MONTREAL — Pointe-a-Calliere is on a friendly neighborhood watch.
Pointe-a-Calliere, the Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History, presents “Lives and Times of the Plateau,” an exhibition that explores the origins of one of Montreal’s most iconic neighborhoods. The space offers maps, photos, a pertinent who’s who, vintage artifacts and a mesmerizing multimedia display.
First up, if you’re unfamiliar with the Plateau, PAC maps it all out for you. This mostly French-speaking residential neighborhood is generally bordered by Mount Royal to the west, Sherbrooke Street to the south, Iberville Street to the east, and the Canadian Pacific Railway tracks to the north.
The Plateau’s main thoroughfare, Mount Royal Avenue, dissects the neighborhood for a few miles offering Main Street-style shopping and specialty stores. Here you can visit the likes of cafes, bars, restaurants, used book stores and specialty food purveyors with shops dedicated to cheese, chocolate, pastries, tea and bread. The bustling street is a far cry from businesses of yesteryear, specifically tanneries and even a quarry once popular in the area. One of the more prominent companies to call the Plateau home today is video game producer Ubisoft. While the company is headquartered in France, their largest game developing studio is located on St. Laurent Boulevard.
And yes, it really is a plateau — just stand along Parc Lafontaine on Sherbrooke Street facing “south” and you’ll see the not-so-gentle sloping of side streets that make their way down to Montreal’s Gay Village.
The exhibition explores one of the first name references to the region, specifically the Mile End moniker given to the neighborhood-within-a-neighborhood located along and near St. Laurent Boulevard north of the Mount Royal Avenue intersection. In an 1815 bilingual advertisement in the Gazette, Stanley Bagg, the resident landlord of the Mile End Tavern, was on the hunt for a missing horse. As for the “Plateau” name designation, enter two possible legends.
According to the exhibit, the Plateau may have first been referenced in 1938 in the weekly “Guide Mont-Royal.” The other story goes that a bus driver would make regular stops along Sherbrooke Street near Parc Lafontaine in front of a school named “Le Plateau.” He’d call out the name every time the bus stopped and the rest is geographical Montreal history.
The exhibit also explores the iconic architecture of the district, notably duplexes, triplexes and those ornate exterior winding staircases that rise from street level to the second floor of any given building. This prominent design feature gave the landlord of the triplex, who would usually occupy the first floor, more interior room. The church also encouraged these separate entrances.
“The clergy worried about indoor staircases, with their potential for surreptitious touching and descents into sins of the flesh,” the exhibit states.
But not everyone thought the exterior staircases were a good idea — especially when winter arrived.
The exhibit also explores some famous — from Michel Tremblay to Mordecai Richler — and not so famous folks who have called the Plateau home. After World War II, the area welcomed immigrants from around the world, with many Greek, Portuguese and Hassidic Jews still calling the area home.
“Lives and Times of the Plateau” continues through Sept. 1.
There’s just two more months left to visit “The Beatles in Montreal,” a colorful magical musical tour that pays tribute to one fateful night when John, Paul, George and Ringo came to town to perform at the Forum in 1964. “The Beatles in Montreal” continues through March 30.
Arrrr, matey! The new permanent exhibition at PAC is “Pirates or Privateers?” The very kid-friendly exhibit offers tons of interactive fun that explores the seafaring sailors who traveled the St. Lawrence River in New France times. It’s cleverly displayed on a stylized privateer ship called the Iberville.
Steven Howell is the author of Montreal Essential Guide, a Sutro Media iPhone travel app available at iTunes.com.IF YOU GO Pointe-a-Calliere is at 350 Place Royale in Old Montreal. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends. Admission costs $20 for adults, $16 for seniors, $12 for students 18 to 30, $9.50 for ages 13 to 17, $7 for ages 6 to 12 and $42 for families. Call (514) 872-9150 or visit www.pacmusee.qc.ca.