October 2013

Lives and Times of the Plateau

For immediate release

Peering into the heart of an emblematic Montréal neighbourhood

Montréal, October 22, 2013 – In line with its series of exhibitions on symbolic Montréal places, Pointe-à-Callière is proud to present Lives and Times of the Plateau, an exhibition saluting the intertwined everyday lives and multitude of invented lives that have given the Plateau Mont-Royal neighbourhood its distinctive character and tremendous creativity. Lives and Times of the Plateau opens on October 23 and will run until September 1, 2014.

Plateau Mont-Royal, recognized as one of the most creative neighbourhoods in North America, means something different to everyone. Busy day and night, it is widely loved and praised, attracting both compliments and criticism. Today’s Plateau is a Montréal borough where you can still see traces of the days when it was home to artisans, shopkeepers and labourers. Over the years it has become a creative, inventive world full of people with storied pasts – and futures. Indeed, it is not just a single culture, but a whole wealth of cultures, that have shaped Plateau Mont-Royal from the very beginning.

Density and diversity
Lives and Times of the Plateau tells the story of the neighbourhood from its earliest days in the late 18th century, when much of it was still farmland, right up until its modern-day incarnation as an eclectic and hybrid urban setting. Whether they are from the Plateau itself or elsewhere, visitors can discover or relive the highlights of this neighbourhood that, thanks to the inventiveness of its residents, in less than 200 years was first transformed from its rural origins into a working-class area and then metamorphosed into a borough with an international reputation. Its design evoking the density and diversity of the Plateau’s streets, the exhibition presents some one hundred objects, works of art, archival documents, artifacts, photographs and films that link together the neighbourhood’s past and present.

The exhibition invites us to travel back to the turn of the 19th century, before the Plateau even got its name, to a time when the villages of Côte-Saint-Louis, Saint-Jean-Baptiste, Saint-Louis-du-Mile-End and De Lorimier were taking shape at the top of the côte, or ridge, north of the fortified town down the hill. Parish church steeples soon cropped up, keeping traditional French-Canadian values alive in the heart of the city. Upper-middle-class French-Canadian families moved into homes around St. Louis Square. Throughout the 20th century, exiles from the countryside and European refugees mixed here. Synagogues stood next to Catholic and Protestant churches, and a ghetto formed in the heart of the neighbourhood. The Plateau of large landowners, small villages and parishes gave way to a people’s Plateau.

Where did the Plateau get its name?
The name “Plateau” may have first appeared in print in 1938, in a local weekly called the Guide Mont-Royal, referring to its setting on a broad terrace at the top of the city and at the foot of Mount Royal. Others claim that it started with a school and a bus driver. In the late 1930s, the Sherbrooke bus stopped in front of La Fontaine Park, opposite a school named Le Plateau. The driver would announce the stop by calling out “Le Plateau!” Gradually the name spread and was applied to the whole area north of the park. It was not until 1971 that the name was officially recognized by municipal authorities.

Birth of the triplex
One part of the exhibition looks at the Plateau’s residential architecture. Village-style homes were the first to appear, starting around 1845. From 1859 to 1866, duplexes multiplied along the streets to house people pouring in from the countryside. As the city’s population soared, quadrupling between 1890 and 1930, triplexes with their outdoor staircases became the most common type of housing here. The Plateau plex owes its unique configuration to three factors: fire, disease and builders’ business sense. An 1865 municipal by-law requiring firewalls every 25 feet explains the narrow triplex shape. The tightly set facades also reduced exposure to the cold, keeping heating costs down. After scientists discovered the role of bacteria in disease, a more open and human approach to urban planning emerged. Tenants gained sunlight, and a spot to plant a small garden in their front yards. When Montréal required in the 1880s that houses be set farther back from the sidewalk, builders came up with the idea of putting staircases outdoors, thereby leaving more room on the ground floor, often occupied by the owner. Today, the Plateau’s outdoor staircases are one of Montréal’s most distinctive symbols.

Home to leading lights
Numerous key political, religious, economic and artistic figures were born in the neighbourhood or lived here over the years, and they are all featured in the exhibition. The names of businessmen Phineas and Stanley Bagg, feminist Léa Roback, Bishop Ignace Bourget, Mayor Camillien Houde, labour organizer Joseph Schubert and poet and politician Gérald Godin continue to resonate today.

A number of artists are also given their due, including Yiddish poet Jacob Segal, folk music expert Samuel Gesser, poet Émile Nelligan, poet and singer Leonard Cohen and painter Paul-Émile Borduas, to name only a few. From 1941 onward, Borduas hosted his students and their friends in his Plateau studio on rue de Mentana: Jean-Paul Riopelle, Marcel Barbeau, Fernand Leduc, Claude Gauvreau, Françoise Sullivan and Jean-Paul Mousseau all gathered here, and this is where these future signatories of the 1948 Refus global manifesto first expressed their “savage need for liberation.” A number of original works by Riopelle, Borduas and Barbeau are featured in the exhibition.

It was also on the Plateau that Michel Tremblay’s play Les Belles-Sœurs was first staged at the Rideau-Vert theatre, in 1968, as illustrated in the exhibition by the theatre’s program from that year. Visitors will learn how Yvon Deschamps, with Robert Charlebois, Louise Forestier and Mouffe, mounted L’Osstidcho, a musical review that went down in history, introducing a new style of Quebec song and humour. In the 1980s, dancers and choreographers like Louise Lecavalier, Edouard Lock and La La La Human Steps, Margie Gillis, Marie Chouinard and many others found an ideal creative space in the Balfour Building, at the corner of Saint-Laurent and Prince-Arthur. It was in this huge garment factory that hundreds of overworked tailors and dressmakers once fought for and won their rights.

A new home for immigrants
Plateau Mont-Royal has long been known for welcoming newcomers to our land. After the Second World War, a wave of Greek immigrants settled around Park Avenue and brought a Hellenic flavour to Mile End. “Little Athens” soon had its legions of blue and white restaurants, its banks and shops, its workers’ association and its movie theatre. In the 1950s, Portuguese immigrants moved into the neighbourhood, brightening up the area between Roy and Rachel, Saint-Urbain and de Bullion as they opened grocery stores, cafés and rotisseries. In recent years, the Plateau has been especially popular with French immigrants. Its density must surely remind them of equally dense neighbourhoods in Paris. It is sometimes even nicknamed La Nouvelle France or Le Petit Paris!

Since 1997, the French giant Ubisoft – video game publisher, producer and distributor – has made its home in the Peck Building, a former garment factory built in 1903 by John W. Peck. For many years his workforce consisted largely of Jewish immigrants fleeting Eastern Europe. Today, Ubisoft employs over 3,000 people. It has been one of the driving forces in the transformation of Mile End over the past 15 years, and is sure to continue reshaping the neighbourhood, as it has signed a new lease for the building until 2023.

The great parks
It’s impossible to talk about the Plateau without mentioning its huge parks: Jeanne-Mance, La Fontaine, Laurier and Carré Saint-Louis, names that each evoke some aspect of French-Canadian culture or history. But they haven’t always been parks, or even borne these names. Laurier Park was a quarry and later a dump, before its metamorphosis in 1925. La Fontaine Park was called Logan Park, in honour of the landowner who had sold his property to the British government, concerned for the health of the Crown’s soldiers. Where children play today was for years a military parade ground. And Jeanne Mance Park’s name has been official only since 1990.

From grey to green
Lanes are a part of the exhibition as much as they are of the Plateau. The web of alleys expanded rapidly around 1880 in new working-class districts, including the Plateau, where they allowed families to build sheds to store their winter fuel. They turned into neighbourhood meeting places, with balconies across from each other offering perfect seats to watch daily life go by. At first the lanes sometimes also concealed a secret world of stables, garages and corrugated metal sheds. In the late 1990s, Plateau residents started to reclaim and revitalize their lanes. The first green lane appeared on the Plateau in 1997, and today there are over thirty of them.

The return of the angels: From 1909 to 2014
Like everywhere else in Quebec, the Plateau was shaped by its religious heritage – a fact the exhibition illustrates in style. In 1909, two carved angels known as The Star of Bethlehem and The Last Judgment, by religious artist Olindo Gratton (1855-1941), were installed on the façade of the Saint-Enfant-Jésus du Mile-End church on Saint-Dominique Street. Gratton is also known in Montréal as the creator of the thirteen colossal statues looking down from the façade of the Mary, Queen of the World cathedral. In 1978, the badly deteriorated angels were removed and placed in storage by the archbishopric of Montréal. The Société d’histoire et de généalogie du Plateau-Mont-Royal suggested that they be restored and returned to their rightful place, and the parish managed to obtain funding from the Conseil du patrimoine réligieux du Québec and the ministère de la Culture et des Communications to cover most of the cost. The restoration work began in 2010 at the Centre de conservation du Québec and was completed in June 2013. The Museum is honoured to display the sculptures, which will return to the façade of the Saint-Enfant-Jésus church once the exhibition closes in 2014.

A celestial vision of the Plateau, by François Quévillon
Pointe-à-Callière is pleased to contribute to the creative spirit of the Plateau, by commissioning artist François Quévillon, known for his installations and digital art, to create an unusual digital piece exclusively for the exhibition. Points de repère is an image of Plateau Mont-Royal created from thousands of photographs and meteorological data recorded over a one-year period. A virtual camera spun like a satellite around a model of the Plateau, and the cloud of points representing the buildings changed at a rate of one day per second. The millions of points converge to create a moving landscape, like an image of the Plateau from the sky.

An inspiration for filmmakers
The Plateau has inspired many filmmakers, and indeed has sometimes played a key role in their films. Archival film clips from the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) depict the lives and experiences of people who have made this neighbourhood their home. In this video montage, images representing the streets of the Plateau, parades, passers-by and children playing in laneways are paired with clips from films inspired by the Plateau. Along with excerpts from the NFB archives there are scenes from such films as Eldorado, Léolo, L’eau chaude, l’eau frette and Duddy Kravitz. And that’s not all – a selection of NFB shorts and feature films will be available for viewing on the Pointe-à-Callière website during the entire run of the exhibition.

A highly qualified scientific committee
In addition to the skills of its own employees, Pointe-à-Callière was able to draw on the expertise of a highly qualified scientific committee in mounting this exhibition on Plateau Mont-Royal: Paul-André Linteau, Professor with the History Department at the Université du Québec à Montréal; Jean-Claude Robert, Professor Emeritus with the UQAM History Department; and Bernard Vallée, a well known figure in the fields of popular education, urban analysis and heritage development.

Now it’s your turn to live the Plateau life!
The Museum is inviting members of the public to contribute to the exhibition by roaming the Plateau with their smartphones or cameras and capturing scenes of neighbourhood life, sites, monuments … whatever catches their eye! They can simply publish the photos on their Instagram account, with the hashtag #viesdeplateau. Their photos will then scroll across a screen at Pointe-à-Callière and will be posted on the Museum’s Facebook page. Participation prizes will be awarded every month.

Lives and Times of the Plateau was produced by Pointe-à-Callière, the Montréal Archaeology and History Complex. The Museum extends its sincere thanks to its sponsors: Desjardins, Presenter of the exhibition, the Société de développement de l'Avenue de Mont-Royal, Bell Media, the National Film Board of Canada, La Presse and The Gazette.

Pointe-à-Callière is subsidized by the City of Montréal.


Plateau Mont-Royal is...
100,000 residents, a 8.1 km2 territory and the highest population density of any of the city’s 19 boroughs. It is also the city’s youngest borough – residents’ median age is just 34.1 as compared with 38.6 for the city as a whole. It is bounded to the north and northeast by the Canadian Pacific (CP) rail line, to the west by avenue du Parc as far as the des Pins interchange and rue Université, and to the south by rue Sherbrooke.