Saint-Laurent Boulevard: a cultural pillar of Montreal

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.

Between René-Lévesque and De Maisonneuve boulevards

The large number of Chinese immigrants who came to Canada to help build the transcontinental railroad, which was completed in 1886, settled here at the end of the 19th century. Restaurants and shops sprung up along De la Gauchetière Street, which has since been converted into a pedestrian mall. In the 1990s, four beautiful traditional Chinese gateswere erected, and these now delimit the boundaries of Montreal’s Chinatown.

Built in 1893, the Monument-National (1182 Saint-Laurent Blvd.) presents a variety of plays and shows.

At the intersection of Sainte-Catherine Street and Saint-Laurent Boulevard, the Art actuel 2-22 complex houses several cultural and contemporary art organizations, the CIBL community radio studios and La Vitrine (lavitrine.com), a general information counter and box office for cultural and artistic activities in the Greater Montreal area.

Between de Maisonneuve Boulevard and Rachel Street

Many multidisciplinary artists have made this colourful portion of Saint-Laurent Boulevard their home. It is lined with a wide variety of boutiques, from the most classic to the most avant-garde, cafés and restaurants where one can sample theflavours of the world, and designer furniture stores.

The Godin building (2112 Saint-Laurent Blvd.), at the corner of Sherbrooke Street, is certainly the most daring example of early 20th-century modern architecture in Canada (1914). Designed by Montreal architect Joseph-Arthur Godin, this building now houses the luxurious HOTEL10.

At the corner of Ontario Street, the Grothébuilding (2000 Saint-Laurent Blvd.), a former cigar factory, is an austere red-brick building built in 1906 that was converted into residences. Further north, a number of large-scale frescoes adorn the buildings between Sherbrooke Street and Mont-Royal Avenue. Some of these were created as part of the Mural Festival (mid-June; muralfestival.com), launched in 2013 and which brings together over 20 local and international artists.

North of Sherbrooke Street, Saint-Laurent Boulevard is lined with a mix of specialty food shops selling products from Eastern Europe and elsewhere, fashion boutiques, bookstores and, especially, trendy restaurants, cafés and nightclubs.

Between Rachel and Bellechasse streets

Portugal Park (corner of Saint-Laurent Blvd. and Marie-Anne St. E.) is named in honour of Montreal’s vibrant Portuguese community. This sector also has a contemporary art showcase in the form of the La Centrale Galerie Powerhouse (4296 Saint-Laurent Blvd.), a resolutely feminist artist-run centre dedicated to the dissemination and development of practices grounded in gender theory, cultural diversity and multidisciplinarity.

Since the death of Leonard Cohen, countless people have made a pilgrimage to 28 De Vallières Street, on the south side of Portugal Park, where the famous poet and songwriter owned a home.

Catering to Montreal’s thriving independent and alternative music scene, the emblematic Casa Del Popolo (4873 Saint-Laurent Blvd.), Italian for “house of the people,” hosts the Suoni Per Il Popolo festival in June. It also doubles as a resto-bar and café, which is known for its rustic decor and fair trade practices and philosophy. Across the street, the Sala Rossa—”red room” in Italian—performance venue and the Sala Rosa bar— “pink room” in Spanish—together with Casa Del Popolo, offer an eclectic mix of art, modern and electronic music, great food, ‘zines and spoken word.

In this non-conformist and bohemian neighbourhood, visitors will find the Théâtre Espace Go (4890 Saint-Laurent Blvd.), formerly the Théâtre Expérimental des Femmes. Pay particular attention to the loading dock, which is adorned with an expansive black and white graffiti-inspired mural. The work entitled Quai des arts (2011) by the En masse collective was backed by MU, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of urban spaces.

North of Saint-Joseph Boulevard, just after pretty Lahaie Park, Saint-Laurent Boulevard teems with shops and cultural, recreational and gastronomic destinations in the heart of the fashionable Mile-End district.

North of Bellechasse Street

In Little Italy, between Bellechasse Street to the south and Jean-Talon Street to the north, Saint-Laurent Boulevard is brimming with Italian restaurants, cafés and food stores, such as the famous Milano grocery store (6862 Saint-Laurent Blvd.).

Once past Jean-Talon Street, Saint-Laurent Boulevard skirts Jarry Park, a magnificent green space, in the heart of which is the IGA Stadium, where, every year in early August, the world’s best tennis players come to compete in the Rogers Cup.

Moving even further north, District Central, an emerging business sector being driven by design, urban manufacturing and technology, is located to the west of Saint-Laurent, on Chabanel Street. Above that, the boulevard features residential properties, and ends along the banks of the Rivière des Prairies and the charming Nicolas-Viel Park.

Restaurants for every taste

Bouillon Bilk

1595 Saint-Laurent Blvd.

bouillonbilk.com

Chef François Nadon offers some of the most creative cuisine in town. Dishes are refined and original, food and wine pairings are well thought out, and the desserts always meet expectations. Without a doubt one of the best dining establishments in Montreal.

Schwartz’s Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen

3895 Saint-Laurent Blvd.

schwartzsdeli.com

Montreal is known for its smoked meat and, in the opinion of many, Schwartz’s has some of the best in town. Opened in 1928, this eatery is more than just a restaurant; Schwartz’s is nothing less than an institution and even the focus of a movie and a musical comedy!

Aux Vivres

4631 Saint-Laurent Blvd.

www.auxvivres.co

Vegetarians and vegans are effusive in their praise for this restaurant. The menu travels the world, from India to Greece and the Middle East, and even revisits North American classics with meatless hamburgers and “coconut bacon.” They offer a selection of gluten-free and nut-free dishes.

Moishes Steak House

3961 Saint-Laurent Blvd.

moishes.ca

It’s not Moishes storefront or its eternal smiling doorman stationed at the entrance that attract customers; it’s the best steaks in town, dry-aged to perfection and tender as they come.

Caffè Italia

6840 Saint-Laurent Blvd.

You don’t go to Caffè Italia for its decor, but for its warm atmosphere, delicious sandwiches and divine cappuccino, considered by some to be the best in the city.


Food

La Vieille Europe

3855 Saint-Laurent Blvd., 514 842-5773

facebook.com/LaVieilleEurope

Yearning for a taste of Europe? Drop into La Vieille Europe to satisfy your craving. You’ll also find a huge selection of cheeses at unbeatable prices along with an excellent choice of coffees roasted right on the premises.

Milano

6862 Saint-Laurent Blvd., 514 273-8558

milanofruiterie.com

In the heart of Little Italy, Milano is a large, attractive grocery store chock full of gourmet products, including pasta, chocolate, prosciutto, provolone and much more.

Quelques bars

Balattou

4372 Saint-Laurent Blvd., 514 845-5447

balattou.com

The Balattou is hands down the most popular African club in Montreal.

Blizzarts

3956 Saint-Laurent Blvd., 514 843-4860

blizzarts.ca

Blizzarts offers an experience somewhere between a lounge and a nightclub, where you can sip on a drink, enjoy the hottest electronic music, then go do your thing on the dance floor. It’s best to arrive early on Friday and Saturday evenings.

Tokyo Bar

3709 Saint-Laurent Blvd., 514 842-6838

tokyobar.com

This hip bar on The Main has two rooms, a disco and a lounge. The music ranges from retro to house to hip-hop. In summer, enjoy the view from the large rooftop terrace.