the most part by cultural establishments, each street is a window onto the varied worlds of culture. The Quartier’s thoroughfares, Saint-Laurent Boulevard and Sainte-Catherine Street, as well as its centres of activity, are clearly distinguished to allow visitors to easily get around.

5. A coherent and complete neighbourhood, connected to its surrounding neighbours

The streets of the Quartier des spectacles move to a special, constant rhythm. Visitors can easily go from one centre of activity to another along a lively route. Empty spaces created by vacant lots have been filled; the urban fabric has been rewoven. The streets connect the neighbourhood’s different centres and integrate them into the surroundings – Quartier international, the Palais des congrès, Chinatown, the business district, Plateau–Mont-Royal, and more. Real estate and economic activity is expanding and will strengthen the Quartier’s cultural character and sustainable development.

6. Public spaces: places for artistic expression

Public spaces in the Quartier des spectacles are places to celebrate public art. Artists’ works are shown as a part of new places and new buildings. The spaces are “signed” and become a part of a path of discovery. The sidewalks are lively, greener and home to street-level businesses.

7. Permanent infrastructure and facilities designed for cultural activities

The Quartier des spectacles has facilities that can host local, national and international events. These facilities offer easier connection to infrastructure and support services while facilitating the organization and management of the Quartier’s diverse seasonal and permanent cultural activities, thus allowing the area to remain active year-round.

8. A unique signature, a distinctive iconography

The Quartier des spectacles projects a strong, unifying image. Its signature is the Partnership’s banner and the public symbol of cultural activity in downtown Montreal. A distinctive iconography directs pedestrians to the Quartier’s main axes and centres of activity and from adjacent destinations and the underground city.

9. A vibrant, contemporary flavour

The Quartier des spectacles fosters the built and cultural patrimony of tomorrow. Its vibrant, contemporary character and constant evolution are reflected in its artistic creation as well as its architecture and urban design. It enables creators and artists from here and elsewhere to constantly be at the forefront of their fields. The Quartier des spectacles is dedicated to enduring quality.

10. Quartier des spectacles Partnership, creator and promoter of the vision

The Partnership fulfills its role as creator of the vision for the Quartier des spectacles and provides the necessary leadership to carry it out in the areas of art, business and public administration. It works to set up management models to realize a range of private, public or partnership projects and to integrate them into its vision for the Quartier.