The MEM: a new museum in the Quartier des Spectacles

October 13, 2023

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The MEM, Le Centre des mémoires montréalaises, a new museum dedicated to preserving the oral history of Montreal, is officially open! Located at the corner of Saint-Laurent Blvd. and Sainte-Catherine St. W., it has been welcoming visitors since October 6. We spoke with division head Annabelle Laliberté to find out about the institution’s mission and programming.

What is the MEM and what is its mission?

Annabelle Laliberté : The MEM is the Montreal history centre, previously located in Old Montreal – relocated and transformed. It’s a museum dedicated to the preservation of Montreal’s citizen memories. It is not a museum in the usual sense. Here, the objects on display support the exhibit, but the real exhibit is the history of Montreal and its people.

Who is the MEM for?

AL : First and foremost, the MEM is for Montrealers, whether they were born here or joined us later in life. The museum doesn’t really present a “postcard” image of the city. At the MEM, we talk about the river and nature, gloss over places like the Olympic Stadium and the Orange Julep and our main interest is the people who bring life and energy to the city. It’s also important to note that the museum is guided by the spirit of citizenship. Every decision is made by a committee, and citizen participation is encouraged at every level. I should also point out that most of the museum’s activities and exhibitions are free, though a few have an admission fee.

What inspired the creation of the MEM?

AL : The idea was to give Montrealers a unique place where they could see themselves. We took inspiration from certain museums in California and New York, and the project is in tune with today’s main trends in museology. The first wave of comments has been uniformly positive.

Why did you choose a location in the Quartier des Spectacles?

AL : The old Centre d’histoire de Montréal had reached full capacity. So we had two options: build or move. The municipal government believed in the potential of a citizen museum, and when the opportunity arose to move to the Quartier des Spectacles, we knew we had to seize it. We think the location is perfect for a museum that’s clearly different from other museums that focus on the history of the city. It’s an agile museum that aims to pursue an open dialogue with citizens, and the Quartier des Spectacles is central and accessible. A visit to the MEM gives people a chance to rediscover their city and its downtown core!

What are the MEM's exhibitions and activities?

AL : There are two exhibitions on right now. Célébrer le Chaînon : 90 ans de dévouement pour les femmes is a free exhibition dedicated to Le Chaînon, an organization that has been helping Montreal women for nearly a century. Détours – Rencontres urbaines, which is not free, is an immersive exhibition presented in collaboration with Urbania. It takes a different look at Montreal, through the eyes of 17 individuals and groups, with the island itself providing an 18th point of view. The MEM also offers several educational activities such as Ton quartier, for primary school students, and Faire sa valise, which presents the history of Montreal to high school students through the prism of immigration.

In your opinion, how do Montrealers relate to their city?

AL : I think Montrealers love their city thanks to its charms and despite its flaws. Generally speaking, people have a sense of attachment to their living environment. In any case, the goal of the MEM is not to take a position but to join the conversation. In that sense, I find the public artwork La constellation de l’hippocampe to be a good illustration of the role the MEM would like to play. The project, developed by Raphaëlle de Groot, involved numerous collaborators and benefited from the contributions of more than 350 people, many of whom had never been inside a museum. The project’s concept was to highlight people’s raw and direct everyday experience of the city.

The MEM - Centre des mémoires montréalaises
At the corner of Saint-Laurent Blvd. and Sainte-Catherine St. W.