The Curtain Call for St. Laurent

25 Nov, 2013

Regulars to their set would call it one Montreal’s best live acts. This October, however, the music group Kalmunity met a harsh critic – the police. After a decade of performances, their modest weekly act was deemed too raucous for the Plateau borough, earning them a hefty fine at Les Bobards on Boulevard Saint-Laurent. Unfortunately, Kalmunity isn’t alone. Montreal’s renowned nightlife is threatened by the gentrification of its great night districts. City officials and developers are working to replace hallowed entertainment locales, favoured by everyone from students to tourists, with residential homes for bankers and their ilk. Gentrification is a scourge that has infected other Canadian cities, and Montreal is next.

Apparently, some people have an issue with Montreal’s nightlife and are speaking up. Their voices aren’t those of long time residents, but rather new councillors, planners and yuppies. These groups have settled into the trendiest areas of the city and they want to transform those places into something more to their liking. They envision quieter, cleanlier, more civil neighbourhoods. Neighbourhoods that fall asleep at ten o’clock and wake up at six for work the next morning. Like the rest of Canada, the forces of gentrification have arrived in Montreal and it’s simultaneously frustrating and unnerving.

Police-enforced gentrification is coming down on the Plateau, largely encouraged by a small set of residents making extreme, escalating demands at the cost of everyone else. Take Kalmunity’s fated St. Laurent performance as an example. The group was hit with the $1,250 noise violation fine just before the scheduled end of their act around midnight. Apparently, a veteran act can’t even play music before twelve o’clock anymore. On the Main. Does this sound like Montreal?

Gentrification and fines have also injured the Plateau’s culinary scene. Last year, Le Roi du Plateau, a rue Rachel Portuguese chicken restaurant, was hit with more than $52,000 dollars in fines for its kitchen “odour.”  For years, neighbours had embraced the scent emanating from the lauded restaurant. Suddenly, however, bureaucrats cried fowl over a handful of complaints, and the fine closed the family restaurant for good. Le Roi wasn’t some outlier, either; other restaurants, like nearby Portugalia, have been hit with similar fines. It’s a methodical process.

Think the gentrification of the Plateau is a one-off event? Go west in Canada and you’ll find many cultural institutions and neighbourhoods gutted by gentrification and its sibling, residential development. Ask the Vancouver artists who formerly frequented the Waldorf Hotel, a multi-venue complex shuttered this year to make way for condominiums. Or visit Toronto’s Entertainment District, where two thirds of the once 90 nightclubs have been shuttered within about a decade, replaced by upscale dwellings for more than 10,000 new residents. Frightfully, Montreal looks to be the next such frontier for development and gentrification.

Look at residential planning documents and a dreadful picture arises. From the heart of hard-partying Crescent, to Rue Saint Catherine and Place des Arts, planners and developers are dreaming up tall schemes. New condos have been slated for development all over. Will these residences and their inhabitants sap all life from their surroundings? Will the complaints push neighbourhoods like the Plateau into cultural decline? Only action will determine the answers to both.

With these pressures ahead, it’s clear this city’s nightlife is in need of safeguarding. The web of restaurants, bars, and music venues that exist here is Montreal’s heart. Rational people must help keep it beating. Gentrification cannot be allowed to destroy what makes this city great. Involvement with the civic process can help right it.

Thankfully, a few have already taken up the task. Vincent Stephen-Ong, a saxophonist with Kalmunity, started the Save the Plateau campaign on Facebook and YouTube following his group’s run-in with the cops. Ong is moving forward with borough councillors on building conversation, and is actively seeking more voices to participate. The musician’s initial protest has started something good, but the Plateau is only one slice of Montreal, and his scope is limited.

There need to be Save the Plateau movements in all of Montreal’s great neighbourhoods and boroughs. Civic lobbying groups like Ong’s can ensure that these areas grow while retaining their charm. Especially in the aftermath of November’s municipal election, Montreal city councillors are determining their course for the next four years and are open to suggestions. Argue against gentrification because it hurts the core of this city – its culture and night scene. Fans of Montreal nightlife want to know they will still have a community – and a Kalmunity – to turn to.

It’s not something to take for granted.

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Bull & Bear.

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