RIP Culture: A Funeral for the Main

I’d like to take a break from the revolution for a moment to say goodbye to a few old friends: several historic buildings that were part of Montreal’s fabled Red Light District. That’s what the activist artists in the Save the Main Coalition did this past Sunday as they staged a Funeral for the Main.

The mock funeral, complete with a priest (heritage activist and Infringement Festival creator Donovan King) giving the last rights, pall bearers (FTB contributor Laurence Tenenbaum and others), hysterical mourners (burlesque dancer Velma Candyass and others), a coffin and everyone dressed in black, drew 40 people in front of Cafe Cleopatre. The same group had spent the past couple of years trying to save the storied performance venue from eviction in order to build an office tower in its place.

They were successful. The Cleo will remain. Unfortunately, her neighbours, all buildings populating the west side of St-Laurent Boulevard between Rene-Levesque and St-Catherine and dating back over a century, have a date with the wrecking ball.

While there has been talk of preserving some of the facades and stones of these historic structures, the living, breathing culture that once inhabited them is already dead. It hasn’t been that long, though.

In 2009, the area was going through a resurgence. New performance venues like Katacombes complimented more established spots like the Cleo and legendary fast food restaurant Montreal Pool Room.

Then, Montreal mayor Gerald Tremblay handpicked developer Christian Yaccarini and his Angus Development Corporation and gave them a no-bid contract to redevelop the area as part of the Quartier des Spectacles project. His idea: build a giant office tower for Hydro Quebec.

Despite opposition (and irony), Yaccarini spent the next few years buying out all the businesses, all but Cleo, and leaving their buildings vacant and effectively killing most of the organic culture and community on the block. Now, all we are left with is the empty shell of what once was and a perfect justification for demolition.

The Quebec government agreed and gave the go-ahead. The final act of burying real culture and replacing it with a gentrified, “safe” and most likely banal pseudo culture is scheduled for August.

Barring a miracle (hey, Cleo being saved was kind of a miracle, so it’s possible), this funeral will be the last true act of underground art the buildings next to Cleo will see. Rest in peace.

* image: SE Amesse Photography

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