Café Le Cagibi has long held down the fort as a sort of (meta)physical gateway to Mile End at the corner of St-Laurent and St-Viateur. Yet after more than a decade—and amidst a strip dizzyingly gentrifying—the iconic café and show venue is moving on up.

Faced with—among other things—rent spikes north of 200%, Le Cagibi has opted to restructure. The metamorphosis actually began over a year ago, says Jess Lee, one of the proprietors. “As a group we tackled the issue of our lease, discussed landlord negotiations, and weighed pros, cons and feasibility of our various options,” she says.

“We decided moving was the best option.”

The iconic Mile End strip of St-Viateur between St-Laurent and Parc, built and popularized by places like Le Cagibi, has been gentrifying for years. Yet the gradual price edging of yesteryear has tipped over into something of a point of no return.

As documented by Gazette‘s T’cha Dunlevy, Le Cagibi’s rent increase came at the hands of Jeremy Kornbluth and Brandon Shiller, proprietors of upwards of seven properties on the strip, in addition to properties housing the controversial Starbucks in Marché Jean-Talon and the (now defunct) Gordon Ramsay remake of Le Laurier BBQ.

Yet according to Lee, there’s a silver lining to all this jazz. “Cagibi has always tried to provide a space for employees to learn and develop new skills and take on projects they’re excited about. The coop really formalizes this and takes it to the next level, allowing more folks to access the work, responsibilities and profits of ownership,” she says, noting that the new space will allow employees “to have more input into how the business runs,” and that regular nonworking members are also set to “benefit financially by receiving profits of the business and be able to choose where and how money goes back into the business.”

As such, Le Cagibi will join a growing cadre of city co-ops, such as nearby Touski and Divan Orange. The latter two proved particularly inspiring to Le Cagibi, according to Lee. “(These co-ops) were doing similar business operations and Touski provided us with an understanding of their structure which we definitely used as a springboard for discussing our own.”

So when will Le Cagibi as we know it be dissappearing? Having held its final show, the latest word is that current Le Cagibi will close around April 3rd. Lee says that the new space—on St-Zotique near St-Laurent—is slated to be open “as soon as possible… in time for Spring.”

The food menu might see some changes, though the details are still being hammered out.

As for the fate of the iconic Mile End of St-Viateur east of St-Laurent, things are much less certain.

“I think it just becomes more palpable and stark as financial capital begins to explicitly dominate the landscape,” says Lee of the changes. “But I think there’s a lot of resistance in Mile-End to allowing things to progress and a lot of continuous local support for long standing neighbourhood institutions.  I think the real estate corporations buying into the neighbourhood are aiming to make Mile End a new Griffintown or Notre Dame in St. Henri, but in my opinion, they’re overshooting in their expectations.”

“If they continue to blow out the locale economy,” she says, “in five years time my guess is there will be many unrented facades, a lot of business turnover and a few boutique operations or multi-national corporations using their storefront as advertising rather then as a points of sale.”

Cagibi has a fundraising campaign, where you can also find out about joining the collective

Featured image via Flickr/bittermelon / Creative Commons reuse.

St. Laurent Boulevard is set to lose a jewel of a bookshop as rising rents force a beloved bookseller into early retirement after 25 years.

On October 26th workers from 1-800-GOT-JUNK carried armfuls of books to the back of a dump truck. Inside Librairie T. Westcott, hidden behind stacks teetering on the verge of collapse, Terry Westcott sat behind the cash and sold books like it was a regular day.

The customers seemed more or less unaware that the bookstore he had run for so many years was being taken apart piece by piece behind him. For his part, Terry seemed to be playing along with the facade.

“Do you have a copy of Old Man and the Sea?” a woman asked. Terry smiled and pointed to a shelf a short distance away. “If we have any Hemingway it’s in the Literature section. But I don’t think we do at this time.”

“Oh well, I had to ask,” replied the woman and headed for the Literature shelf, dodging a worker clearing out books as she passed.

Outside, it started raining. The worker dutifully dumped his armload onto the growing pile of soggy books. “Don’t worry, it’s going in the recycling, not the dump,” the worker offered, as if trying to downplay some sense of personal culpability.

During a pause in the dramatic scene that was unfolding, I got a chance to ask Terry about his bookstore, why it was closing and his fondest memories of the place. Soft-spoken to the point of a whisper, he graciously obliged.

“My lease ended September of last year in 2016. Then in June the landlord came and told me that he had advertised the store for rent online and he’d received an offer of $4500 a month. There’s no way I can maintain a used bookshop at $4500 a month.”

Terry told me he would stay open as long as possible, until he was locked out. Some books would be donated, some would be sold, but most were headed for the dump truck.

“Yeah, it’s all going into the recycling. Around 20 000 books, altogether. It’s ridiculous.”

The inability to meet exorbitant rental fees is a familiar story along St. Laurent Boulevard. Every block of The Main contains at least one or two shuttered businesses. While Quebec has excellent rent control legislation in residential zones, small businesses like Terry Westcott’s survive at the whim of landlords, who can increase their rents to whatever price they can get from new tenants.

The loss of Librairie T. Westcott is a blow. A small store, Terry made use of every square foot. Organized by subject, piles of books reached close to the ceiling in places and navigating the aisles was sometimes a challenge. Whether Terry planned it this way or not, it had the effect of making each ‘find’ more gratifying, especially if you did it without causing a bookvalanche.

This is not to say things were disorganized. Once I laid down a number of heavy books I’d wanted to buy and when I came back for them five minutes later discovered that Terry had silently placed them all back in the their respective sections.

“A bookstore is a community, not just a business.” Terry said. Apart from hundreds of customers drawn in off the street, dozens of dedicated regulars came through his shop each month. “I read a sociological study that if a bookstore’s in the area, the crime rate drops by 30%. Somebody told me that Paris protects their bookshops [from rent increases]. I don’t know if it’s true or not.”

When asked about his fondest memories, he tells me it’s the community that he helped foster that he’ll miss the most: “People that are still book buyers and have a passion for books.”

He’ll also miss his two devoted regulars: “I had two little cats in the store and they’re a very fond memory. One died at 19, the other at 18.”

Their names? Emma (after Jane Austen) and Eliot (after T.S.). “The veterinarians could never get his name right, spelling it ‘Elliott’ like Pierre Elliott Trudeau.”

I ask him what he’ll do after he retires.

“Well, I’m 74 but I don’t want to retire. I’m still healthy and mentally active, I was hoping to continue. So I have no plans in particular. Maybe I’ll watch golf on television, read the newspaper. Maybe I’ll take in another cat, an older one. They have their lives to live too.”

At the time of writing, hundreds of books have been trucked away. The entire back wall is now bare in preparation for renovations by the new tenant.

But one thing is certain— as long as he can manage to keep his doors open, Terry and Librairie T. Westcott will continue to enrich the community he helped foster for the last quarter century.

* While it’s still open, T. Westcott Books is located at 4065 boul. St-Laurent

In a Sud Ouest Special, panelists Andrew MacDonald and David DesBaillets discuss FolkFest, the changing face of SouthWest Montreal, Barack Obama’s visit and more with host Jason C. McLean. Plus News Roundup, Community Calendar, Lat Night’s Weather and Predictions!

News Roundup Topics: UK Elections, New Conservative Leader, RIP Adam West


Andrew MacDonald: Musician, Sud Ouest resident
David DesBaillets: Legal student, political pundit, former Sud Ouest resident

Host: Jason C. McLean

Producers: Hannah Besseau (audio), Enzo Sabbagha (video)

Production Assistant: Xavier Thomas

Matt Large/FolkFest interview by Hannah Besseau

Recorded June 11, 2017 in Montreal, Quebec



Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons

Remember the time I was almost arrested for sharing free food with my friends?

I do. It was a cold, rainy May Day and we showed up to Lafayette Square (in Buffalo NY) as usual, well maybe we were 10 minutes late, and then as soon as I got out of the car and hugged my one of the people waiting in line, BOOM, out comes an officer of the law to tell me I needed to stop.

STOP? Stop serving my community while you sit there serving a paycheck? STOP? Stop providing necessary organic vegetables to those too poor to afford them, to those living in a food desert, to those who are HUNGRY RIGHT NOW, to those waiting in the rain for a meal (believe me if they didn’t need it they wouldn’t be there).

I could not serve my friends in the park. Our picnic was trampled by someone paid with my tax dollars. My heart was broken.

Buffalo Food Not Bombs serves every Monday and Saturday and has for over 20 years, no matter rain, snow, or sunshine we are out there with our friends, our people, our community. Some things are maybe not worth getting arrested for, this is not one of those things. I will do anything in my power to keep our free vegan picnic going forever.

Volunteering has given my life meaning, I have made some incredible friends, and when I walk down the street people wave to me, people I serve, people I love dearly, people who need nourishment. Food Not Bombs is a worldwide movement against hunger and food waste, we got this. 

They said it was permits we needed- well I went to the permit office like a bat out of hell immediately after and guess what they told me? NO PERMITS ARE NECESSARY IF THE FOOD IS FREE! How about them (free) apples?

We only serve vegetables so the laws about meat temperature do not apply to us. We only give away things for free that were donated so no taxes apply to us. This food is a gift and there is no gain to share unsafe food.

We share the food immediately after it is cooked in a clean and inspected kitchen with gloves and clean containers and cutlery. We have filed paperwork with the Health Department to make sure we are legit on that account, but both of the kitchens we cook in have already been on the books and inspected, so why? Why are we being hassled now?

One thought is that May Day is a day that activists tend to lash out against “the man”. Perhaps we were a threat? Giving out free food to serve the revolution is dangerous. Making sure there are no rumbling tummies is a travesty.

The Police have always had a watchful eye on us, Feed them? Ha, make them starve! Not on my watch, bro. If I have an abundance I will share it by any means necessary.

Another theory is that there is also a new “luxury” hotel right across from Lafayette Square, perhaps they don’t want tourists to see our homeless population? Gentrification will not stand, this is a public park, and our people will continue to enjoy it. I have heard of people getting arrested for serving free food in places like Florida, but there are no standing laws that apply to us here in Buffalo.

That day I gave my phone number to a few regulars, the next day an elderly woman hit me up. She depended on our free produce. Her sister is also vegan, they cannot afford that life without our support. I hooked her up with produce and gave her a ride home.

It turns out that she used to be an art teacher, she dedicated her life to making children see beauty. She told me not to swear (I am a potty mouth fo sho) and also said that she went to the same church as one of the officers. I hope she makes her cry on Sunday.

This woman is so sweet, thank you again Sara, for reminding me why we do this. I made a friend for life because I reached out a hand full of food and she needed it. This sweet woman told me that I was doing God’s work. Well, I am an atheist, but I respect that because I knew religion was very important to her. I will NEVER STOP! Never.

We made asparagus with garlic and olive oil, mixed veggies, green salad, apple crisp, banana cranberry bread, mixed sweet and white potatoes, roasted caramelized cabbage, cantelope, fresh bread and bagels, fruit smoothies, iced sweet tea, and organic produce to share. Thankfully we were able to serve our meal at the University of Buffalo in solidarity with Muslim students at a hate speech by Robert Spencer (anti-jihad alt right nut job) that was sponsored by the on campus white supremacist student group. So it didn’t go to waste. We found an alternate place to serve for that one day, we will be back in our regular place ASAP.

The community support has been phenomenal. Many have reached out and will be volunteering with us. This Saturday’s share will be incredible. I cannot wait to see what comes of this.

Thank you for the free publicity. We will have an uproar from our beautiful neighbors to stand up for those who need a meal. Shame on you for trying to shut us down! If you had a problem with us, tell us and we will fix it, don’t shut us down when people are depending on us to eat that day!

The cops were always “nice” to us in the past. A week before there was a young, black, female officer that was “helping” us. This week she would not look me in the eye as we were forced to shut down. She was a plant, she was used because we would accept her presence a little easier. Officer Gentrification looked a lot like the cop from Terminator 2. I am not intimidated or impressed. Their hungry tummies are on your conscience sir!

You did not serve or protect anyone on this day. I had to tell a homeless person of color “Do not take that bread.” I had to tell an elderly woman whose hand was shaking “Do not take those apples.” I had to tell a woman with small children “I cannot give you that food.”

Food is necessary for survival, it is a right and not a privilege! I should have stood up right then and there, but I didn’t, and I am disappointed in myself. I thought about the people I was with, other volunteers, the good ones, and didn’t want them to get hurt.

My community is my life. I care about the people we serve as if they were my family because all humans are my family! This is a cause worth getting arrested for. If we are told to stop once more, the next meal is a protest and everyone is invited.

My first hostel experience ever was in Montreal. I remember thinking how cool it was to immediately have friends even though I was traveling alone. I fell in love with the idea of sharing space and feeling at home in a strange city.

There are 19+ hostels in Montreal, it is a true International city, full of so much glorious adventure and beautiful diversity. I know that Montreal is also no stranger to the concept of gentrification. As neighborhoods become trendy rent is raised. Former community spaces are converted into hot spots for young, rich, usually white, professionals.

Vibrant artistic communities, reasonable rent prices, beautiful architecture, easy access to all parts of the city and transportation, being close to nightlife hot spots, and accessibility to waterfront are important aspects of a major city.

When I realized that my city, Buffalo NY, had a hostel, I was estatic. I started volunteering there with Food Not Bombs, using the kitchen, and began to talk to the guests and realize that this is the place I must dedicate my time to.

I started working at the Hostel Buffalo Niagara, our one and only youth hostel, over two years ago now. I am proud to be a cultural ambassador for my city.

I have lived here all of my life, I know the ins and outs, the cool places that are under the radar of normal advertisement. The heart of a city is not based on money or greed, it beats because of love and passion.

Buffalo needs a comeback? How about heart. How about if it isn’t broke don’t fix it?!

I am very inspired by my friends who helped save the Cafe Cleopatra with Save the Main and preserved an important space in the Montreal red light district. If people don’t fight for things they will disappear.

I never thought that this was a place I needed to fight for, it is such a vital asset to our community. How can a city call itself accessible and international if it does not have a hostel?

Helping us stop gentrification is a statement against this global trend! NO MORE! Stop colonizing the poor. We are economically vulnerable as a non profit community driven organization. We do not bring big money into the area, but we do bring something that is monumentally more important than that. We bring culture, we provide a safe place for weary travelers, and we treat this place like home.

The term gentrification was coined by sociologist Ruth Glass:

“One by one, many of the working class quarters of London have been invaded by the middle-classes—upper and lower. Shabby, modest mews and cottages—two rooms up and two down—have been taken over, when their leases have expired, and have become elegant, expensive residences …. Once this process of ‘gentrification’ starts in a district it goes on rapidly until all or most of the original working-class occupiers are displaced and the whole social character of the district is changed.”
-Ruth Glass (1964)

I love my hometown. Buffalo is an incredible city that people have forgotten about. It peaked around the industrial revolution and is only recently seen a resurgence.

We have had a non for-profit youth hostel for the past 20+ years, with over 6,000 travelers from all over the world staying with us. Most are coming to see Niagara Falls or check out the universities and fall in love with Buffalo by accident.

We do not need any more bourgeois restaurants or luxury loft apartments! Buffalo is not freaken luxurious. I do not want the city I love to fall victim to the evils of gentrification.

As of February 1st 2017, 667 Main St, the building housing our beloved hostel, was put up for sale by the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency.

This decision was based mostly on the fact that the back half of the building was left by the city in negligent disrepair. Hostel Buffalo Niagara has continued to maintain and improve the building since the initial city investment of 1.5 million dollars in 1995.

Vibrant murals, Buffalo history, a time capsule of event posters from the past 20 years, welcoming energy, and unbridled passion cover the walls and fill the rooms here.

The Hostel’s lease will end in July 2021. We need stay here forever, not for just four short years! 30 of us walked to city hall in a snow storm to deliver our proposal, I bet no developer did that!

I cannot let this place fall into the hands of big money developers. They see this space as a dollar sign and not as a beautiful and accessible community space!

Help us control our own destiny. We want to continue serving the public and raising the bar for low priced hospitality, accessibility, and sustainability. Buffalo cannot lose our only hostel!

Our goal is to develop the back building for affordable extended stay housing and other cultural opportunities. Some thoughts are possibly a cafe that celebrates ethnic diversity and reaches out to local immigrants to fill the space.

I see infinite possibilities. Do not let gentrification take away our city’s heartbeat, we absolutely do not need more luxury lofts or overpriced restaurants. Protect the people, true culture, and flavor of what makes our city so spectacular.

We are a non-profit landing pad and safe space for travelers and community activists as well as a vital cultural asset to the city of Buffalo and Western NY. We host a wide range of beautiful humanity, people from every country imaginable: backpackers, touring cyclists, veterans, Girl Scouts, international students, refugees, doctors, law students taking the Bar Exam, Finnish folk dancers, Habitat for Humanity volunteers, entire families, circus performers, musicians, artists, and even Vermin Supreme!

All of them have shared meals, adventures, and stories of home and their journey. The best parts happen in the kitchen and common areas, people talking about their travels, connecting, sharing recipes in the kitchen, playing board games or ping pong, going on adventures with the free bike rentals.

Exploring new places with new friends is exhilarating to say the least. Travel enriches lives. Buffalo needs to remain a viable and accessible destination. If the hostel is gone those groups of people will pass this city by.

This is more than just a place to stay, we make real connections with our guests that last a lifetime! People are coming to see Niagara Falls and end up falling in love with Buffalo and all its breathtaking charm.

Hostel employees are cultural ambassadors, we share the secret gems and local favorites, we are all Buffalonians with a passion for our home. We are in a prime location in the heart of the Theatre District. Right out the door there is instant entertainment, libations, awesome architecture. It’s a stone’s throw from the waterfront and Canalside, and easy to find transportation.
We directly collaborate with cultural organizations such as The Buffalo Infringement Festival, Food Not Bombs, GOBike Buffalo, Waste Not Want Not, Squeaky Wheel Film & Media Art Center, The Wash Project, and many more. We host a variety of entertainment, from poetry and bike breakfasts outside to music in the stairwells, ping pong tournaments, dance parties, movie nights, a vegan celebration for Indiginious people, The Box Gallery’s Art openings, and Curtain Up Buffalo are all part of our distinct charm and Queen City realness.

The Hostel is located in the heart of the theatre district and in the middle of a food desert. People ask me “why is Main Street so dead?” It is already beginning to overflow with crap. Beautiful buildings being sold to the highest bidder only to be stripped of all that matters.

I have already seen one of my favorite art galleries and my favorite book shop closed and forced to relocate due to this disturbing trend. We need to protect low income and social housing. Low income people already have instability in travel accommodations and housing, long and short term.

Montreal is grittier than most Canadian cities, and so is Buffalo. There is something special about cities with charm, places that remain true to themselves. Places that respect current residents, uplifting communities and not uprooting them!

You need to change with the people and not force them out due to a change in price. We are proud to be part of our city’s renaissance, however we recognize the dangers that cities face throughout the world as they are revitalized. Urban renewal does not mean lower class extinction.

Once vibrant cities like San Francisco and Portland are becoming shells of their former selves. The communities and culture that made them sparkle are pushed away and discarded by gentrification. True renaissance protects the people, flavor, and culture that makes out city special.

FIGHT GENTRIFICATION WORLDWIDE! STOP THE RISE OF HOUSING COSTS! SUPPORT COMMUNITY AND CULTURE! OTHERS NEED TO STAND UP WITH US, if you have ever stayed in a hostel please share this link. we need to give a shit about this place.

We have started a Go Fund Me to start the uphill battle of saving our home.

Thank you for your support!

After nearly two years fenced off, Cabot Square, or as many know it, that park you run through to catch your connecting night bus at Atwater, is open to the public once again. It looks different, and by all indications, it will be different than what it was before.

As someone who, for years, saw this space as a stopover on my way home but now lives very close to it, I am definitely interested in what it has become and what it will be. More importantly, what will happen to the largely homeless native people who lived in the park for years?

On The Surface

The new Cabot Square, located between Atwater and Lambert-Closse, Ste-Catherine and Tupper, feels bigger. The sidewalks surrounding it, where people wait for busses, seem wider. There are also plenty of new bus shelters around the square.

A good portion of the park is now paved with stones gelled together and treated to form a somewhat smooth surface for walking or cycling. There are new benches, some standing alone and some integrated into decorative concrete dividers.

Cabot Square Montreal (18)

As for actual nature, it is somewhat sparse. Islands of grass and other sorts of vegetation surround the trees in the park. There is also a garden of flowers and other plants covering most of the south of the square, right up to the sidewalk.

The entrance to Atwater Metro (via tunnel to Alexis Nihon) is where it always was. The small kiosk that was once a restaurant on the northwest corner is now being called the Vespasienne and will be used again in the redesign.

There are also water fountains, a giant chess board, freestanding historical slide viewers and free WIFI. In the brief time I was able to check things out yesterday, it felt like there really was life in the park.

Cultural Activities

The revamped Cabot Square will play host to cultural activities, quite a few of them, in fact. There will be swing dancing, yoga classes, movie nights and even Shakespeare in the Park.

I’m trying to imagine catching a flick or enjoying the Bard as people wait for or run for their bus just meters away and coming up short. This is, after all, a major transportation hub, day or night. I also wonder how yoga can work in a space that isn’t exactly the mountain or even a regular park but rather a glorified large traffic island downtown with people criss-crossing through it all the time.

That’s the skeptic in me speaking. I honestly hope it works. The city is looking to host three such events a day, so maybe they know something I don’t.

First Nations Included

This project initially seemed like gentrification designed to evict native people who had been living in the park for years. They will not be excluded; at least that’s the plan.

Friday night is aboriginal night in the cultural programming of the square. There will also be soapstone carving workshops.

Cabot Square Montreal (15)

Meanwhile, half of the Vespasienne will be a coffee shop called the Roundhouse Café run by L’Itinéraire and employing homeless and at-risk people. The other half of the building will serve as an office for an outreach worker to help natives in the park going through difficult times.

Making this happen was a bit of an uphill battle at times. Nakuset Shapiro of the Native Women’s Shelter told CKUT’s Native Solidarity News (Cabot Square discussion starts at 46 minutes) how the city needed to be encouraged and assured that this support plan would work.

Regardless of what brought us here, Cabot Square is now re-open and it promises to be an interesting addition to Shaughnessy Village and the city in general as well as a development that respects the people who frequented the original park.

Will that turn out to be the case? Time will tell. For now, all I can tell for sure is that now we can once again cut through the park to catch a bus.

* photos by Jason C. McLean

St-Henri’s been getting me snickering lately, and I’ll gander you might agree. Folks have been trying to refurbish its tenement-of-yore, slant-floored, jute-insulated grandeur for a while. The speed of it is starting to show.

I remember 5-buck two-egg breakfast down at Restaurant Place St-Henri, with its onion soup-soaked “home” fries and its greenish eggs. What a rich, cultured scene! And bottomless, hopefully unburnt coffee, too. I remember hitting it nearly every morning, even when strapped, and all the other budget-prone freelancers in the neighbourhood doing the same—our own little wordless congregation. You could always get a booth, except on welfare-check day.

It’s been closed for a while – two years come February – and then John’s 2.0 burned / was burned down this summer. And as much as I’d love to hit Miracle Pizza every morning for a salmonella gamble, this all leaves fewer Quebie options to live by. This all used to be so cheap. Casse-croûte or die, but cheap.

Enter, as such, Midi 6—a tasty, not so expensive, or organized, or Quebie, compromise. It’s Saturday, so I’m hitting the undrinkable dark roast full tilt, caution to the wind. Three creams. Sugar. More sugar. Two eggs over easy, sausage and a croissant and all the coffee I can get down—$6,61 all in before tip.

As for the scene, the gentrifiers within earshot are rattling on about the hypoallergenic way to go, spoon-blitzing their irreverent offspring with gulps of organic purees. I’m also getting an earful of some young Dollard-seeming brunchers on about 30-day money-back guarantees, vacation accrual, and loud-mouthed Shoulda Switched to Telus and I’ve Found My Calling in Compliance boasts.

Everyone seems proper weekend pleased, on a wailer of a time. I catalogue factory-frayed stylings and the sight of sweatpants in public—taking notes on telling Montrealer allophone brain farts like “bang for your dollar.” It’s a little, pointless game; it’s a slow, late morning.

sweatpantsAll of them are so happy with it all I gather that I’m probably the ridiculous one. That the neighbourhood’s just moving on past whatever we thought it was. Whatever some think it to be.

For instance, after breakfast and a block over at the artisanal coffee beanery, the one-gear Fattal-ites are thinking up that the “real yuppies” are actually infesting NDG; that St-Henri is still, essentially, as punk as scabies. The steam wands of their smithy shall micro-foam on in resistance, and 3$ rooibos is about integrity. They sure seem pleased enough.

Meanwhile, cramping my eavesdropping style is a wild-haired, middle-aged behemoth, waiting out a French press in progress, who is railing on at the sweet quipster barista: “open your damn eyes!” the seas are death, the lizard folk, NAFTA, FATCA, the Military Industrial Food Complex (check your Eisenhower, please), the porcine gene pool!!!

It’s like a live-cast of a Rabble article, or my Facebook feed on most days. Yet another sample of the neighbourhood, he finally breezes on out of the shop, but only after having made everyone a little shushed. “Take it easy,” he says, baby smooth. A collective sigh. We are convinced.

All the while, I’m trying to polish off the end of David Foster Wallace’s “A Supposedly Fun Thing” essay—honing in long enough, here and there, to guffaw joyously at the “semi-agoraphobe” in him. He’s covering the Luxury Cruise experience aboard the “Nadir” megaliner, but barely leaving his room, and bingeing on Cabin Service. Last I looked back down, he had At-Sea-Cable on again, on his fifth whack at Jurassic Park, really empathizing with the raptors, trying like hell to escape all the “bovine” cruiserdom.

I’m trying to give him my undivided, but, you know, here’s the multi-ply kerfuffle I fancied I’d go out and probe. Hard not to look up; hard not to fret, or giggle. All this just seems to keep gusting along Notre-Dame, some westerly swindle. “Maybe it’s just you,” I think, to myself. “Take it easy,” I repeat.

Then “OK, let’s make some money!” blares serendipitously from someone’s VAIO—turned down in a panic, for shame. I gander it must be an endeared omen, right? I mean, what’s not to laugh at, right?

Well here we go again. The Société de développement Angus (SDA) just announced a $160 million, 12 floor development project for the corner of St-Laurent and St-Catherine, the heart of Montreal’s historic Red Light District and current Quartier de Spéctacles.

They’re calling it Carré Saint-Laurent. There’s supposed to be a market similar to Marché Atwater at street level, cultural organizations on the first floor and the rest of the floors split between residential and commercial space, the latter leased by the Quebec government for 25 years as office space for employees currently working in the Centre de commerce mondial.

If this sound familiar, it’s because just a few years ago, Angus tried to expropriate and demolish almost the whole block and build the Quadrilatère St-Laurent, a giant office tower for Hydro Quebec with a few boutiques and restaurants at street level. They failed.

Café Cléopâtre, a business located in a historic building with a strip club downstairs and an independent burlesque, drag, theatre and fetish performance space upstairs, refused to leave. Artists, heritage experts and people defending the rights of sex workers fought the PR battle while Cleo’s owner Johnny Zoumboulakis challenged the expropriation in court and won.

While the similarities are obvious, there are a few key differences. First, look at the promoters.

Current state of the lower Main (photo by Donovan King/
Current state of the lower Main (photo by Donovan King/

Angus and its head Christian Yaccarini were front and centre last time around, joined by then-mayor Gerald Tremblay and his Union Montreal administration, who had given Angus a no-bid contract to complete the project. While Hydro Quebec had agreed to rent out the space, the Charest government largely stayed out of the debate.

This time out, Angus and Yaccarini are again prominent but Quebec Premier Pauline Marois is by his side and was part of the announcement. The city hasn’t said much, aside from new mayor Denis Coderre appearing in the photo op.

As for the opponents, last time everyone, be they history buffs, anti-gentrification activists or ordinary people who felt that the corner of St-Laurent and St-Catherine needed buildings that were at a more human scale, gravitated to the cause to save Cleo, making Zoumboulakis and the artists he housed their champions. This time, it’s not so simple.

Café Cléopâtre is not in the wrecking ball’s crosshairs, at least not yet. While I wouldn’t be surprised if Yaccarini’s plan is to drastically change the neighbourhood around Cleo so it will stand out like a sore thumb and want to move, that hasn’t happened yet and is not part of the official plan.

That means arguments that Quebec and the SDA want to evict a bunch of artists from an entertainment district can’t be made. Also, Zoumboulakis can’t wage any legal battles over who his neighbours will be.

If the fight to save Cleo the first time out was turned into a movie, it would be emotional and riveting. This would be the sequel where Brad Pitt (I guess Zoumboulakis) has to take a supporting role.

While many of the same artists seem to be on board for the fight (if the Save the Main Facebook page is any indication), it’s not going to be about them or the Cleo. The fight against this development has to focus on heritage and what role that will play in the future of the lower Main. Instead of focusing on what Yaccarini and Marois are proposing, it should focus on what they’re not proposing.

A market with small, independent vendors is a good idea and one that should occupy some of the space. But what about other nightlife to compliment Cleo? Maybe a live music venue or two? Another bar?

This area needs small businesses that are independently owned. Kind of like those that were there before the SDA decided to expropriate everyone.

I’m all for residential space, but not condos as they are proposing for the St-Catherine side. This isn’t an area for condos, it’s an area for nightlife and could be a great place for those who thrive in that nightlife (such as independent artists who may not be able to afford condos) to live.

Above all, this is not an area for government offices or tall buildings. There are other parts of town where such things fit, the lower Main isn’t one of them.

The lower Main was, is and should always be about Montreal. It’s not about the Quebec state or upscale establishments, just look at how the 2-22, Yaccarini’s other project across the street, is failing.

The lower Main needs to be redeveloped based on what the area is and has always been. That was happening on its own organically a few years ago, but then the SDA and the city put a stop to it.

I think the best way to proceed is for someone to expropriate all the properties that the SDA seized a few years ago from the SDA and sell them at affordable rates to a bunch of independent business people who get the street-level, independent nightlife vibe and who can actually get things moving the right way. Clearly Christian Yaccarini and Pauline Marois don’t know what this area needs.

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

Café Cleopatre when it still had neighbours

Ever see the slacker classic Joe’s Apartment? That’s the one with Jerry O’Connell starring alongside some well trained cockroaches as a mid west boy in his first foray into quasi-manhood in NYC, conveniently landing a rent controlled apartment, subsequently discovering his landlord is trying to kill him off so they can tear down the building and put up a maximum security penitentiary. Well, the same thing’s happening on the Main. Basically.

If you’ve been following the bouncing ball then you already know that Angus Development Corp owns most of the west side of St. Laurent between Ste. Catherine & the Monument Nationale, and was all set to build an office tower. They wanted the remaining land, and almost had it when the Montreal Pool Room moved across the street from its original location, leaving only Café Cleopatre standing her ground, at the same spot she’s stood for the last 35 years. Proud and determined, the lady couldn’t be bought.

Back in March, the city and developer Angus, under public and legal pressure, dropped plans to expropriate the Café Cleopatre. While I was fairly certain what that meant, I double checked the meaning and found “expropriate” defined as 1: to deprive of possession or proprietary rights 2: to transfer (the property of another) to one’s own possession and really, thems some expensive words to say stealing someone’s shit, so I’m kinda surprised they even entertained the question.

So, the Café won’t sell, and the city can’t let it be stolen, the office plan got shelved; what to do? Well, neglect the surrounding buildings until they get condemned and torn down. In a decision that was undoubtedly made while stroking an oddly complacent cat and laughing maniacally, that seems to be what’s happening. The nineteenth century heritage buildings owned by Angus along that strip are in wild states of disrepair, with city barricades erected to protect pedestrians from falling debris. In fact, if you’ve seen the strip lately, I bet you thought the buildings were unowned and waiting patiently for their chance to shine again, but that’s never been in the game plan.

The lower Main as it looks now

I hate it when people rewrite history. Did you know that rue du Bullion was formerly rue Cadieux, rechristened because the street name was notorious among sailors for the quality of the brothels? A reputation worthy of civic pride, in my books. That fact alone should be taught in schools, but instead it’s proof of an age old Montreal tradition to try to eradicate the collective memory of our stylishly sordid history. As a result, the red light district, — which, save for Café Cleo, is pretty well done — must go.

I asked a dear friend of mine, actor, producer and avid lover of the interestingly sexual, Jason McCullough, why he adamantly supports the Café:

“The richness of the place is a texture when you walk in. From the vaudeville lighting to huge space and friendly sassy staff, it’s a adult theme park event to be at Cleo’s. I’ve booked shows and events there, I’ve worked the 60’s era spotlight, attended fetish night events and comedy shows, as well as the amazing drag show hosted by Reena. The two bars are fully stocked and they even have a signature “Cleo Cocktail” that will lay you out if you’re not careful.  The whole joint is owned and run by Johnny, a kind and soft spoken businessman, who fought the big corporate business who tried to take his 40 year business away from him, and WON.  It’s a certainly one of the final icons of the Paris of the north, Canada’s sin city. The only thing I could compare it to would be a speakeasy in Chicago during prohibition. The light is always on at Cleo’s , and its RED!”

While leaving sequined men and open minded folk of various sexual shades out in the cold may not seem as dramatically heart wrenching as the hooligans in Joe’s Apartment throwing old ladies down the stairs to clear out the building for destruction, it’s an equally underhanded attempt to destroy the face of a neighborhood.

Cue my singing cockroaches.

I’d love to say that this is an isolated struggle; that it’s the world against Café Cleo, and that there’s one evil developer trying to cleanse our city’s sinful soul with corner offices and condos, but it’s more insidious than that. I remember when there were more lights on the Main, and then when those went out, I remember that we were promised more, better, brighter lights that never came. Recently the police’s morality squad has been making itself seen around town, in bars, cracking down on establishments with restaurant liquor licenses, (here too), breaking up illegal parties, or as their calling them, endroits clandestins.

I hate to be the one to mention it, but when did the city built on filles de roi, strip teases, after parties and endless vernisages, decide to get uptight again? We should maintain our identity with pride rather than settle for the homogenization of our metropolis. It seems to me, and correct me if I’m wrong,  they’re clearing out the gritty, the artsy, the authentic and independent like it’s all a scourge on society, in favor of government sanctioned entertainment like the Quartier des spectacles, the main attraction of which seems to be the spotlights that passersby can fiddle with, and prospects of an office tower where we currently have a landmark.

Before it’s all gone like an apostrophe on a sign, write to someone. Support Café Cleo. Demand that Mayor Tremblay revitalizes instead of turning a blind eye while the developers let the area crumble into a valid excuse to change the face of our city.

Celebrate New Year’s Eve this Saturday from 10pm at Café Cleopatre, 1230 St. Laurent, where Reena hosts a special cabaret with Penelope, and the promise of many surprises. Admission is free (because they’re nice people).

Send your thoughts on the subject to:
Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay –
Montreal Culture Minister Helen Fotopulos –
Christian Yaccarini (Angus Development Corporation)

Tweet at me while you’re partying @McMoxy

Cleo at night photo by Chris Zacchia, lower Main photo by Donovan King, courtesy

Have you ever seen a really small rally or demonstration? The kind where you instinctively ask yourself whether those gathered may require the services of a new communications director? Or feel compelled to determine exactly which crackpot idea would lead to this small congregation? “What’s so ‘special’ about your special-interest group,” you may ask yourself, for shits and giggles.

In Montréal you’d be hard pressed to go a day without some kind of protest, rally, vigil etc. somewhere in the city public demonstrations are a key element of civic life, and Montrealers are generally proud and active members of their community, and thus inclined to participate. That being said, and with our many infamous riots and other major public gatherings well in mind, we must keep in mind that the day to day demo in our city is typically a small gathering, attended by only a handful of people.

You’ve doubtless seen these quaint affairs, and perhaps have even had a laugh at their expense. After all, there are no small civic demonstrations – or at least not as far as the TV cameras will show you. There are only large potential threats to internal security, marauding black-masked anarchists and an endless parade of indolent, self-righteous students in attendance at these events, right?

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of taking in a small demonstration. There were only a couple dozen people in attendance, but this was not a rally in which the force for change would be measured in mere attendance statistics. Few ever are. Change is effected by concerned citizens who work tirelessly, and too often without any recognition, to achieve altruistic goals. On Saturday I got a chance to meet some of these people, and as result of my meeting I’d like to state that I believe in their cause and would further like to see their wish realized.

That wish, incidentally, is to see a small, unusable plot of land that has been turned into a park recognized and protected for what it is.
The saga of Parc Oxygene goes all the way back to the very heady days of the 1960s. Back then Parc Oxygene didn’t even exist, largely because the adjacent La Cité apartment complex was still nothing more than an architect’s proposal.

The La Cité development was a testament to inefficient government planning, unscrupulous real-estate developers drunk with power and served, for these reasons, to galvanize public opinion into a cohesive protest force. The Milton-Parc Citizens Committee was formed to stop the development and protect the community, which in turn would lead to the creation of Save Montreal, Heritage Montreal, the Canadian Centre for Architecture and our city’s generally more enlightened approach to urban redevelopment and architectural conservation.

While the MPCC wasn’t able to stop the project completely, they were able to scale it down to about an eighth of what was originally planned. Subsequently, the MPCC grew into a major community organization, and today they protect the interests of the residents of more than 600 rental units in the area, not to mention many local small businesses.

Take a trip to the corner of Milton and Parc and take a seat at any of the three cafés on that intersection (I prefer the Second Cup for its massive terrace and, no joke, the community of regulars) and watch the world go by. Clearly there is a community here, and the streets dance with the movement of people carrying on their day-to-day. It is a fascinating vantage point on the city, one I’d highly recommend to tourist and seasoned boulevardier alike.

Consider that all this activity takes places in the shadow of the massive housing, retail and office complex that is the La Cité development. Over the years the community here has demonstrated its resilience to massive urban renewal projects and has managed to get along despite the alterations that occurred over forty years ago. Perhaps time truly does heal all wounds…

Despite the scars, the neighbourhood has managed to stimulate its own renewal, and as you can imagine, land value in the Milton-Parc neighbourhood, not to mention the adjacent Quartier Ste-Famille and McGill Ghetto areas, has skyrocketed. What is curious is that the present threat is not from mega-projects, as it was back in the 60s and 70s, but by small, discreet condo projects, aiming to jam postage-stamp condos into alleyways, overhangs, courtyards and any other small tracts of land which may be available in a given area.

We’ve benefitted as a community from the laws that enforce building height and massing restrictions, inasmuch as we’ve benefitted from an as yet un-satiated condo market that has until now largely focused on recycling old factories. But there are only so many old buildings that can be converted, and it’s for that reason that the MPCC suddenly finds itself once again dealing with La Cité’s legacy. A residual plot of land from the project’s construction, declared unusable by the city (yet somehow there’s a claim to ownership, complicating issues), and since converted into a pleasant little green-space, aptly named Parc Oxygene, perhaps because people so often forget the free resource provided by flora.

The park was an initiative of the residents of this close-knit community, as it had previously been used by taxi drivers revved up on thoughts of F1 glory and quick shortcuts through a dense part of the city. Frankly, before it was taken over by the citizens, it was bare, barren and dangerous. And of course, being an open space connected to the alleyway meant that it was frequently filled with children during the day and the homeless at night. Far from ideal for all parties concerned.

When residents asked the City as to what the status of the land was, they were told that it could not be developed, and was thus unusable for this purpose. Too bad for the proprietor, but this proved to be a major boon for the community, as the locals quickly pooled their resources, planted flowers and shrubs, created a little path, and gave something directly back to the community. Feel good altruism at its finest.

Unfortunately, the reason for this rally in particular was to remind the public that this space exists, and that, as almost all green space is these days, it is under threat of redevelopment into wait for it condominiums. Eight at four hundred grand is the estimate, wedged onto a plot of land no larger than the floor-space of a typical Victorian row house. And poof goes the park in the process.

Though the City is still adamant that the land is unusable, the owner has a team of lawyers apparently working round the clock to find a solution to this project in Quebec City of all places. This seems doubtful, likely little more than intimidation. At the event on Saturday, the owner’s wife showed up and told people to “get off her lawn.”

Think twice about the next small rally you pass, as the cause may be righteous and more practical than you think. Small community involvement never catches the public’s eye, but they are still a vital and important tool and element of our civic lives. And who cares if the issue at hand isn’t good enough to be on the six o’clock news if it affects you or your community, then it is your responsibility to stay informed.

Of all the anxieties expressed at this gathering, the one that struck me was the feeling of hopelessness experienced by those who overhear a popular and preachy discourse pertinent to the merits of preserving the diversity of the urban environment. It’s a great game to talk, but too few walk it. So think too about your day-to-day access to green space in this city, and consider that Montreal is in no way a leader in this respect. Citizen access to public green space is still embarrassingly low in Montreal by international standards. Our access to condos is thoroughly unencumbered, by contrast.

* Parc Oxygène photos by Cindy Lopez, 1972 photo courtesy

“The people united can never be defeated!”

While that slogan heard at protests around the world holds true, it generally does so on a conceptual and defensive level. Strength in numbers is strength for sure, but does it ever go beyond that? Well, sometimes it does. Sometimes the people united can actually defeat much greater foes. That’s exactly what has happened in the case of the artists of Café Cleopatre versus the City of Montreal and the Angus development corporation (SDA).

If you haven’t been following the story from the get-go, allow me to recap:

In 2009, the lower Main was going through a rebirth of sorts. New venues like Club Opera and Katacombes were springing up to compliment more established places (and by established, I mean over half a century established) like the Montreal Pool Room hot dog joint and Café Cleopatre.

The Cleo is housed in a historic building and features entertainment on two floors. The ground floor is a strip club, but not just any strip club. Yeah, there are your traditionally sexy dancers in their 20s, but there are also women of different shapes, sizes and ages working there. It’s one of the few places in town that doesn’t discriminate.

The second floor is a whole other story, one of burlesque, drag and fetish. The space is home to many performers doing shows that are too risqué for many other establishments but in perfect keeping with the Cleo and the history of Montreal’s Red Light District where the venue is situated.

Meanwhile, the Tremblay Administration was planning to remove all this culture from the area which had been designated part of the Quartier de Spectacles. Their idea for this new entertainment district? An office tower! They handpicked developer Christian Yaccarini and his company Angus for the project and offered him a no-bid contract.

Dead Dolls Velma Candyass and Felicity Fuckhard pose at the OCPM hearings

This didn’t sit well with the artists who performed at Cleo, historians, ordinary citizens and pretty much anyone who cared about Montreal’s culture and heritage. They let their voices be heard at the Office de consultation publique (OCPM) hearings and in the media.

The OCPM took their side, ordering a re-think of the project. Yaccarini was ready to throw in the towel, but Tremblay wouldn’t hear of it, strongly voicing his support of the project, proclaiming it on track.

Over the months that followed, Angus bought out Cleo’s neighbours, leaving their former businesses empty, giving the rest of the block an increasing air of desolation. Eventually, the only other holdout, The Montreal Pool Room, moved across the street and Cleo was all alone.

Cleopatra owner Johnny Zoumboulakis speaks at the Montreal City Council

But the people who worked at, performed at and loved the Cleo were alone together. They kept on the offensive and opened up two new fronts: political (by speaking out at city council meetings) and legal (Cleo owner Johnny Zoumboulakis challenged the expropriation in court). They also made videos and even appealed to Prince Charles for support.

For a while it looked like it would be a battle to the end, but then a few weeks ago, Angus threw in the towel, promising to alter its construction plans to accommodate the Cleo’s existence by building around it and then the Tremblay administration, who until now had been hell-bent on replacing the establishment with an office tower, followed suit.

So this is what victory feels like. It’s not just a victory for Montreal’s culture and heritage, though, it’s also a victory for a group of people that worked tirelessly to keep this space they cared about alive, all the while continuing to do their art and in many cases (cause underground artists rarely survive off their passion alone) their paying gigs as well. This isn’t just David versus Goliath, it’s David holding down a day job and fighting Goliath in his spare time.

It’s victory for people like Club Sin’s Eric Paradis, the Dead Doll Dancer’ Velma Candyass and Drag Queen Reena, performers who have made the upstairs of Cleo a space worth preserving. It’s victory for Emilie Laliberte of STELLA, who fought hard to preserve a space where sex workers’rights are respected. It’s victory for historians and educators like Louis Rastelli, Viviane Namaste, Dinu Bumbaru and Donovan King who think the Red Light is as Montreal as a two-cheek kiss and shouldn’t be forgotten.

It’s also victory for Johnny Zoumboulakis, a man who fought for over two years for one thing: the right to work. For over thirty years, he has run a successful business and been part of a community on the lower Main. Now, he can continue to do just that.

All these people will be celebrating their victory Saturday night at the Cleo and are inviting you to come celebrate with them. Come raise a glass to Johnny Z and the Cleo and party the night away celebrating a victory for anyone who loves Montreal’s culture and heritage.

The Café Cleopatre Victory Celebration hosted by Reena and featuring performances by Nat King Pole, Tommy Toxic, Velma Candyass and the Dead Doll Dancers and more starts tonight, March 26th, at 9pm (doors 8pm) at Cabaret Cleo, 2nd floor of Café Cleopatre, 1230 boul St-Laurent, cover is $5 with all proceeds going to STELLA

OCPM photo by Chris Zacchia

More Cleo? More Fun? Facebook us.

It looks like the independent burlesque, fetish and drag artists who call the second floor of Café Cleopatre on St-Laurent their artistic home will be able to continue doing so, at least for a while. City-backed developer Angus Development (SDA) told Radio Canada that they have scrapped their plans to expropriate the venue, and now plan to build two 13-storey buildings on either side of Cafe Cleo. This turn of events brings to a temporary end what is probably the biggest local David versus Goliath story to come about in a long while.

While this turn of events will allow many to breathe a sigh of relief, does this mean the Cleo is safe for good?

“No,” says Eric Paradis, who runs the monthly Club Sin fetish nights on the Cleo’s second floor, “the Cleo will never be safe as long as corporate interests rule above those of the artists.”

It’s those same corporate interests that led the Tremblay administration to offer the SDA a no-bid contract to “redevelop” the lower Main. It’s also those interests that gave the SDA the bright idea of building a skyscraper office tower for Hydro Quebec as the centerpiece of an entertainment district and evicting all the entertainers who stood in their way.

Fortunately, those motivations were clear to people who performed, worked and lived in the area as well as historians, academics and pretty much anyone who cared about Montreal’s real culture. Those voices came out en masse at the public consultations on the subject nearly two years ago, when FTB first picked up this story.

Now, Angus may well be taking its new two-building proposal to the public consultation process. Even though the plan allows for the Cleo to remain, it’s a far cry from the re-emerging nightlife that existed on the block before Yaccarini and company started buying up lots and boarding up buildings.

“Regardless of my status of producer of events,” Paradis commented, “I think it’s preposterous to build anything over six stories on that part of the Main.”

This also isn’t a done deal. The announcement by Angus just says that they have asked the city to remove their name from the expropriation process, so the city still needs to do just that. Some may remember that the last time Angus made a concession (after the OCPM ruling came down), Tremblay erased it and said that things would proceed as planned.

So while supporters of the Cleo, authentic grassroots culture and Montreal’s heritage take a collective sigh of relief, is there something else they should be doing to ensure that the Cleo remains, and that a better idea for the area than two office towers comes to light?

“Make yourselves heard!” Paradis argues, “your ideals to preserve and rebuild have every right to be.”

If you want to be heard, you can comment on this post, the Radio Canada article, spread the story and join the Save the Main Facebook group. You can also read our previous coverage of the story.

Photo by Chris Zacchia

Rob Ford, new mayor of

I must admit, I’m a bit confused. I’m not quite sure what I’m supposed to write about here. It’s a year-in-review piece, so at least the time frame is solid, but the subject matter, hmm, that’s another story.

You see, I don’t really have a clear beat. I started off 2010 as a theatre writer, but now that’s done by others and occasionally me, at least when it comes to burlesque shows (heh heh, but seriously, check out my reviews of Blood Ballet and Glam Gam). I do write about news and politics, even in this space, but I’m not the only one, so this can’t be a year in the news piece.

I could write about the year it was for FTB. (and in fact I will, but that’s coming up New Year’s Eve, not here.) So I guess I’m just going to have to talk about the year in random things that caught my attention.

It seems somewhat appropriate that I’m confused, because 2010 sure was a year of confusing things. While Calgary took a few steps forward and elected (by all accounts) progressive lefty Naheed Nenshi, Canada’s first Muslim mayor, Toronto took about fifty steps back and basically elected Rush Limbaugh in the form of anti-homeless, anti-cyclist loudmouth Rob Ford. The City of Montreal, under the direction of Gerald Tremblay, still wants to destroy the Red Light District, at least there was some good news last week that developer Angus may throw in the towel and let the venerable Café Cleopatre continue to exist.

Meanwhile in Quebec, Jean Charest and his cronies (before facing a sham commission) banned the wearing of religious head coverings when trying to use government services and made those services, even those that are supposed to be free, a little more expensive. This drew considerable protest, but you wouldn’t know it by reading The Gazette.

People are not impressed: photo of the anti-Charest budget protest by Chris Zacchia

At least Stephen Harper’s consistently a douchebag. He did up the ante a bit this year, though, by going all police state on peaceful protesters and the City of Toronto during the G20, using tactics that would have made Homeland Security and the CIA under Cheney (er, Bush) blush.

Harper’s new nemisis the UN took a step backwards, too, by condoning the baseless executions of gays and lesbians. At least Haiti decided not to allow Wyclef Jean to run for president, though their elections didn’t go all that smooth, regardless.

The good stuff: Buffalo Infringement Festival photo by Jason C. McLean

Even closer to home, things have been strange. Despite being a fresh, new and alternative media source, we’re still following Justin Beiber on Twitter and last time I checked we’re now following Paris Hilton, too. At least it gives me the opportunity to use the Biebs, Paris, Jean Charest and Islam as keywords in the same post, which is fun.

I did have quite a bit of fun this year, actually and got to report on it, too. From checking out the Brooklyn music scene first hand and getting a sarcastic kick out of the lone tea partier in Times Square to experiencing the unique joy that is the Buffalo Infringement Festival, 2010 has been quite a ride.

I guess my New Year’s resolution (or at least my public one) will have to be focus on the positive, still write about the negative (cause it’s important) and embrace the confusion.

photo by Chris Zacchia

For supporters of Café Cleopatre and the heritage of Montreal’s historic Red Light District, Christmas may come early this year and I’m not talking about the Glam Gam holiday show that wrapped up last weekend, either. Angus head Christian Yaccarini confirmed to Cyberpresse that he may just throw in the towel and give up on his company’s ongoing attempt to expropriate the legendary burlesque, drag and fetish performance space and downstairs strip club.

For several years, Yaccarini’s Société de développement Angus (SDA), with the full blessing and encouragement of Montreal mayor Gerald Tremblay and his administration, has been buying up spots on St-Laurent boulevard between St-Catherine and the Monument Nationale theatre and leaving them vacant, creating a virtual ghost town around the lone holdout Cleopatre. They hope to raize the area and replace what was recently a thriving community experiencing a rebirth with a giant skyscraper to house Hydro Quebec offices.

Meanwhile, a coalition of artists, historians, academics and residents have been fighting this plan tooth and nail in the media, at City Hall, at the Office de consultation public and recently in the courts. It’s this case brought by Cleo owner Johnny Zoumboulakis that may finally break Yaccarini’s stubbornness on the matter. He argued that it might just not be worth it to keep paying legal fees when, as he put it in French, “Cleo’s lawyers just don’t want to come to an agreement.”

If Angus does decide to stop fighting, it would be a decision “with heavy consequences for the lower Main” as Cyberpresse put it, but only because of the situation Angus created all around the Cleo. Even when a group of artists endorsed by the Quartier des spectacles put up graffiti art over the boarded-up buildings, Angus had it painted over a few months later, destroying an attempt to bring life back to the block.

Now (if they drop the case), Yaccarini and company will have to decide what to do with the lots they do own. Maybe they could adopt a plan put forward at last May’s Petcha Kutcha night all about the Main: one that would see a living tribute to the area’s burlesque past. This plan was heavily cited in the booklet put out by those responsible for the event (though with no mention of the Cleo). Or maybe they could just pass the project on to another developer, one with more knowledge of what the area needs (ie. not an office tower in the heart of an entertainment district).

Maybe the city could force Angus to do the right thing, but given the fact that the Tremblay administration is heavily involved in this disaster and even handpicked the developer, ignoring his criminal past, that doesn’t seem very likely. That might not matter, though, because if people working together to stand up to him can (eventually) get Yaccarini to change his mind, maybe people working together can make the city adopt their plan.

Hugo’s first series with FTB is the 35th anniversary show Cabaret Cléopatre Grand Spectacle: 35 years of travesty and was held April 24, 2010. Hugo was invited by his friend Velma Candyass, the leader of the Montreal Burlesque Dance Troop, the Dead Dolls, to explore and photograph the event. The 35th anniversary show focused on creating awareness about the forced expropriation the Café may be facing due to the building of the new Hydro Québec offices. We’ve also been covering this story on FTB since June 2009.

Spending most of his night swinging from front to back stages, Hugo captured the intimate and controversial side of the performers. The burlesque artists performances centered on dramatic impersonations of blue collars workers in the City of Montreal.

The majority of the artists featured in the   show were performing in protest against the City and its private promoters. Hugo’s images are a testament to the devotion, talent and creativity of and to all of the hard blue collar workers in Montreal.

Enjoy this wonderful series. Check back next week for the premier of Hugo’s dark post-card series.

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