Saint-Laurent Boulevard, which Montrealers have fondly baptized the Main, is a place of encounters, work and pleasure, a complex, fascinating and chaotic crossroads, constantly evolving to keep pace with changing times. The exhibition brings the history of this fascinating street to life, through a highly eclectic selection of some one hundred objects and old and modern photos.
A captivating video creation by Jérôme Labrecque, A Surrealistic Opera in Three Acts, fills the exhibition hall with a special atmosphere, while the exhibits tell of meetings, work and pleasures on Montréal's famous Main.
The exhibition revolves around the idea of transformation, the backdrop to the twenty or so capsules presented, and draws its inspiration from an eclectic variety of objects of all kinds, from ethnographic to religious, fashioned by artists, craftspeople and factory workers.
All these different objects and “tenants” come together in this exhibition to evoke the history of a place and, give us an image of the people and activities that passed through and marked the life of a single building, while the building itself remained unchanged.
The exhibition looks at the past 150 years in particular, a time when some of the major trends in urban development emerged. The story of Saint-Laurent Boulevard will is told by the people and different ethnic communities who lived, worked and celebrated there. Themes such as the waves of immigration, industrialization, trade unionism, the outside world and avant-garde artistic movements are all part of the tale. You'll meet nearly fifty characters, all linked to the history of Saint-Laurent Boulevard. Striptease artist Lili Saint-Cyr, for instance, alongside Marie Gérin-Lajoie, co-founder in 1907 of the first French-Canadian feminist group.
It is an exceptional commercial street, serving as an incubator for businesses like those of the Villeneuve, Rossy, Schwartz, Florkivitch (Warshaw), Shreter and Steinberg families. Down through the years, artists have flocked to the Main: Juliette Béliveau (1889-1975), La Bolduc (1894-1941), La Poune (1903-1996) and Gratien Gélinas (1909-1999), who all trod the boards at the Monument National, but also Betty Goodwin, Marie Chouinard, Édouard Lock and Normand Rajeotte, who live and work on Saint-Laurent. It has also inspired famous writers and poets, from Leonard Cohen to Michel Tremblay and Mordecai Richler.
The Main is where Claude Chamberlan decided to found the first permanent theatre in North America devoted to film research, the Cinéma Parallèle, and where Daniel Langlois, President and founder of Softimage, chose to locate the famous Ex-Centris complex, another avant-garde institution devoted to cinéma d'auteur that hosts the Montreal Festival New Cinema New Media (Festival du nouveau Cinéma et nouveaux Médias de Montréal, FCMM) every fall.
You'll also cross paths with Joseph Ponton, hairdresser and wig-maker since 1885, Albert Saint-Martin, founder of the first workers' university at 1090-1096 Saint-Laurent Boulevard, and Joseph Édouard Guilbault, creator of Guilbault Gardens, a renowned amusement park (1862 to 1869) featuring a garden of rare plants, a menagerie, and a pavilion where people went to enjoy balls, concerts, plays and circus shows.
— Bernard Lamarche, Le Devoir