In this week’s issue I have an article on Montreal’s Quartier des Spectacles, which is the name for the ambitious attempt to renovate, spiff up, enhance, coordinate and otherwise mettre en valeur the area around Place des Arts and the Montreal International Jazz festival site. (The article refers to similar pedestrian-scale, culture-related developments like Quebec City’s St. Roch, which I wrote about here, and Calgary’s East Village, which you can read about here. A cornerstone of the East Village project will be the Cantos Music Foundation’s renovation of the old King Eddy Hotel, where Ralph Klein used to hold down the bar while assorted blues legends lit up the night. It would be a considerable understatement to say Cantos’ plans for the King Eddy are ambitious. See for yourself.)
But back to Montreal. I visited the Quartier des Spectacles twice for this story, on June 3 and 30. On the first visit, work crews were scrambling to get the site ready. On the second, the Maison du Festival opened and the open-air Place des Festivals played host to the big (200,000 spectators big) Stevie Wonder show. This video shows you how complete the change has been.
First you see the L’Astral show bar as a concrete-and-plywood construction site, then as a dapper showcase for the Oliver Jones band with drummer Jim Doxas and saxophonist Chet Doxas. (I hired Jim and Chet to play the housewarming party when I bought my first house. They have since moved on to inaugurating even more illustrious real estate.) Then you see festival president Alain Simard explaining what the Place des Festivals will be like; then we cut to what it actually was like, during the Stevie Wonder show. Finally a long excerpt from my interview with Simard, in French; sorry ’bout that. We close with a shot of the old Imperial Theatre, which looked like hell during all the time I lived in Montreal but has since been beautifully renovated.
My article closes with a pointed question. If Quebec City and Montreal and Toronto (Distillery District, opera house, AGO) and Calgary are getting their downtown act together with massive investments in creative capital, can cities that don’t — like Ottawa — afford not to?