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It’s hopping, it’s hip, it’s the Montreal Plateau

It’s hopping, it’s hip, it’s the Montreal Plateau

Étienne Labrunie - 2008-08-25

Today, these same ateliers have become vast lofts and sanctuaries for artists on a quest for inspiration. Yes, nowadays the Plateau fancies itself a sort of Soho or Greenwich Village. ‘It’s also something like La Bastille in Paris,’ adds Johan, who’s been living here for a dozen years or so. Johan, an actor who waits tables in a trendy bar in between roles, wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else.

La Bastille, maybe, but minus the outsized buildings. Instead, the Avenue du Mont Royal - the Plateau’s main boulevard - is lined with architecturally diverse houses of many forms and colours. There are artists’ lofts and English cottages, two- and three-storey row houses, and the red brick of an old factory thrown in here and there for good measure.
 
Plus commerce everywhere you look: restaurants, bars, art galleries, trendy clothing boutiques, fine foods, dance classes, bookshops, internet bars... ‘Most of the businesses here are small scale - a big supermarket would be out of place. Anyway, if they tried to set one up, there would be quite an outcry,’ Johan explains.
 
At the end of the day, this island of resistance is the place to be. ‘People flock here in the evening looking for diversion and fun,’ says Johan. The Plateau by Night attracts golden boys and girls, fashionable folk of all feathers, tourists and artists. There are plenty of bars, discos and lounges, and they’re all buzzing. The Rue St. Denis, for one, is especially renowned for its fine restaurants and its animated atmosphere.
 
Predictably, now that the quarter is more popular and sought-after than ever, overpopulation threatens. Nearly 105,000 people live on the Plateau - that’s basically 13,000 inhabitants per square kilometre.
 
No decline in sight. Real estate prices have skyrocketed. ‘In ten years the prices have gone up five-fold,’ says Johan. ‘And there are plenty of Frenchmen on the Plateau because they’re the only ones who can afford to live here,’ adds a fellow in his forties who’s been eavesdropping.
 
It’s estimated that natives from France account for approximately 30% of the Plateau population. ‘There are certain indications - groceries which cater to French customers, a profusion of wine sellers - but you can’t really say that it’s the “French Quarter,”’ explains Benoit, a Frenchman who has been living in Montreal for the past six years.
 
The very idea of a “French quarter” is Utopian - it doesn’t exist because the French aren’t keen on living together. More than anything else, it’s a Montreal quarter,’ adds Serge, another expat from France.
 
Various signs point to the fact that the Plateau has traditionally attracted immigrant communities - the St. Louis de France parish, for example.
 
On the east side, the Greeks have set up shop. Old synagogues, some of which have been transformed into housing or schools, bear witness to four generations of Jewish presence. The colourful house facades - those of the Rue Drolet, for example - owe their existence to the sizeable Portuguese community which moved in beginning in the 1960s.
 
And it would seem that the ornate balconies and outer staircases dating from the 1880s are of French inspiration. On the website www.bonjourplateau.com we learn that, ‘For (Canadian) Francophones, the stairway became a social setting reflecting their Latin mentality and conviviality, reminiscent of rural life.’ “Stoop-setting” created the strong neighbourly relationships that still characterise the quarter. Rue St. Hubert, Rue Berri and Rue St. Denis feature handsome examples of these dwellings built by wealthy and influential Frenchmen.
 
Yes, the Plateau quarter is in vogue, and so naturally it’s the topic of many a conversation. Some find it too blatantly and deliberately trendy, while others appreciate its village ambience and multicultural, artistic flavour. At any rate, it’s certainly worth a detour.
 

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