History of “The Main”
Montreal is a city of unique neighbourhoods, whose characters were forged over the years by the arrival of populations of diverse origins. A veritable “immigration corridor,” Saint-Laurent Boulevard is the dividing line between east and west, both in terms of geography and the systemof street addresses as well as culture. The western sector of the city remains largely anglophone while the east is more francophone. Cultural minorities of all backgrounds are concentrated along the axis of this major thoroughfare, which lies roughly perpendicular to the St. Lawrence River.
Discovering “The Main”—so named because of its 18th-century status as the Faubourg Saint-Laurent’s main artery—remains a most appealing urban activity thanks to its numerous commercial and ethnocultural attractions.
First laid out within the city’s fortifications in 1672 under the name “Saint-Lambert,” the “Rue” Saint-Laurent became Montreal’s first and most important street to be extended northwards up to Rivière des Prairies.
In 1905, the street finally received its current designation of “Saint-Laurent Boulevard.” Prior to that, around 1880, members of French-Canadian high society came up with the idea of turning the boulevard into Montreal’s equivalent of the “Champ-Élysées.” However, populated by successive waves of immigrants who arrived at the port, Saint-Laurent Boulevard never attained the heights of glory anticipated by its developers. Nevertheless, in the early 20th century, the section between René-Lévesque and De Maisonneuve boulevards did become the hub of Montreal nightlife. The city’s big theatres, like the Français, where Sarah Bernhardt performed, were located around there. During Prohibition (1919-1930), the area became run-down and morphed into Montreal’s Red Light district. Every week, thousands of American visitors flocked there to frequent the cabarets and brothels, which abounded in this neighbourhood until the late 1950s.