Posted at 5:00 am
A neighborhood in search of its breath
On a June evening, patrons of the village’s bars and restaurants enjoy the mild weather and sip their beers on the terraces with colorful parasols in the Village. The atmosphere is festive. Meanwhile, not far away, a homeless man sets up his sleeping bag for the night in the entrance of a closed shop. In a small park near the subway, two people are arguing. Passers-by roam the Rue Sainte-Catherine, which is reserved for pedestrians, without paying any attention to them.
With the return of summer, the pedestrian zone and the lifting of hygiene measures, life returns to the village.
The industry has been hit hard by the pandemic, to say the least. “Due to the concentration of bars, karaoke and restaurants, the area has been hit harder than others by the closures,” said Robert Beaudry, councilor for the area.
The neighborhood also received many tourists from the LGBTQ+ community, but those visitors were scarce due to travel restrictions.
Some companies could not keep up financially and had to go out of business.
Meanwhile, the homeless population was free to make themselves comfortable in the area. Especially since in the Hotel Place Dupuis, right at the entrance to the district, accommodation for the homeless has been set up for months. Many community organizations also offer them services in the area.
As the merchants recover from those long months of lethargy, they are told that the Sainte-Catherine street will be gutted in 2024 for major repairs to underground infrastructure, meaning their business will once again be halted.
Of course, the road will be much nicer afterwards, but some fear another difficult period.
What if it was time to take a look at the village’s future? This is what the Municipality of Ville-Marie has decided to do by organizing a forum on this issue, the activities of which will begin in the coming weeks.
After the pandemic, we wanted to organize a mobilizing event with a view to revitalizing the village, since we know the economic and social problems, but the solutions will not all come from the city of Montreal.
Robert Beaudry, Councilman
Everyone who visits the quarter, residents, merchants, visitors, fringe groups, can express their opinion on the future of the quarter.
A survey conducted last December by the Société de développement commercial (SDC) Village Montréal sheds light on the concerns of traders: the number one problem for 76% of respondents is homelessness, while 61% worry about crime and 43% about the village look .
The question that arises: how can the village be developed to meet new needs while preserving its own identity?
Especially since thousands of new residents will soon be settling on residential properties on the outskirts of the quarter.
“There will be the Esplanade Cartier, the Auguste and Louis project, the Radio-Canada lands and the Molson lands,” lists Mr. Beaudry. We will have a new resident clientele coming to the Village, but we need to preserve the identity of the place, the legacy of the LGBTQ+ communities. It’s a place of struggle, a place of refuge. »
“People who settle here should know that all kinds of realities come together in the village,” adds Laurie Pabion, associate director of the Center-South Community Development Corporation (CDC), which brings together community organizations.
But these newcomers might want different types of shops, fewer bars, more grocery stores.
“Right now the neighborhood is very busy in the summer with festivals and everything, but we’re trying to get out of it,” explains Gabrielle Rondy, interim general manager of SDC Village Montreal.
We have to think differently about the village and manage to attract people for the rest of the year.
Gabrielle Rondy, General Manager of SDC Village Montreal
“For years we have made a living from international tourism in the summer, but we also have to think about the clientele in the neighborhood,” adds Jean-Philippe Loignon, owner of the café La graine brûlée and CEO of the SDC. .
The change is already beginning: closed nightclubs have been replaced by a biscuit factory, a market, a bakery, a beer shop and a microbrewery.
“The Village is in transition,” says Mathieu Morand, who opened Tite Frette with his spouse during the pandemic. It draws on a clientele of residents rather than tourists.
As a long-time resident of the district, it was natural for him to set up his business there. The Village still believes in it no matter what direction it may take in the years to come.
The pandemic was difficult, but since the shops reopened, “the customers have been there,” says Danny Jobin, owner of the karaoke bar Le Date, which has been in existence for 40 years. “We are almost always full and have to turn away 100 to 150 people at the weekend. People keep coming back because they have fun in our bars. The village is here forever! ‘ he concludes.
The tough challenge of living together
“Here you are! » ; “Colorful Quarter”; “freedom = here”; “Diversity”.
These slogans, displayed on banners around the village, proclaim loud and clear that the neighborhood aspires to be a welcoming land for the marginalized and excluded.
The Village describes itself as an “inclusive neighborhood”.
“It is a great and noble challenge to embody inclusion. But how do you use that? What are the boundaries, the social contract, the code of life that we give ourselves? »
Jean-Philippe Loignon, owner of café La graine brûlée and CEO of SDC Village Montreal, wonders.
“We are very open-minded, we don’t want to drive anyone away,” he said. But the homeless and drug dealers who frequent the neighborhood create uncertainty for many customers who venture into the village.
I regularly call the police to report drug deals and even witnessed an overdose recently.
Jean-Philippe Loignon, CEO of SDC Village Montreal
“There are too many homeless people, which is worrying for the clientele. These people are drunk, do drugs and are sometimes aggressive,” adds Danny Jobin, owner of karaoke bar Le Date, who says he often faces vandalism.
Coexistence between the different groups that meet in the industry is anything but easy.
The SDC has set up a brigade of receptionists whose aim is to ensure the cleanliness and safety of the neighborhood by providing the link between the homeless and the organizations that can offer them services. “All dealers know they can call them, but that doesn’t solve all problems,” admits Gabrielle Rondy, interim general manager of SDC Village Montreal.
And the police, what are they doing? The new commander of Quarters Station 22, which covers a large part of the village, Krisztina Balogh, who took up her post last January, insists that she is taking advice.
One of my challenges is making connections with community organizations. I want to meet them so that they feel more comfortable when they come to talk to us. When we make connections, we complement each other and find sustainable and needs-based solutions.
Krisztina Balogh, Commander of Neighborhood Station 22
She claims that agents and cadets in uniform and civilian clothes, by car, by bicycle, on foot and even on horseback, are very present in the sector. Bike Patrol is particularly effective when it comes to quietly approaching a drug store, notes Commander Balogh.
She hopes that if they frequently run into the police on site, dealers and residents will have the reflex to call them if there is a problem. And that agents can bridge the gap to the community organizations best placed to intervene when needed.
“Not in my garden?” »
At SDC, we are opposed to being affected by the “Not in my backyard” syndrome. But we still want services for the homeless to be spread throughout Montreal territory rather than being sector focused.
“Residents and traders can live well with this clientele, but the necessary resources must be available to intervene if necessary,” says Gabrielle Rondy.
Is it to be feared that the homeless and other marginalized groups will feel “ousted” from the sector? Especially with the arrival of new residents in future housing developments.
“It’s always a question we ask ourselves because when we talk about revitalization, the word ‘gentrification’ is never far away,” notes Laurie Pabion, deputy director of CDC Centre-Sud. “But we don’t feel like there’s a desire to shut yourself out of the world. »
“It’s the village’s raison d’être, so to speak, to be that safe place for people who sometimes don’t fit anywhere else. It has always been a place where people lived on the fringes, a place where you can be different without being judged. And that will remain so. »