An integral component of today’s Montreal urban landscape, Plaza St-Hubert is well known to all Montrealers. Indeed, the artery has managed to establish itself as one of the key commercial districts in the city, drawing year after year thousands of visitors from across Montréal and beyond.
And although 2010 marked the 50th Anniversary of the Plaza’s inception, the history of St-Hubert Street itself can be traced back all the way to the 19th Century; to a time when the Petite-Patrie district was only beginning to mold itself into the vibrant neighbourhood we know today.
In honour of the Plaza’s 50th Anniversary, the team has taken a trip down memory lane and traveled throughout the centuries in order to uncover the rich history of one of Montreal’s most significant and influential arteries.
We would like to express our most sincere thanks to M. Jacques Dupré, Records Manager, and M. Réal Rhéaume, President, of the Rosemont Historical Society for their invaluable assistance and very precious collaboration.
The term “Côte” (meaning “Hill”) stems from the fact that the center of the Montréal Island represents the portion of land (with the notable exception of Mount Royal, of course) exhibiting the highest variances in elevation in the entire territory. Also, the richness of the soil in this sector, heavy in limestone, made it especially favourable to mining opportunities.
As such, a large number of quarries were created along the southern periphery of what is now known as the Rosemont-La-Petite-Patrie territory; attracting a working class population consisting mostly of French-speaking Catholics. The parishioners of Côte-Saint-Louis, for the most part, either worked the land or laboured in the quarries. This eventually led to a number of residential homes being erected along the young St-Hubert Street. Even then, the artery didn’t begin to take on the commercial quality it is known for today before the arrival of the Canadian Pacific railway, in 1878.
The arrival of the railway would not only serve to delineate the southern portion of the territory, but would also act as a catalyst to the creation of a number of new job opportunities in the area. As such, a growing number of families began to settle down north of the tracks, many of them along St-Hubert Street, resulting in a period of increased urban, commercial and economic development. Consequently, as early as 1880, St-Hubert Street had already managed to establish itself as one of the major commercial centers of the northern Montreal area. The artery’s commercial prosperity would continue to grow until it finally culminates in 1893 with the introduction of the electric streetcar, courtesy of the Montréal Park & Island Railway Company. Greatly facilitating the daily household-to-worksite commute, the streetcars would also contribute profoundly to the commercial growth of the area and would help attract a large number of immigrant workers to the sector. As a result, by the end of 1897, the number of inhabitants in the area had almost quadrupled and a large number of new businesses had begun to establish themselves on the artery.
This massive influx of immigrants at the end of the 19th Century - consisting mostly of families looking to establish themselves on a permanent basis – would help shape the image of the La Petite-Patrie sector into the vibrant, multicultural neighbourhood it is known for today.
This first immigration wave, consisting mostly of Irish, Ukrainian and Italian workers and their families, would also act as the foundation for a new era of commercial prosperity for St-Hubert Street. Indeed, by the year 1910, the artery would experience a new and unprecedented commercial expansion, spearheaded by the fact that a significant number of these new residents were already experienced workers, merchants and business developers before their arrival. The Italians, especially, would make themselves quite at home in the area, to the point where they would eventually establish a new permanent community to the north of the area called “Little Italy”, present to this day. Their historic contributions to the industrial, urban and commercial development of the sector are absolutely remarkable. Indeed, many of them already being experienced workers, contractors and masons upon their arrival; they would therefore take on a very active role in the development of the area. One only has to think of the Catelli family; whose first pasta-making factory (located on the corner of the current Henri-Julien and Bellechasse Streets) initiated many new job opportunities in the area and served to invigorate the sector as a whole.
The following years would bear witness to the arrival of many “historically significant” businesses on St-Hubert Street. In 1930, the Jasmin family opens an exotic gift store (their son, Claude, would later go on to become a renowned author who’s 1972 novel “La Petite-Patrie”, depicting his childhood in the neighbourhood, would eventually lend its name to the borough). Then, in 1950, the Léger family decides to open a new restaurant right on the artery, called the St-Hubert rotisserie… which would turn out to become the very first in a long line of renowned St-Hubert BBQ restaurants. Later on, the restaurant would also become one of the first businesses in Québec to feature a large-scale neon sign, depicting the now-famous “St-Hubert rooster”. The historic establishment, having recently undergone significant renovations, still remains in operation to this day.
1950's - 1960's
In order to safeguard the integrity and viability of small businesses throughout the Plaza against the emerging big-box stores and other major competitors, a group of merchants decided to ban together in 1954 and create a merchant’s association. This association would eventually lead, in 1959, to the inauguration of the Plaza St-Hubert as we know it today.
This event would mark the beginning of the new Plaza’s “Golden age”, a period of unprecedented prosperity for the commercial artery. Indeed, during the 1960’s, the Plaza was considered a commercial and cultural nexus, attracting some of the greatest stars of the era, people like Jean Duceppe, Anita Barrière, Claude Blanchard, Denis Drouin, Fernand Gignac, Jean Grimaldi, Raymond Lévesque, Suzanne Lapointe and Michelle Richard. Business was booming. The Plaza was the place to be… a commercial hotspot were people could meet, eat, shop, have fun, exchange ideas and experience the best in cultural activities, located in one of Montréal’s most up-and-coming and vibrant neighbourhoods.
With the streetcars gradually being replaced by the all-new Montréal subway system, residents were provided with an even easier access to the area. At the beginning of the 1960’s, the all-new television station, Télé-Métropole (CFTM-10) would praise the virtues of the Plaza on a regular basis. The highly popular live television show “Dix sur dix”, hosted by Réal Giguère, also helped promote the Plaza by regularly giving away fabulous prizes hailing from some of the more prestigious boutiques on the artery. This was also the era that saw the beginning of the Christmas parades along St-Hubert Street, an annual event that remains to this day extremely popular with Montrealers. The artery’s popularity seemed to have no end, with more and more businesses opening their doors everyday. The Street also played host to some of the greatest classic business names of the time, such as the Lambert Hardware store, Greenberg, Sauvé and the Dionne grocery store.
1970's - 1980's
The Plaza’s prosperity would remain strong throughout the seventies. New residential retrofit grants at the time allowed for the restoration of several properties, which in turn served to enhance the overall neighbourhood and contributed to increase the vitality of the commercial artery. In 1973, the Plaza introduced its first Annual Street-wide Sidewalk Sale, the very first event of its kind at the time in Québec.
The 1980’s would be marked by a second large-scale immigration wave. Indeed, several new citizens, arriving this time mainly from Latin American or Asian countries (especially Vietnam) and Haiti, decided to make their new home in the area. Several of them chose to open new shops and businesses, which greatly contributed to the vitality, cultural richness and social diversity that would eventually come to define this particular area of Montréal for many years to come.
Then, in 1984, the city of Montréal decided to try an urban design experience by outfitting the Plaza with an impressive 1.2 km long glass canopy, covering both sidewalks on St-Hubert Street. Henceforth immediately recognizable, the Plaza continued to act as one of the premier shopping destinations for Montrealers. During this time, the Plaza was host to over 400 shops, stores and various service providers. It was especially well-known for its vast concentration of wedding paraphenalia (clothes, shoes, jewelry, furniture and accessories), but also offered an incredibly diverse array of restaurants, bars, sidewalk cafes and specialty boutiques of all kinds.
Today, the 400+ merchants currently operating on the Plaza are able to rely on the support of the Plaza St-Hubert SDC, a non-profit organization founded in 1981, which brings together all businesses — retail as well as service — operating on its territory.
The mission of the Plaza St-Hubert SDC is to promote the commercial development of St-Hubert Street as well as raise its profile. Ever at the service of its members, the organization is always looking forward and works tirelessly to insure the ongoing development of the artery as well as that of the neighbourhood as a whole. They have been at the forefront of many valuable initiatives over the years, from Entrepreneurship contests, to ambitious revitalization projects, not to mention the presentation of many special events, such as the Great Annual sidewalk-sale – entitled Athmosph’air sur la Plaza as of 2010 – an extremely popular event which year after the year transforms the artery into a festive trade show with strong cultural ties.
Bolstered by these remarkable efforts, the Plaza’s future appears brighter than ever. Continually reinventing itself and adapting to the times, the Plaza continues to distinguish itself as one of Montréal’s premier commercial centers. The vitality of the artery remains to this day as vibrant as it was at the time of its inception, half a century ago. As a faithful historical witness to the evolution of a great city, Plaza St-Hubert remains to this day the economical engine of La Petite-Patrie, as well as an essential component of the Montréal landscape. Having celebrated 50 years of strong commercial life in 2010, all that remains is to wish the Plaza a continued success for a great many years to come.
30th anniversary of the glass canopy
In 2014, the SDC celebrates the 30th anniversary of the glass canopy. Here are the main lines