Last weekend, organizers from the Committee for the protection of Anse a l’Orme successfully executed an event that got Sainte Anne de Bellevue residents all fired up to save one of their local eco-territories (one of 10 in Montreal).

Sandwiched between Kirkland, Senneville, Sainte Anne’s and Pierrefonds, a 95 hectare tract of regenerating forest in the Anse a l’Orme eco territory was put up for sale to developers by the Societe Generale de Financement (SGF – a profit seeking branch of the Quebec Ministry of economics), much to the horror of local conservation groups and Sainte Anne’s council.

Because this region of land is  contradictorily classified as both for conservation and for  industry, resident tax payers decided that their dollars should go to protecting the land.

The call for land tender that the SGF published in local Montreal newspapers on June 14 expires August 16. The public action that took place last weekend couldn’t have come at a better time.

In the style of the ‘old West, residents signed up to stake their claim in the disputed piece of land during the weekly Sainte Anne’s farmer’s market in the name of conservation.

That same afternoon, over a dozen people gathered at the junction of highway 40’s Morgan exit and Chemin Sainte Marie to hammer their stakes in the ground. In the background hung an enormous home-made sign “Ecoterritory, NOT condos.”

This is what democracy looks like. The CBC and CTV weekend broadcast reporters came to document citizens in action.

Residents have not resigned the notion that green spaces have more inherent value than the short term profits that condominiums and industry provide. Some people even came specifically to the market to participate in the event.

Sainte Anne de Bellevue turns around enough profit from its enormous, tucked-away industrial zone. Why does it need to remove more forest land, fragmenting  valuable  wildlife habitat. Once it is paved over, the damage is irreversible.

This is  hopefully  the pressure that the SGF needs to step down from their profiteering plans. It’s technically fine to build condos, but it’s just plain wrong to build on designated conservation land. Seriously.

A bunch of millionaires bought condos in a recently gentrified area of Griffintown, near a traditionally working-class neighborhood. These high-rise condos, however, were built in a formerly industrial zone, on the sites where factories once produced many goods which are now produced overseas, but there is another rant about that and I think I already ranted about that one anyway. The area in question is not far from a former neighborhood called goose village, an area of town which housed mostly Italian and anglophone immigrants. The city destroyed that area of town in preparation for expo 67, but that is yet another rant for another time.

This should come before condos: 1180 St-Antoine West (photo by Google Street View)

An old office tower called the Windsor building across the street from the Windsor train station located at 1180 St Antoine west, next to a condemned building, has had a large community of artists, mainly musicians, using it for rehearsals, recording and other artistry for well over 30 years.

These condos, which were built less than 5 years ago, have issued many noise complaints against this building. As a result, tenants in the building are not allowed to use the facilities with the windows open. Trouble is, during a heatwave and during the summer in general, all of these condos are air conditioned, but the Windsor building at 1180 St-Antoine is not. During a heat-wave, they continue to threaten the building with noise complaints. These are wealthy, overprivilaged, extremely selfish idiots who would see culture in Montreal destroyed forever! They remind me a lot of the blue meanies from yellow submarine.

It seems to me that wherever any type of culture forms, there is always somebody who doesn’t like it and complains until they try to stop it. I think often it’s a control issue. People trying to control what they cannot. When they are successful, usually by scaring those miscreant artists and free-thinkers into submission and through intimidation and totalitarianism, the culture and art that would have been is never made and the artist is destroyed. Some of these people become shocked and deny the very tactics they are using, albeit only verbally, and continue to use such dictatorial tactics.

In a residential area, loud music can be disruptive, especially when the music is being written or rehearsed, because it takes a lot of rehearsal and practice to make for a good show, which is what these musicians crave and what they do. When 1180 was built, this wasn’t a residential area. 1180 was there first and these Johnny-come-lately condos that are invading the territory have absoloutely zero right to complain. If you don’t like the noise, then don’t sit on the speaker! They’ve even started some viscious rumors about tearing the building down, along with the condemned building next door.

I have to admit, since I have a studio in this building. I’m perhaps a little biased against the condos, but at “Just over three million dollars” as the advert on the front of the building read during the condos’ construction, it feels like Goliath is trying to conquer this pleasant community of artists in favour of a dry, artless distopic world much like the one Savonarola envisioned, only without the religious aspect of it either.

A stone’s throw from all the action at the Jazz fest taking place in the city’s brand-new Place des festivals, Café Cleopatre sits surrounded by art-covered boarded-up buildings waiting to know if it will still be there next year.   Across the street, though, there is life and things are being built…or at least that was the case last week.

The other side of the street: Cafe Cleopatre (photo by Jason C. McLean)

Construction has stopped on Angus Development’s 2-22 project which was supposed to house the Imago group, CIBL Radio and La Vitrine Culturelle among others.   Apparently, the federal and provincial funding needed for these groups to occupy the space hasn’t come through yet.

Angus head Christian Yaccarini told La Presse that he is confident that all the contracts will be signed and construction will resume real soon and Montreal mayor Gerald Tremblay is holding a cheque is in the mail-type attitude to the delay, telling the Gazette that he has full confidence in Ottawa and Quebec City.   Despite these attempts at being positive, the simple fact that this project is in trouble is a far contrast to the mood surrounding it even a few months ago.

What's there now: construction site of the 2-22 (photo La Presse)

The 2-22 was by far the least controversial of Yaccarini’s projects for the lower Main, given that it wasn’t going to be an enormous skyscraper and would actually hosue cultural industries in a Quartier de spectacles (go figure).   This stands in sharp contrast to the proposed Quadrilaterre, which has already evicted three venues and would see a fourth, the venerable Cabaret Cleo, which showcases many independent artists, disappear as well, in order to make room for an office tower.

If Yaccarini really wanted to support culture and fit his plans in with the idea of what an entertainment district is supposed to be, maybe he could help cover the cost if the government money doesn’t show up.   Unfortunately, that may be a little hard for him to do now, seeing as he has already spent a bundle buying out and relocating historic businesses and performance venues to build an office building for Hydro Quebec that aren’t needed and no one wants.

This may end up being good news for the artists, historians and ordinary people trying to save Cleo and the historic red light district from demolition and gentrification.   With an OCPM ruling against the project, tons of alternate ideas out there that better reflect the cultural and historic nature of the area and ongoing resistance to the project, maybe this recent setback is the straw that will break the camel’s back and those in power will realize that Yaccarini’s vision won’t work on the lower Main and isn’t what’s needed for what is supposed to be the cultural hub of Montreal.

Post bills please: The Lower Main gets a makeover

The artsits of Café Cleopatre have some new neighbours. No, the businesses evicted by the Angus Development Corporation and the city haven’t returned, but at least now, the boarded-up look is gone and has been replaced by graffiti.

On Friday, over 30 artists organized by Sterling Downey, operating under the name of Bombe sur la Main and with the approval of the Quartier de spectacles transformed the facades of the boarded up buildings on St-Laurent between the Monument Nationale and St-Catherine into art.

While it might be strange seeing the infinitely recognizable front of the former Montreal Pool Room turned into a mural, it’s definitely an improvement on what was there just after the business moved across the street a few months ago. In fact, while it’s sad that the block had it’s newly forming life sucked out of it by Angus head Christian Yaccarini so he could build an office building where it doesn’t belong, it is cool to see what these artists have done with the place. There’s even a tribute to Café Cleopatre and the Red Light history of the area.

No matter what you think of this initiative, though, you’ll have to agree that it’s better than an office tower.

The former facade of the Montreal Pool Room
Over 30 artists working for 12 hours
part of Bombe sur la Main

Similar aesthetic? Former home of the Katakombes
Not just ground level
Watching over the Main
Neighbours on either side for the Cleo

Photos by Jason C. McLean

For more, including photos of the completed works, please click here. For a video report by the CBC, please click here.

The Angus Development Corporation stated Tuesday that it would be rethinking its plan to erect an office tower on the west side of St-Laurent Boulevard between Ste-Catherine and Rene-Levesque.   This comes over a month after the Office de Consultation Publique de Montreal (OCPM) released its report urging more reflection and a better plan for redevelopment of the area.

Back to the drawing board: proposed office tower

“The OCPM has unequivocally stated that this whole project has to go back to the drawing board,” said Velma Candyass of the Dead Doll Dancers, “it sure as hell is making Angus stop and think.   Removing historical (and newer) showbar venues and replacing them with an office building in an area that is defined as the Quartier des Spectacles makes no sense.”

Candyass and her troupe are among a group of independent and emerging artists who took part in the public consultation meetings, arguing that the performers who call the top floor of Café Cleopatre home should be included in any redevelopment plans.   The area is also Montreal’s historic Red Light District.

Stating their case: Velma Candyass and Felicity Fuckhard at the OCPM meeting in June     (photo Chris Zacchia)

“The reality is that something is going to be built,” Candyass commented, “but it cannot be done without us – the artists. The OCPM has recognized in their report that there is a thriving alternative art scene in the area.”

Angus president and general manager Christian Yaccarini told reporters that he hoped to have a revised plan ready by the end of the month.   This is in sharp contrast to statements he made at a press conference in June where he argued that the plan needed to be approved immediately or the major tenant, Hydro-Québec, wouldn’t be able to move in.

Whether Angus will actually present a comprehensive new plan for the area or merely “slap on a new façade” and call it a new design has yet to be seen.   It’s also uncertain how Monteal mayor Gerald Tremblay will react, given his previous glowing support for the project.

What is known is that this turn of events will most surely help make the mood at tomorrow’s Contre-Courant, the Fetish Film Festival, more festive.   Contre-Courant is a celebration in support of the community of alternative arts and performances on the main.

The event is part of Montreal Fetish Weekend and will feature the Dead Dolls Cabaret along with members of Club Sin and Stella, performances by Reena and the Pussycat Drags, Nat King Pole, Tommy Toxic, Dakini Dancers and others.   There will also be films by Dominic Vincent, Izabel Grondin, Gwen Media, Anthony Teoli, Matthew Saliba and more.   There will also be speeches by Vivian Namaste, Dr. Jean Dominique Leccia and Café Cleopatre owner John Zouboulakis.

“Contre Courant is about being ‘against the current’ or pulling the plug on the project,” explains Candyass, “it’s something that is different and is a unique form of energy and synergy…the mood will be celebratory and we’ll be more determined than ever to make sure our voices are heard.”

Contre Courant: Friday, September 4th (tomorrow) at 8pm at Le Medley, 1170 St-Denis, $10 at the door. Angus’ new proposal: ?

A week ago, the Cock n’ Bull was packed. While that may not be unusual for a Saturday night in the summer, this night was different. Most of the people there were familiar faces, too, all familiar to the place though not all familiar to each other. Some of the people there hadn’t been around in years, while others were newer.

A turnout like this should normally be cause for celebration and last Saturday, it was, however this celebration was a bittersweet one. It was the closing party of the Cock n’ Bull. This venerable Montreal drinking hole will close its red barn-like doors on Ste-Catherine Street for good after one final night of operation tonight and a staff party open to all tomorrow.

The sports bar across the street is expanding and moving the karaoke bar to where the Cock n’Bull is now. In order for this to happen, the Cock n’ Bull’s lease was terminated. You might call it Sergakis gentrification, call it sad or call it a new beginning in a different place, but regardless of what you call it, this is the end of an era.

No, it isn’t the end of the Cock n’ Bull, as they have plans to move to an as-of-yet undisclosed location, but it is the end of the Cock n’ Bull as countless drinkers know it and have known it since the place opened July 1st, 1964.

To put things in perspective, when the Cock n’ Bull opened, Montreal’s metro system was two years away from completion, the Olympic Stadium was still a sledding hill and most of the bars that now dot the city’ landscape were decades away from conception. This is a Montreal landmark.

It’s more than that, though, much more. It’s memories, many memories. For some it is a living room, for others it is a place to go to relax, for others it’s a place to work on projects.

“My first films were written there,” says Chris Zacchia, a former student filmmaker and current artistic director of Forget The Box TV. He can also remember doing homework and other assignments in the pub and reminisces about the decision-making process: “I’d say ‘Hey guys, let’s get together and study, where should we go? Hmm, Cock n’ Bull?'”

The standard mix at the Cock n’ Bull, at least for the past few years, has been Concordia and Dawson students on break or still working as well as some regulars that look like they may have been coming there since the place opened. This mixing of generations isn’t sleazy the way it is on most of Crescent Street, but rather just a matter of course. Everyone gets along for the most part and drinks together.

For many, it’s also family and not just because it’s been run and even staffed by the McCann family since 1989 (when Ellen McCann bought it from original founder Peter Barry). There is a real sense of community which goes beyond the music shows and the reasonably-priced drinks.

Jerry Gabriel, a writer and performer with Forget The Box remembers a very smoke-filled environment (as it was a few years ago, before Quebec’s smoking ban), Herman the Dawson professor who was a regular and came back for the closing party and above all, randomness.

“I met a girl on arts and crafts night,” he commented, “we stuck macaroni to our foreheads.” Zacchia added: “where else could they put arts and crafts night, really?” It’s events like the arts and crafts night that helped build the community feeling and one only hopes that they will be carried over to the new place.

For now, though, we are left with the memories.

Cock n’ Bull favorites The Wells perform for the last show at Ye Olde Cock n Bull Pub tonight, August 28th starting at around 9pm, 1944 Ste-Catherine West

After hearing from from over 300 people at meetings last June and reading 32 briefs, the Office de Consultation Publique de Montreal released its report on the proposed Quadrilatère project slated to begin construction on the Lower Main next January.   In brief, the report argues that the Angus Development Corporation is acting too hastily to push this project through and more reflection and a better plan are needed.

“I didn’t really know quite what to expect from the report,” said Velma Candyass of the Dead Doll Dancers, “so yes, we are pleased that they have taken into consideration the point of view of the artists and those who live, work and create in the area.” The Dead Dolls are among the many emerging artists who perform regularly in Café Cleopatra’s upstairs stage, which would be demolished under the Angus plan.

Dead Dolls Velma Candyass (left) and Felicity Fuckhard after speaking at the OCPM meetings

Burlesque and fetish performers, drag queens and kings along with heritage advocates, historians and average citizens have been speaking out for months against the plan which would gut three performance venues and replace them with an office tower, preserving only the facades.   Under the banner of Save The Main, they are asking that those who are currently working and in some cases thriving in Montreal’s historic Red Light District be included in the plans to rebuild the area as part of the Quartier de Spectacles.

Their voices were heard at the public consultation meetings and now it is clear that the OCPM listened.   According to procedure, the city’s executive committee is now supposed to take the recommendations, study them and make a final decision.   A meeting of the executive committee is scheduled to discuss the report on Wednesday, but it still isn’t clear if the city will actually listen as well.

OCPM moderators listening

“Ahh the 167 million dollar question,” Candyass commented, “considering the city’s more recent history when it comes to construction deals, land deals, the water meter scandal, the Griffintown project, the sad demise of the Seville and situations in the past such as the Overdale or St Norbert quartiers…we can only hope that   the recommendations are then   followed.”

Mayor Gérald Tremblay has already come out strongly in favor of the plan and has not yet responded to the OCPM report.   The fact that this is an election year could very well play into his response.

“He wants to show he is a Mayor who can get things done and projects completed,” Candyass observed, “if he follows the OCPM report recommendations, this project will be delayed.   If he decides to ram this through, there will be very unhappy citizens and opposition parties yelling about this ill conceived project.”

“One of the big problems for Tremblay,” she added, citing the OCPM report, “is that he has a penchant for outsourcing projects to private development companies rather than using the civil servants who normally do such work because they are free of monetary conflict of interests.”

Forget The Box didn’t try and get a reaction from Angus, seeing as they already declined to give a comment on the report to both the Montreal Gazette and National Post, claiming they only just received it and “would study it before commenting.”   This need for more time, in light of the urgency Angus had given to the project and the way they quickly organized a press conference and rallied their supporters following the consultation meetings, has Candyass and presumably others wondering.

“They have been saying there is no time to waste, that ground must be broken by January 2010,” she pointed out, “they have been quite aggressive in promoting an urgent time frame.   Now they need time?   Hopefully they can go back to the drawing board and come up with something better that does justice to the area and the people.”

Photos by Chris Zacchia

Cafe Cleopatre

Cafe Cleopatre

At a recent press conference, Christian Yaccarini, the president of the Société de développement Angus, defended his plans to replace venues on the lower Main with an office tower by promising that he would try and relocate the artists currently performing at Café Cleopatre.   However an e-mail from Yaccarini to supporters obtained by Forget The Box raises doubt as to whether the developer considers the performers he is trying to evict to be artists at all.

Angus press conference, shortly after the e-mail was sent

“It’s a strip club with video poker machines,” Yaccarini wrote about Café Cleopatra, “once a month the Cleopatra gives its room to so-called artists who organize a Fetish night.” (translated from French)

The e-mail was sent shortly after one of the public consultation meetings where Café Cleopatra performers along with historians and citizens spoke out against the developer’s plans.   In it, Yaccarini refers to the proceedings as a “psyco-drama” and laments that all three of his proposed projects, The Quadrilatère, the 222 and a new development on the vacant lot next to St-Laurent metro, may go the way of the proposed Casino in Pointe-St-Charles because of a strip club and a handful of university professors.

Members of the Dead Doll Dancers speaking at the public consultation

His approach, while much more abrasive, is similar in tact to that of Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay who recently came out in full support of Angus’ plans.   Both of their arguments give equal and in some cases more importance to the 222 project, scheduled to be built on a now vacant lot on the southeast corner of St-Laurent and St-Catherine and house artistic projects and a radio station.

While far from being accepted by all, the 222 (and the project next to the metro station) do not enter into the arguments being put forward against the Quadrilatère, scheduled to be built on the southwest corner of the same intersection and house Hydro-Quebec offices.   This is because it is not being built on an empty lot but rather in place of three venues (Cleo, Les Saints and Katacombes) and the historic Montreal Pool Room restaurant.

Yaccarini’s e-mail also makes some factual errors about just who is opposing him.   His statement claims that Cleopatra only gives emerging artists use of the space once a month, which most likely refers to the fetish shows by Club Sin.   It ignores the weekly drag queen shows and acts like the neo-burlesque performance troupe the Dead Doll Dancers who spoke at the public consultation Yaccarini silently attended.   Possibly they are the “strippers” Yaccarini sarcastically refers to as “speaking of the importance of this august institution.” In fact, Yaccarini ignores the fact that rather than giving some of its space to performers once in a while, the entire upper floor of Cleopatra is reserved for emerging artists.

The e-mail’s author Christian Yaccarini (right) at the Angus press conference

Yaccarini concludes the letter by saying that “we can hold panel discussions and conferences on what we need to do, but we also must do it.”   Does this mean that Yaccarini sees public consultation on the future of a historic site to be a mere triviality that he must contend with?   Does he feel that as a developer with money, the final decision rests with him and his business associates, despite what people think?   If the pubic is deciding what is to become of a section of our historic street, how can something a developer wants to do be a “must” rather than an option?   Can the fate of our collective heritage and our living artistic culture be decided behind closed doors?

Photos by Chris Zacchia

The full text of the e-mail is below and as a PDF.   Grammatical errors are left intact for the sake of authenticity:

Chers amis, collaborateurs, citoyens,

Après l’échec du casino de Montréal nous risquons de vivre un autre échec à Montréal soit celui de la revitalisation du boulevard Saint-Laurent. Et si il y a un secteur de la Ville qui est une véritable honte et qui a besoin d’une revitalisation c’est bien ce secteur.

la Société de développement Angus tente de redévelopper le tronçon du boulevard Saint- Laurent entre le boulevard René Lévesque et le boulevard Maisonneuve.
Nous avons trois projets : Le premier au coin Ste-Catherine et Saint Laurent côté Est : Un édifice à vocation culturel avec une architecture haut de gamme.

Le deuxième est un plus grand projet, un projet de 160 millions$ qui vise tout le pâté entre le Monument National et Ste-Catherine. Un édifice comprenant au RDC des commerces tant sur Saint-Laurent, que sur Clark, que sur Ste-Catherine.   Des nouveaux commerces qui viendront offrir aux montréalais, aux touristes un lieu de destination. Commerce responsable, restaurant, bistro, club de jazz, boutiques etc. Et 300 000 pieds carrés de bureaux pour Hydro-Québec. Nous intégrons la dimension patrimoniale au projet être autre en intégrant les façades et en redonnant vie à ces dites façades. Le projet se divisant ainsi :   trois étages avec intégration des façades et commerces au RDC. En arrière de ces trois étages on va retrouver le dix étages bureaux.

L’architecture de ces deux projets a été confié au grand architecte français Paul Andreu (L’Opéra de Beijing) et Aedifica et Gilles Huot.

Le troisième projet est sur le terrain du Métro Saint-Laurent (terrain vague depuis 50 ans) où nous ferons un deuxième édifice culturel avec entre autre l’ADMII, le cinéma Parallèle (cinq salles) et des écoles liées aux domaines des arts.

Donc deux projets culturels dans le quartier des Spectacles, un complexe commerciale développé avec grande finesse et Hydro Québec.

Nous vivons présentement via les consultations de l’Office de Consutation de Montréal un véritable psycho-drame. En effet le bar de danseuses nues le Cléopâtre réussit à se positionner comme un icône de la Main….C’est un bar de danseuses nues avec des machines vidéo poker. Une fois par mois le Clopatre donne sa salle à des «soits-disants artistes » qui organisent des fetish night (sorte de soirée exhibitionniste sado maso soft). Ces animateurs de soirées ont réussi à mobiliser du monde pour la sauvegarde du Clépatre. Lors des consutlations nous avons droit à des vidéos montrant leurs soirées fétiches, à des danseuses du Clopâtre venant témoinger de l’importance de cette auguste institution. Nous avons le groupe Stella qui nous reproche de vouloir s’attaquer aux prostitués.

Sur un autre registre certains professeurs d’architecture d’université viennent dire qu’il vaut mieux ne rien faire pour garder ce patrimoine. On parle d’édifice banale au niveau architecturale, en ruine. Bien que nous comptons reconstruire à partir de ces édifices on vient nous donner des leçons de conservation patrimoniale. Et comme d’habitude Dinu Bumbaru va venir nous accuser de violer la patrimoine monréalais.

Ces projets sont exemplaires à plus d’un titre. Je n’ai pas le temps ici de vous donner tout les tenants et aboutissants.

Mais si on laisse les choses aller ces trois projets ne verront pas le jour alors que nous sommes persuadés qu’ils répondent à l’intérêt publique et qu’ils reçoivent l’appui d de la population.

Nous tenons donc une conférence de presse vendredi 10 heures à Angus, au Locoshop Angus situé au 2600 rue William Tremblay pour remettre les pendules à l’heure et demander aux forces vives de Montréal et à la population de se manifester pour empêcher qu’un bar de dansesues nues bloquent ces trois projets. Bien sur il peut y avoir entre nous des nuances sur le nombre d’étages, sur la trame commerciale etc.. mais vient un moment où il faut se serrer les coudes et développer cette ville. On peut faire des colloques et des conférences sur ce qu,il faut faire mais il faut aussi le faire. Je compte donc sur vous, votre présence et si vous pouvez d’une façon ou d’une autre manifester votre appuis…c’est essentiel.

Amicalement

Christian Yaccarini

This morning at 10:00 Societe de Development ANGUS (SDA) held a press conference at the Angus Yards. The press conference comes after 9 public consultation meetings, the tones of which were identifiably in contrast with the development plans for the area.

To recap: Local business owners, artists and citizens alike criticized Angus’s plans to level half a block of historic Montreal buildings in order to erect an office tower dedicated to Hydro Quebec.

Plans for the development include keeping the facades of the existing buildings while replacing and remodeling ground floor lots to house restaurants, bars and boutiques. What has many Montrealers and citizens confused however is the logic behind removing current venues in the area: Café Cleopatre, Saints Show Bar, Club Opera, the Montreal Pool Room, and the Katacombes, and replacing them with an office tower.


Jason McLean was at the press conference for ForgetTheBox and asked the developers just that question, “What is the logic behind replacing existing venues with office space?”

President-directeur general, of SDA, Christian Yaccarini’s convoluted response was “That without financial support, and corporate infrastructure the area wouldn’t be able to survive.   Office space, and businesses will bring more people to the area and can co-exist with the arts.” (Translated from French)

The idea that offices will really contribute to the cultural value of the area is far fetched to say the least. When asked why in particular the project could not go forth while accommodating existing Montreal venues, (particularly Café Cleopatre the most outspoken of the venues in jeopardy) Yaccarini said that he “refuses to have a strip club in this development.”

Of Cleopatre he says, “The three activities that take place there are nude dancing, video lottery and to a lesser extent the support of developing artists. The club is operating at about 5% capacity.”

Supporters of Café Cleopatre would be quick to point out that Yaccarini’s statements are misleading at best and libel at worst.   The club prides itself on its support for local, independent and emerging artists.   The show bar is rich in cultural heritage and represents an authentic aspect of Montreal.

While SDA stated at the press conference that they plan on going ahead with the project, they did talk about the road-blocks that seem to be consistently slowing their progress. With a note of audible frustration Mr. Yaccarini responded to questions from Radio Canada and other reporters who asked if it would be possible to complete the project on time and if it would be possible to complete the project at all.

This is a developing story: check back soon for more updates and read our introduction to the public consultation hearing here.

Also watch for a photo essay on the area slated for development and an interview with Dead Dolls Dancer, Velma Candyass.

If you had “a vision of development based on the enhancement of cultural activities” as the Quartier des Spectacles project does, would you want to evict artists by replacing their popular performance space with an office tower that nobody asked for?   That is exactly what the Angus Development Corporation wants to do on the lower Main in the name of the QDS.

They want to replace all of the buildings on the west side of St-Laurent boulevard from the Monument Nationale (run by the National Theatre School) right up to St-Catherine Street with a 12-storey office tower called the Quadrilatère.   This plan would preserve only the façade of some of the buildings, gut their insides and fill them with new tenants such as boutiques and high-end restos on the lower levels and offices for Hydro-Quebec workers above them.

The moderators

“This idea that only the facades count is a problem,” Jacques Lachapelle told the Office de Consultation Publique de Montréal (OCPM) in French at a meeting Tuesday in the Chinatown Holiday Inn, “it reduces the architecture synonymous with small businesses and the counterculture to a purely symbolic value.”

Lachapelle, a citizen and historian, called this “facadisme” and argued that it is merely imitation and does nothing to preserve the culture that exists.   In the case of the lower Main, the city’s historic Red Light district, he argued that this culture is part of Quebec and in particular Montreal’s patrimony, having appeared in several novels and films.

Underground culture and underground arts in particular, it turns out, are still alive and well in this part of town.   Since 2004, burlesque, fetish and drag shows have been taking place in Cabaret Cleo, the showbar upstairs from the Café Cleopatra strip club.   This is one of the buildings that will be gutted if Angus gets its way.

Cleopatra at night, as it is, with Hydro in the distance

Members of that community spoke at the meeting and helped to put a human face on a situation otherwise dealt with in terms of historical, esthetic and cultural significance, with the proposed evictees mentioned only as a concept.

“We had hoped to be part of the Quartier des Spectacles,” Velma Candyass, leader of the Dead Doll Dancers, told those in attendance, “but instead with this plan, a long standing tradition will be silenced.”

Candyass was not only speaking of the artists like those in her troupe who call the Cleo stage home, but also of burlesque in general.   This art form, which has shown an international resurgence as of late, needs a venue like the Cleo to stay alive in Montreal.   As Candyass pointed out, Café Cleo is the only venue in town that has a traditional showbar setup and a thrust stage.

Velma and Felicity

Fellow Dead Doll Felicity Fuckhard added that other cities have shown greater urban development thanks to newly renovated burlesque venues.   In particular she pointed to Vancouver’s new Vaudeville house that is thriving despite being located right near the infamous corner of Main and Hastings. Felicity also noted that both Cabaret Cleo and the strip club downstairs support the body politic of burlesque by employing women of all shapes and sizes as performers.

Eric Paradis of Club Sin, whose Fetish Weekends have drawn thousands of people to Cabaret Cleo and to Montreal as tourists, brought up the support that the community at large has for the artists of Cabaret Cleo and ways that the venue in turn helps the community.   He delivered a petition with 1300 signatures and counting and mentioned that one of his events last year brought over 200 guests to the very hotel that the conference was being held in.

He also proposed an alternative plan for revitalization of the area, one that sees a newly renovated building with an entrance to the upstairs Cabaret Cleo on St-Laurent as well as on adjacent Clark Street, next to the entrance to the strip club and a jazz bar.

Such a plan might have happened years earlier, if Cleopatra owner John Zouaboulakis had his way.   He told the room that he had applied for permits to renovate his building several times and was denied because it was a historic building.   Now the city wants to raze his building and others completely, despite St-Laurent being a nationally-designated historic site.

John Zouboulakis

Zouaboulakis wanted to be part of the Quartier des Spectacles originally, but favors a more grassroots approach to the project.   “We should revitalize what we have,” he argued, “and open up the boarded-up places to individual owners.”

When pressed on why small businesses would work, given the current state of affairs on the block, he informed the audience that one owner had bought up a bunch of the properties and let them lay vacant and fall apart, creating the state of affairs we have now.

Independent ownership seemed to be a running theme among the speakers.   Louis Rastelli, the creator of the Distroboto arts vending machines sees development in this area following the pattern of the Plateau in the early 90s, a perfect fit considering he feels that the Montreal Pool Room has the same historic value as Schwartz’s.

He argued that the Quadrilatère would effectively kill the nightlife in the area and even if Hydro-Quebec (the proposed major corporate tenant of the new building) agreed to a bar or nightclub to be included.   Rastelli argues that it probably wouldn’t work because buildings like this are not conducive to such businesses.   “A building like this,” he said, “is valid for the business quarter, but not the Quartier des Spectacles.”

The eastward expansion of the business quarter was another concern of several of the evening’s speakers as well as the success of alternate models like the SAT and Monument Nationale and the fear that the size of the proposed new building would negatively affect the neighbourhood in many ways, such as by blocking the sun from the solar panels on the roof of the SAT.

One speaker, Lorraine Pintal of the Theatre du Nouveau Monde (and the girlfriend of the head of the development company), had a decidedly different opinion.   She feels that the Quadrilatère would revitalize a neighborhood that sorely needs it and one where “there hasn’t been a red light district in 30 years.”   She feels that replacing the current small business owners would make the area feel safer for her theatre’s older (and possibly wealthier) patrons.

The developer and a representative from the City of Montreal were present but declined to comment when given the chance by the moderator.

If one thing can be taken away from the meeting, it’s that this won’t be as easy a ride as the developer, whom according to Rastelli believes in private consultation before public consultation, may have hoped for.

* PHOTOS BY CHRIS ZACCHIA

Pointe-St-Charles and for that matter a good chunk of southwest Montréal has been undergoing gentrification for the past few years.   New condo projects have been springing up along the Lachine Canal, essentially cutting off the waterfront from the neighbourhoods that border it.

One project sought to change the hyper-capitalist trend sweeping the area and turn an abandoned candle factory into an autonomous social centre for the community by squatting it.   It lasted less than 24 hours. Yesterday afternoon, Montreal Police, at the request of the building owner who plans to turn the space into condos, sent in the riot squad, tear gas and all, to forcibly evict everyone from the premises.

The centre was supposed to house six autonomous projects: a showbar to shine the spotlight on underground artists, an itinerant cinema, a library, a place for socio-political workshops, the “velo-libre” bicycle repair project which hoped to have its own fleet of bikes on the streets to rival Mayor Tremblay’s capitalist-modeled Bixi program and the “tube digestif” which is a collective kitchen, a food recuperation project (think dumpster-diving) and an urban fermaculture project rolled into one, complete with compost toilets.

While many squats are a place to live for those who can’t afford to pay rents, this one was different.   A small select group of people were supposed to live on-site, but only with the intention of keeping the squat going by having a presence there 24/7.   The main goal of the ASC was to offer a non-capitalist space for the community to congregate.

The centre was supposed to open officially tonight at 8pm.   It was inaugurated yesterday evening with an action that brought out over 500 supporters and saw artistic interventions happening outside of the ASC.   These supporters along with the over 70 community and cultural groups lent their voices in solidarity were supposed to be key to the project’s success because of where the endeavor stood legally.

While squats are common and tolerated by authorities all across Europe, North America and Montreal in particular are a different story.   In fact, this city has clamped down on squats, regardless of media coverage they have received.   Generally, though, they last considerably longer than the ASC did.

The idea for the ASC originated in 2007 and was developed over the course of two years.   Last summer, the group behind it hosted Réclame ta Pointe, a series of performances and workshops that was well-received by the residents of Pointe-St-Charles and other Montrealers.   They had also done quite a bit of work in the community, fostering support for the project.

Despite all of this planning and community support, the eviction was quick.   Police had made plans to peacefully meet with organizers in front of the occupied building on the corner of St-Patrick and Atwater at 3pm yesterday but instead stormed the gate, cut the locks and when the people who had come out to meet them rushed back inside and locked the door, the cops sent “snipers” to the roof of the building who, according to witnesses, fired tear gas through the open windows and then closed them.

The people outside, many of them families enjoying the sun, eating and playing music, joined a growing protest against the police action.   They were soon joined by people from the inside, including young children who had been exposed to police tear gas.   A small group broke off and tried to occupy an alternate building but after police followed them there and they discovered it was uninhabitable at the moment, they left.

Now the groups and people who supported the ASC have a new role to play, forwarding the press release, spreading the word and contacting the media.   The next stage is a protest in front of the South West Borough Council meeting (815 Bel Air, near Lionel-Groulx metro) this coming Tuesday, June 2nd, at 6pm.

According to the ASC’s website, “the Social Center project continues. The struggle continues. We will not be squashed by what has happened today. On the contrary: our will to put into practice our dreams for a society free of authoritarian relationships, based on principles of autonomy, mutual aid and respect, is only reinforced.”