How can Montreal declare itself to be an international city, a city of art and culture, without having a major theatre to support this claim? This was surely the question Jean Drapeau (1916-1999) must have pondered in the middle of the last century. The man who was mayor of the city for 29 years proclaimed, “What the masses want are monuments.”
And so, thanks to the “man of a thousand projects,” as Drapeau was nicknamed by Radio-Canada, the Centre Sir-George-Étienne-Cartier Corporation was officially created in 1958, charged with bringing the megaproject to fruition. In 1963, after three years of work, with the inauguration of its first hall, the Grande Salle, the extraordinary Place des Arts came into being. Later renamed Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, this 3,000-seat venue is still the largest multidisciplinary performance hall in Canada today.
Shortly after that, in preparation for Expo 67, the theatre building was added. Opened to coincide with the launch of the World’s Fair in April 1967, this building comprises Théâtre Port-Royal (now Théâtre Jean-Duceppe) and Théâtre Maisonneuve. The Salle Claude-Léveillée, the Cinquième Salle and the Maison symphonique de Montréal would be added later.
More recently, Place des Arts completely reconfigured its Esplanade, a vast outdoor space linking the complex’s various halls, which also serves as a lively gathering place in the heart of the Quartier des spectacles.
In all, the six venues, offering a total of 8,000 seats, make Place des Arts Canada’s largest performing arts complex. Each year, more than 1,000 performances are given there (1,037 in 2017), attracting over 850,000 spectators. The various halls are suited to just about every type of performance: pop, rock, folk and classical music concerts, opera, ballet, theatre, comedy shows and talks, you name it. And, incidentally, it is the Quebec comedian Yvon Deschamps who holds the record for the most performances given there—over 500! One of Place des Arts’ restaurants, Place Deschamps, bears his name.
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