Theatre Saint James

Old Montreal by Jacob Varghese – 2010. The new Theatre Saint James will occupy the building at far right.

A little bit of good news for those of us keen on the promotion of local culture and the preservation of heritage architecture – the old Canadian Bank of Commerce building has been purchased by the current owner of the Rialto Theatre, Ezio Carosielli, to be converted into a performance venue.

The bank branch was closed in 2010 and shortly thereafter purchased by the Bitton clan, well-known for their high-end jeans. Not knowing what in god’s name to do with it, they sold it to a man I’ve yet had the pleasure to meet, whose business it is (apparently) to give old theatres a new lease on life – with gains in profit and culture combined.

I wish I had the money right now to do the same. A long time ago I met with the former owner of the Rialto to see what I could find out about the place. It was clear from our conversation he had zero interest in using it was a performance space. Thankfully, today it does just that.

The story of Montreal’s once massive collection of theatres is a rather sad one, given how few have been preserved and maintained, not to mention the loss of some truly irreplaceable works of decorative art. The famed Maltese-Canadian theatre designer Emmanuel Briffa designed five ‘atmospheric vaudeville’ theatres (multi-use performance spaces, in essence, designed for theatre, cinema, music etc.) in Montréal, of which the Rialto is the only remaining functioning as originally intended. The Empress was recently acquired to be converted into a repertory theatre by the group behind Cinema Beaubien and will feature four screens and a restaurant, while the York and Seville were demolished (by Concordia and neglect respectively) and the Snowdon Theatre, once an Art Deco landmark, was infamously re-developed into a failed office building. Today it’s a community centre with no hope of ever returning to use as a performance space.

Now in this case a theatre isn’t being saved but a nonetheless striking banking hall will be cleverly repurposed for use as a venue, right in the heart of old Saint James Street. I find it interesting that the Old Port will now have two theatres located in former financial temples, but I digress. It’s a key part of town that could use additional performance space and will doubtless help solidify the Old Port’s cultural presence within the cityscape. While no plans have been released for how Mr. Carosielli intends to convert the space, what the capacity will be etc., he remains nonetheless convinced renovations will be minimal and they’ll be open for business within a few months.

Saint James has been a bit out of sorts lately. I’m fairly certain there was a strong push to re-dedicate the street as a sort of Southern Sherbrooke – replete with tony hotels and high-end boutiques. While there’s definitely plenty of that, there are also a few stalled developments and shot up haberdasheries. Not to mention that godawful nightclub.

This move may be a turning point for the street’s identity as it transitions from the former financial centre of the entire country into the old city’s showcase avenue, and I hope more residents (and services for them) flock to the area – it’s a real gem.

Final note, I’m also quite hopeful that this new competition lights the fire under some of the creative types over at the Centaur.

I still haven’t forgiven them for ‘Sex in La Cité‘.

Before Expansion, Improvement?

Matthew McLauchlin’s proposal for an expanded Montreal Métro and commuter rail network

A few thoughts on the Métro that came about from conversations over the last little while.

You already know where I stand – I want Métro access city-wide on a 24-hour schedule, something which may not be possible with our current system based on how it’s designed. Kate McDonnell brought up the excellent point that we lack ‘bypass tunnels’ and use out-dated cleaning equipment during the no-service period from 1:30-5:30 (ballpark) in the morning. This is why we don’t run the Métro all day and all night.

The Métro, as practical and as great as it is, has a few other problems worth mentioning. Some stations are aesthetically dated, others just gross. Our Métro lacks both heating and air-conditioning, public washrooms, decent services, elevators etc. Some access tunnels have fallen into disuse and disrepair (perfect example, the Métro tunnel access point at Sherbrooke between Berri and Saint-Hubert on the far side of the hotel – check it out but go with a friend, creeper city) while others are so overused they invariably look like shit (Peel Métro’s Stanley Street entryway, as another example). Then there are the foul smells, the dripping calcium stalactites at Guy-Concordia, the dim lighting, the underused public spaces, busted up benches and TV screens and the graffiti.

So before we start expanding, maybe we improve on what we have.

Although I desperately want the city, STM and AMT to begin massive expansion of sub and railway service in our city, before extending Métro lines we really ought to bring what we have up to code, a full renovation.

I would also advocate closing the system down – for a defined period – if for no other reason that we could claim a very real fresh-start for our Métro system. There are practical and technical reasons as well. If we’re to ever have 24-hour service we need to either construct by-pass tunnels or develop new tunnel cleaning methods. While the latter may be cheaper the former permits inter-lining, which in turn could revolutionize public transit in our city by permitting all trains to operate on all lines throughout the soon to be expanding system. In addition, this would further permit the use of express routes, all of which may be worth considering given current and future usage growth rates. The downside is such massive re-working of the rail network would require either the entire network being shut down or large portions at a time. No matter which way you cut it, during a renovation period – even if it was done as quickly as possible – would still require expanded operations on other modes, such as commuter trains and buses, perhaps even tram systems installed before a Métro Reno.

Doing all the work in the tunnels would allow us to inspect and retrofit as need be, not to mention facilitate planning the eventual expansion. We could also finally decide how to improve air-circulation, ventilation and internal climate control. While there’s no issue keeping the stations warm in winter, its getting them cool in summer which is perennially problematic. We might also want to see if we can correct periodic flooding in the tunnels while we’re at it.

I’ve already mentioned I think some stations could do with an aesthetic makeover, while others just need upgraded facilities, all of it should be ‘vandal-proofed’ as best we can. New public washrooms should be built, in addition to elevators for the mobility-impaired amongst us.

There are myriad other improvements I haven’t mentioned that affect individual stations and entire lines, but the point is we might be wise to raise our Métro’s standards before we decide to expand outward. I fear expansion without improvement will only wind up expanding on something which may be operationally obsolete. Much of our system was designed and built for the Montréal of the 1960s (including some parts completed in the 1980s!) but the operational tempo and demands placed on the system by its users have changed dramatically in fifty years.

I wonder just how quickly we could execute a system-wide renovation and upgrade of the Métro, bringing everything up to the same ‘starting point’ before we launch into system expansion? If we set a three-shift schedule, knowing we have to return the system to full operations as quickly as possible, would we discuss this renovation in terms of years, or months, weeks even?

I tell you – if there’s one gift I’d like to see the city give itself for the sesquicentennial of Confederation and the 50th anniversary of Expo, it would be a modern, beautiful Métro network.

Harper’s Tories: Bad for Business, Bad for Canada

Rob Ford, recently seen delivering a speech concerning the state of Canada’s economy.

For the first time in my life, I can say that I support Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.

This is by no means a universal endorsement, just a simple show of support for what could have been a good idea, struck down prematurely by Canada’s idiotic federal government.

Recognize the power of the lord, …sucka!

Avowed Harperite and Heritage Minister-in-absentia James Moore, seen here in his pre-government days as a Southern Revivalist preacher, decided to kill two birds with the single proverbial stone. Rob Ford’s dream for a universal exposition in Toronto in 2025 is apparently over. And it isn’t even his fault.

And how you may ask? By cutting funding to the program? By refusing to partner with the city and province? No. By refusing to pay the $30,000 annual membership fee to the Bureau Internationale des Expositions. That’s right. The annual salary of a basic labourer is all it costs to be part of a prestigious international organization that plans and executes mass demonstrations of humanity’s greatest potential. It’s too expensive for Canada, despite Harper’s insistence our economy is robust. The organization that brought Vancouver and Montréal into near instantaneous global significance is not one we can afford to be a part of anymore, despite record-breaking national and individual wealth.

And Moore’s our heritage minister.

You likely won’t be surprised to find out that Canada hasn’t participated much in international expositions since Harper took power. Though we had a minor presence at the 2010 Shanghai Expo, we were absent from Zaragoza 2008, Yeosu 2012 (both environmentally-themed) and won’t be attending Milan 2015 either. How could we? We haven’t paid our dues.

You know who did? Kazakhstan, a leading candidate for 2017 (Astana has bid for a future energy systems expo).

Edmonton wanted to host the 2017 expo, and likely could have won given the city and province’s wealth, wide open spaces ripe for development, and the fact that we’d be celebrating the nation’s sesquicentennial, in addition to Expo 67’s 50th anniversary. But no, no, no time for all that. Harper needs to cut back on ‘frivolous government waste’.

Why is it that culture and an academically-correct, non-political national heritage always seem to be the first to get the axe?

Perhaps it’s because $30,000 can buy one two-hundredth of a tank?

Now to be fair it doesn’t seem as though planning had advanced much on Expo 2025, though it was apparently a big deal for Mr. Ford. Perhaps he visited Expo 86 in Vancouver when he was younger and it left an impression, perhaps he has a secret fascination with Expo 67 and wishes to be his city’s Drapeau. Who knows? All I know is that, if done right, a universal exposition could have been immensely beneficial for the city of Toronto, and Rob Ford clearly knows this too. If the economic gain, via increased tourism and deals signed at the fair, was even half as much as it was for Montréal, it would guarantee at least a decade of economic development post-2025, maybe more. Expo 67 and Expo 86 were both successful primarily because they left legacies, gave the respective city’s an air of worldly sophistication, significance, saw massive infrastructure and urban development. Business was done, and the people profited in the long term. They were moments of national importance, and helped bring this country together while bringing it out onto the world stage.

Harper and his Tories think all this is mere frivolity, ultimately worthless. They can’t see the gains, the long-term benefits, the potential. I don’t know what Ford was planning, but I sure as hell am glad at least he saw the potential of major event of this calibre. You can imagine I want another Expo here in Montréal, and if I were mayor I’d do whatever had to be done to fix this embarrassing decision, up to and including paying the fee myself.

Can Harper and Moore not see how this could benefit the nation’s biggest city, in its biggest province, and one of their staunchest supporters? There was no definite commitment necessary, and the amount is so minute compared to what the government is willing to spend on G8 summits and bombing runs out in Libya. What’s the deal?

I fear there may be darker issues at play, as of course it is well known the Harper clique has been busy rebranding Canada along the fabricated notions we’re a ‘warrior society’. We’re no such thing, it’s a ridiculous farce, but it strokes the short and curly egos of the Nickleback Douchebag caliphate now officially deemed the standard of Canadian identity. It’s sick and twisted. It’s patently false – such as the over-glamourized and anachronistic depictions of a chesty and youthful Laura Secord in those god-awful 1812 infomercials. They ignore our Charter and Constitution, the significance of Confederation, the creation story of a profoundly Métis society, all to finance more guns and ammo, be it on the battlefield or in history books. The Charter, Expo, the Canadian Museum of Civilization – it’s all about our place as a sovereign nation in the world.

James Moore and Stephen Harper believe we’re just a colony, subservient to a foreign monarch that supposedly reigns supreme by the grace of god.

I don’t know what more proof we need Harper and the CPC is not just bad for business, but bad for Canada as well, and I’m curious to see Ford’s reaction. How is it that Harper and his cronies are still in power after all the scandals, cost-overruns, unpopular decisions and cynical political posturing is quite beyond me. We’re either the most patient people in the world or we’re god-damned fools.

90% of Anglo-Québécois Youth are Bilingual

Here’s my proof – a study prepared by Jack Jedwab of the Association for Canadian Studies for a local non-profit organization (page 4, 1st paragraph).

I have a bad habit of getting into endless conversations with close-minded separatists on Reddit, and a few had been badgering me to back up the title of this post. I was arguing, among other things, the merits of bilingualism and why PQ education minister Malavoy’s plans to limit Anglo education was both counter-intuitive and counter-productive. As you might imagine this leads some people to claim I’m a Westmount Rhodesian who wishes to force everyone to bend to his will and speak English. I argued that with a 90% bilingualism rate, Québec’s anglophones were no threat to the French language, and that French’s solidity in Québec was entirely unquestioned. Admittedly, I was mistaken when I had alleged the percentage was this high amongst the working population, but I knew I had read a credible study when preparing a university paper many moons ago that backed up my assertion.

Of note, this study was commissioned in 2001, and found that 90% of the 18-24 age demographic of Anglo-Québécois were able to hold a conversation in French. That was eleven years ago and the trend has increased steadily ever since among that and lower-aged cohorts. The student population of 2001 is in their early thirties today, and are now part of the workforce. They’re having kids and raising them bilingually too.

The general Anglo population level of bilingualism right now is 70%, but Anglo in this case refers to people who have English as a mother-tongue, 607,000 people in Québec as of 2006 (chart on page 11) or 8.2% of the population.

The Anglo-Québécois population was highest in 1971 at 788,000 people (13.2%) and declined straight until 2001, and has since increased by roughly 20,000 people.
Of note – the percentage of children under the age of 18 with one parent from each language group has increased to 44% in 2006 from 27% in 1971 (page 22)


1. Bilingualism among Québec Anglophones is on the rise

2. Amongst Anglo-Québécois children and youth, it was 90% eleven years ago, so we can presume it’s nearly the same for twenty and thirty-somethings today as well.

3. Unilingual Anglophones are increasingly of retirement age.

4. Bill 101 has been in effect since 1977 and has made French a fundamental necessity for life in Québec, not to mention gaining decent employment in this province

So what does this mean?

I think it says that whatever the Anglo Québécois community was thirty years ago, it has fundamentally changed and we’re better for it today. I think it also means that bilingualism in English and French is something anyone can accomplish and it is something our community is well on its way to accomplishing just this.

And we’re doing so by integrating. And would you believe neither our culture nor our language has disappeared?

Amazing isn’t it?

So why do we take politicians seriously when they allege the English-language is a pervasive disorder threatening the sanctity of the French fact in Québec?

Why is it alleged that we can’t speak French, that we force others to speak English, and that we simply refuse to integrate when precisely the opposite has been the case for over forty years?

It’s starting to get a little ridiculous…non?

Instagramming Perspectives on the City

Tour KPMG (Place de la Cathedrale) – Montreal

What can I say, I’m addicted to Instagram.

I’ll admit, when I discovered there was an Instagram-branded digital camera I bemoaned the death of Polaroid, but hey, who am I to tell the free-market what to do?

Personally, I like the filters and the way by which the filters are able to ameliorate otherwise low-quality digital photos, but I’m sure that will change too as the technology improves. Regardless, here are some of my favourite snap-shots of people and places in our fair city.

Saint Henri Bodega

The quintessential Montréal Dépanneur, commerce integrated directly into a residential plan, optimizing convenience while maintaining the link between vital small business and the neighbourhood that supports it. I read somewhere the estimate was that a single Montréal dépanneur typically serves a base of 1,000 regular customers, and as such, these small mom and pop operations tend to cater to specific local needs, not to mention offer some unique treats. One of the finest lunches to be had (on the cheap) in this city involves homemade soups and sandwiches sold by a lovely Polish lady in a dépanneur located at St-Marc and René-Lévesque.

Montreal World Trade Centre

A hidden gem, the Centre du Commerce Mondiale de Montréal (located next to Square-Victoria and a component of the Réso (Underground City), this massive atrium was built over the former Ruelle des Fortifications and as such unites several heritage properties into a single complex. It was conceived of as a horizontal skyscraper, with the Intercontinental Hotel anchoring the ‘base’. The fountain at one end of the reflecting pool was built in France in the early 18th century and, along with a piece of the Berlin Wall also located here, were, together with the complex, part of the city’s numerous 350th anniversary ‘presents’.

Windsor Station & 1250 Boul. René-Lévesque taken from the Place du Canada viaduct

An afterthought – both of these buildings have lost their anchor tenants. The tower was originally jointly owned by IBM and Marathon Realty, another 350th anniversary gift to the city from the private sector. It was built in competition with 1000 de la Gauchetiere West, and though both are icons of the city’s post-modern architecture, both lack anchor tenants. Odd considering how beautiful both are, how centrally located they are. Windsor Station was the corporate head office of Canadian Pacific Railways until 1997 when they consolidated their operations in Calgary. Today I believe CSIS maintains an office there. I wonder if new residential developments in the area will have any effect on their future significance in the urban tapestry.

McGill College Avenue at Dusk from the PVM Belvedere

One of the better achievements of 1980s city-planning, Vincent Ponté’s re-design of McGill College Avenue. Plans to create a showcase street date back to before the Second World War, but didn’t come to fruition until the 1980s. Prior, it was a far narrower street, with much of the space above Boul. de Maisonneuve nothing but parking lots. Redevelopment began when the Capitol Theatre was torn down in the 1970s and replaced with the squat, ugly brown building off to the left (out of frame). A more comprehensive plan came to fruition in the early 1980s that would ultimately lead to the development of several gleaming post-modern office towers and one of the city’s premier ‘show streets’. If I have one complaint, it’s that despite the large number of people who pass through here, work here etc, no one lives in this part of town. I can imagine it would be a rather fetching address. Sometimes I wonder why there isn’t a trend in this city to redevelop old office buildings (such as the aforementioned brown monstrosity) into condos. Seems like a natural evolution.

Hall Building, Concordia University, with Place Norman Bethune in the foreground, on a foggy October night

Avenue du Musée

I like the gradual development of the Quartier des Musées and the new pavilion of the MMFA – this is progressing in the right direction. The city has a plan for economic stimulus in this area, as they want to increase the number of stable local high-end boutiques and galleries. It could use a café and a bistro, and it would be wise for the city to help in the quartier’s branding if they were able to offer various incentives to help concentrate galleries in the area. Also, while I’m a big fan of the outdoor sculptures, they’re overwhelming given how close they’re grouped together. Would it be so bad if they were spaced out a bit? Maybe the presence of art installations could be used to delineate the boundaries of the Quartier?

We have beautiful balconies in this city…

A place where everyone can pass a long summer day thinking about tomorrow, pondering what could be. I think we’re lucky it’s considered an element of good design to include some type of balcony, front porch or rooftop terrace on urban residential construction here. In some places its quite the rarity, considered old-fashioned. Odd no?

The Sun Life Building (1931), PVM 5 (1968) and PVM 1 (1962)

We’ve really got to figure out what to do with this place. How much longer do we let it slowly decompose?

Fortune Favours the Bold

Belmont School demolition – 1978 (Rue Guy & Wrexham)

Recent statements by PQ education minister Marie Malavoy concerning the elimination of basic English language instruction and the introduction of ‘Sovereignist education’ are cause for concern. It is yet another example of the PQ’s reckless handling of the public education system and a threat to social stability of the Francophone community. What the PQ is proposing is a twisted blend of propaganda, revisionist history and enforced monolingualism. They are proposing entrenched, self-perpetuating racial tension, inter-ethnic conflict and general ignorance.

Québec has a high dropout rate. There’s no denying it. Among Francophone males, the rate is nearly 40%, one of the highest rates in the developed world. This is a self-perpetuating national tragedy, one that no doubt plays a central role in our province’s declining fortunes and the increasing influence of criminal gangs and organized crime. Broad, inter-generational ignorance is a social pathology, and it is a perpetual failure of our province’s many governments that this situation isn’t under control, to say nothing of eliminating it outright. How can we dare to be so lackadaisical?

How are we to compete on an international level, perhaps even as an independent country, when 30% of province’s early twenty-somethings are without a secondary education? What future do they have in an information and intellectual-capital economy?

Malavoy’s desire to use the public school system as a political tool to teach a highly-inaccurate revisionist history will go over the heads of young male students like a lead balloon, to say nothing of the well-documented and excessive punishments handed down on students in the French schools caught speaking English. It’s idiotic to think overt anti-intellectualism, such as this is, will stimulate interest in academic pursuits. This is purposely divisive and out of touch with our contemporary needs.

Policies such as these only serve to perpetuate the following negative trends: Francophones of the middle and upper classes continue moving their children into private schools (where their children will likely learn both languages and be exposed to many cultures) while the poor are left with overcrowded schools with government-sponsored monolingualism and nationalist propaganda. I attended a conference on inter-culturalism back in March where one of the speakers, a local journalist and head of a non-profit organization, gave a talk on the issue of increasingly racial intolerance in Francophone public schools. No kidding! Immigrant kids are being told a) not to speak English and b) that Franco-Québécois society and culture is threatened by immigration, foreigners and people who don’t speak French as a primary language. Is it any wonder the dropout rate is so high?

As though limiting CEGEP access for Francophones and Allophones wasn’t ridiculous enough, now this. Sometimes I really wonder what these apparent ‘leaders’ are thinking. How the hell does this help anything?

It saddens me that the PQ cannot evolve past a Balkan mentality concerning cultural and national interests. It is an unnecessary siege mentality, one designed for short-term electoral gains while leaving long-term uncertainty and instability. It’s dangerous.

This does not affect the Anglophone community of Québec, but it may be very wise to use the opportunity for a potential gain. So that the PQ is hoisted by its own petard.

What if Québec’s Anglophone school boards united (in a sense) and decided that all students would henceforth graduate as fully bilingual? A simple extension of existing French-immersion programs to the entirety of the system; a requirement, a badge of honour, for the children of the Anglo-Québécois community.

If we did so, would this not mean Francophone and Allophone students would be able to attend ‘Anglophone’ schools? If a program were created to ensure 100% fluency in two languages for all students, surely many Francophone parents would be free to send their children to ‘Anglo’ schools – Anglo would, in the future, be a misnomer.

It is entirely possible to teach both English and French beginning at a very early age, and the earlier we start, the higher the likelihood of total fluency in adulthood. The more a child is presented with opportunities to speak both, the more they will. Bilingualism broadens horizons and sews the seeds of self-criticality – imagine the potential of a future generation of school children fluent in English and French? When every Québécois could choose to be a translator as a ‘fallback’ job post-graduation? Imagine the economic potential of a province educated to that degree?

It can be done, and our community can help make it happen.

If we demonstrate that we can achieve full bilingualism within our own community, we may be able to relieve the French school boards of one of their more pressing problems – overcrowding. Further, it would serve to help re-populate Anglophone schools on the verge of collapse due to low enrolment, while further potentially luring more middle and upper-class students back into the public system.

But a project such as this is a big undertaking and requires a concerted effort to realize it. It would require bravery and determination from our community. It would necessitate we speak up.

Our community’s future in Québec is dependent on cultural integration. We must show that we can survive and prosper as a community of bilingual or multi-lingual, multi-cultural “Anglophones”, and as such we demonstrate how cultural integration is an essential element of our province’s well-being and progress. We must prove beyond a doubt to the Francophone majority that dual-language fluency (with a social and cultural preference for French) is the best way to improve our economic potential and secure the status of the French language forevermore.

Integration is the key, the core of our being, and we must stand united and demand ever greater degrees of integration amongst the many diverse peoples of this province. We must ensure that our shared values are translatable, relatable, beyond mere ethno-nationalism.

It’s for this reason that we have a responsibility to try and resist and/or mitigate the potential damage done by Ms. Malavoy’s unsettling plan.