Turn on the Red Light


The video screen of a silhouetted stripper was once a landmark at the corner of Ste. Catherine and the Main. It was a symbol of sorts for Montreal’s rapidly-dwindling red light district, a seedy neighbourhood of cheap bars, diners, peep shows juxtaposed with music venues, theatres and university buildings. It was about the only remarkable thing left on the building it occupied, a hideous, dilapidated, mostly-abandoned structure that was an eyesore even for a scuzzy part of town.

It’s a bit of a surprise to look at the above photos, compiled by Spacing Montreal’s Guillaume St-Jean, only to realize that that ugly building is in fact quite old. When it was built around the turn of the twentieth century, it was solid and elegant, if somewhat unremarkable. Over the course of a century it was brutalized to such an extent as to be all but unrecognizable, save for its distinctively narrow width.

Sometime next year, the building will make way for a landmark that represents a different kind of Montreal. The municipal government has expropriated the two properties at the corner of Ste. Catherine and the Main for a new cultural centre that will be called the Red Light. The name is an awfully cynical appropriation of the area’s often rough-and-tumble history (and I’m sure some might take offence at the way it glorifies the sex trade), but the building itself doesn’t seem too bad. That is, if we can get a clear idea of how it will turn out, because the renderings that have been released are not exactly detailed.

The Red Light will anchor the new Quartier des spectacles, an attempt to reinforce the arts-driven character of the east end of downtown. Last month, $120 million worth of public space improvements were announced, including the creation of new plazas and squares and the part-time pedestrianization of Ste. Catherine St. There’s plenty of things to be wary about in this plan, but as far as the Red Light is concerned, I can think of worse things to build at one of Montreal’s more infamous intersections.


This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Wednesday December 05 2007at 09:12 pm , filed under Canada, History and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

2 Responses to “Turn on the Red Light”

  • Patrick Donovan says:

    It doesn’t really fit in with the scale of the buildings on the street (but I suppose few things in that part of town do). It’s also a bit showy and vulgar, but I guess that’s to be expected considering the name.

    In any case, that whole part of town needs a right kick in the ass, and this might just do it.

  • lily says:

    I’d much prefer blinking breasts to a postmodern wall of glass, personally, but I guess opinions differ on that one.