Margo Pfeiff reports Montréal’s new entertainment hub showcases 40 annual events and festivals throughout the year.
Montréal literally parties in the street. Closing off its downtown Quartier des Spectacles to car traffic, it turns almost a square kilometre of its Latin Quarter between Sherbrooke Street and René Lévesque Boulevard into a pedestrian oasis during festivals and events. Now a major, multi-million dollar makeover has morphed this cluster of 80 venues dotting a network of city streets into one seamless entertainment hub.
Seven public squares have been linked up with curb-less streets allowing revellers to roam this vast urban cultural space during more than 40 annual events and festivals from summer’s Montréal Jazz Festival to mid-winter’s Festival en Lumiere.
In the summer of 2011 two grand venues opened their doors in the Quartier. The long- awaited Maison Symphonique, the new 2,100-seat home for the Montréal Symphony Orchestra (OSM), is a warm, Canadian beech wood-clad interior that provides an intimate venue and great acoustics.
Nearby, in a restored, historic building on Ste. Catherine Street, the Maison du Festival Rio Tinto Alcan also came online. The ground floor French bistro Le Balmoral has a terrace facing the Place des Festivals: on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings it transforms into a jazz club. Revenues from the non-profit restaurant finance other free activities in the building like the Legends of the Festival museum on the 2nd floor with performance costumes from the likes of Ray Charles and Ella Fitzgerald and mementos gathered over three decades of jazz festivals like Dave Brubeck’s Grammy “Lifetime Achievement” Award, guitars belonging to Mark Knopfler and Pat Metheny, even Leonard Cohen’s famous hat. There is also a gallery of jazz-related art created by Québec and international artists.
These new additions join the Quartier’s 30 existing performance halls and spaces including Place des Arts and smaller venues like the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde (TNM) and the Salles du Gesù – Montréal’s oldest theatre. Nearby venues for contemporary music like Club Soda, the Metropolis rock-palace and alternative music Mecca Foufounes Electronique are being enveloped into the Quartier complex as the surrounding St. Laurent Boulevard red-light district is gentrified.
The Montréal Contemporary Art Museum is part of the scene as are smaller galleries, exhibition centres, shops with a cultural bent, restaurants, cafés and bars. But perhaps the best part is simply the luxury of strolling open spaces perusing outdoor art and music presentations and such delightful installations as 21 Balançoires – 21 Swings – that creates musical notes as you swing back and forth.
The article was written by Margo Pfeiff for the Canadian Tourism Commission