Boulevard St-Laurent: Montreal's The Main

Boulevard St. Laurent Is Packed With History... And Killer Smoked Meat

Boulevard St. Laurent, also known as the Main, is one of Montreal's most important thoroughfares.
••• Businesses on the Main come and go, but if there's anyone with staying power on Boulevard St. Laurent, it's Schwartz's Deli. Photo by Flickr user Chun Yip So

Boulevard St. Laurent: "The Main" Boulevard

Montreal's Boulevard St. Laurent, often referred to as "The Main," is one of the city's most important cultural and commercial thoroughfares, running through several neighborhoods, including Old Montreal, Chinatown, Montreal's entertainment district, the Plateau and Little Italy.

 

Boulevard St. Laurent: Divisive History

Not to be mistaken with the neighborhood called Saint-Laurent located in northwest Montreal, Boulevard St-Laurent is a north-south thoroughfare that divides the city in half, with more English-speaking neighborhoods on the west side compared to a stronger show of French east of The Main.

According to Heritage Canada, this goes back to when the British were in power circa 1792. They decided that St. Laurent would serve as a city divider and "official" line between the English, who settled west of St. Laurent in a neighborhood that's known today as Mile End, and the French went east, in today's Plateau Mont-Royal, which in modern times includes Mile End as one of its districts.

 

Boulevard St. Laurent: From Working Class Roots to Gentrified Sprouts

During the 20th century, the Main was, for the most part, a working class multicultural Canadian gateway for immigrants, but since the '80s or so, the Plateau-Mile End portion of the thoroughfare plus several blocks -the perimeter from Sherbrooke in the south to Laurier in the north and Parc in the west until Christophe-Colomb in the east- underwent significant gentrification.

What was edge-of-red-light-district-meets-tight-knit-immigrant-communities of the '50s, '60s and '70s became cheap-rent-artists-unite-mecca-land in the '80s and early '90s.

As of the late '90s, it evolved into somewhat of a trendy SoHo-ish place to call home. But since the late noughts, the Main lost a bit of its luster. Parts that were bustling as recently as 2006, notably where St. Laurent meets with Prince Arthur are rife with business closures.

 

Boulevard St-Laurent: A Tourist Destination

As for visiting the Main, its tourism appeal outside of, say, Jewish foodie institutions like Schwartz's Deli and Moishes and the Main's annual street fairs, is particularly notable in Little Italy and the Mile End. Chunks of St. Laurent Boulevard are covered with popular tourist attractions equally appreciated by locals, if only for the rich selection of no-frills dive bars, hot nightclubs, restaurants, and cultural venues in the context of a refreshingly bilingual, even multilingual landscape, where neither French nor English truly dominate the area.