Sainte-Catherine Street Makes the Headlines!

History in Montréal has a hard time to persist. Even a city like L.A., commonly known as a soul-less place, has pockets of tangible (and cinematic) history spread throughout its vast, disjointed boroughs. History reveals itself, usually accompanied by nostalgia, in old heritage buildings, diners and dives, bars where everybody knows your name, and legendary hang-outs where local and international artists, writers, and musicians sought inspiration or refuge. Montréal is not particularly successful at preserving its heritage treasures. The once legendary Forum is only one example. History disappears below several levels of commercialization and gentrification. But occasionally history re-surfaces in the museums.

Pointe-à-Callière, Montréal’s Museum of Archeology and History, presents 250 years of history divided thematically into 6 rooms, collected in photographs, artifacts, and over 250 objects from private and public collections, ranging from the costumes created by Alfred Pellan for the La Nuit des rois at Place des Arts in 1968 to the mask worn by Canadiens goalie Jacques Plante in 1963 and a superb dress from Morgan’s department store in 1900.


The exhibition examines a number of milestones, as covered by the newspapers of the day: the terrible fire that ravaged the city in July 1852, the opening of Morgan’s department store in 1891, the reopening of the Ouimetoscope movie theatre in 1907, Lili St. Cyr’s controversial shows at the Gayety Theatre in 1944 and, more recently, the construction of Complexe Desjardins in 1976 and the huge ovation for “Rocket” Richard in 1996, the year the Forum closed. These different events, artifacts, films and archival images remind visitors of how Sainte-Catherine has changed over the years.

Stretching 11.2 km from East to West, rue Sainte-Catherine originated in 1801. It features prominent department stores and other major retailers, educational institutions, concert venues, theaters, and cinemas, the Forum, the Gay Village, as well as a number of strip clubs.


In 1960, Loew’s cinema hosted the first Montréal International Film Festival with guests such as Federico Fellini, Akira Kurosawa, François Truffaut, Claude Lelouch, and Michel Brault in attendance.

The first horse-drawn carriage started service along rue St. Catherine in 1864. It was replaced by an electric street car in 1892. The Morgan Department Store opened in 1891 across from Phillips Square (bought by the Hudson Bay Company in 1960).


Since 1950, municipal bylaws have prohibited contractors from building skyscrapers higher than the summit of Mount Royal. With its 30 storeys, standing 132 meters high, Place Montréal Trust is the highest office tower on rue St. Catherine.

The Dominion Square Building (between Peel and Metcalfe) was built in 1928 by Montréal-born architect George Allan Ross.

The temporary exhibition is on from December 7, 2010 to April 24, 2011.

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1 Response to Sainte-Catherine Street Makes the Headlines!

  1. I’ve always wanted to go to Motreal and even more so after reading this post. These old photos are so fascinating and it must be wonderful exploring the history of an amazing street. I never understand why city planners let things disappear; in England we have almost too much heritage so nobody minds when an ugly building is put up next to a beautiful one or an old one is used as a pharmacy. In Berlin I wish the city planners would stop making everything quite so clean and glossy, striping away all the character.

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