Quartier des Spectacles: Inside Montreal's Entertainment District

Quartier des Spectacles in Montreal

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Quartier des Spectacles is Montreal's entertainment district, the city's cultural heartbeat and site of the city's biggest events, including the Montreal Jazz FestivalJust for Laughs, Montréal en Lumière, and Nuit Blanche. In all, the district hosts roughly 40 festivals a year.

French for ''district of shows,'' Quartier des Spectacles starts where downtown Montreal's shopping district ends, extending along ​Ste. Catherine Street east of Phillips Square, from City Councillors Street in the west to St. Hubert Street in the east bordering the Montreal Gay Village. And within its borders covering one square kilometer are 40 performance and bar venues as well as 40 exhibition spaces.

And since 2009, the district has been in full revitalization mode, replacing dull, empty lots and dilapidated space with vibrant city squares that now serve as free event destinations since Place des Festivals was first finalized in the fall of 2009, gradually replacing red light activity that's still visible in some pockets toward the east with family-friendly fun and a palpable joie de vivre synonymous with Montreal's uniquely creative and epicurean culture.

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Place des Festivals

Quartier des Spectacles' Place des Festivals
Nino H. Photography/Getty Images

The epicenter of Montreal's summer festival season, Place des Festivals is footsteps away from Place-des-Arts Metro station and is close to all of Quartier des Spectacles' other public squares.

Montreal's biggest festivals, such as the Montreal Jazz Festival and Just for Laughs use the long, rectangular-shaped Place des Festivals grounds to host free concerts, shows, and other outdoor activities throughout the year.

Place des Festivals: Light Shows, Water Jets, and More

Place du Quartier des Spectacles is better known as Place des Festivals, the crowning plaza jewel of the Montreal entertainment district representing Phase 1 of four development stages that revitalized parts of downtown that used to be characterized by red light activity.

The first evidence of Quartier des Spectacles quashing remnants of surrounding grit in favor of high art and family appeal effectively materialized in 2009, but not so much from Place des Festival's inauguration concert featuring Stevie Wonder in June of that year. Nor did the summer flurry of free concerts succeed in branding the revamp.

It was the Fall of 2009 that set the tone for the future of Montreal's cultural hub. At least, that's how it felt in October when Place des Festivals became a new Montreal attraction by simple virtue of local interest, perhaps the city's most dynamic plaza of all with locals spotted spending time just sitting in the area and taking it in, no free show required, with children running through the square's 235 programmable fountain jets built into the ground like it was a slice of heaven.

Those water jets, some of which can spray water well over 9 meters (30 feet) in the air, are completed by light shows and four light towers surrounding the plaza. Usually, they're turned off in colder months for obvious reasons, from November through April.

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Place des Arts Esplanade

Place des Arts is Montreal's chief performance arts complex featuring multiple performance halls in various configurations.
Perry Mastrovito/Getty Images

Place des Arts Esplanade was a Montreal landmark before there even was a Quartier des Spectacles. It's been the site of Montreal Jazz Festival events and activities since the fest first started in 1980, with the district's new squares complementing the Esplanade's original space.

Featuring stairs, fountains and sculptures, Place des Arts and the Montreal Contemporary Arts Museum are located on the grounds, adjoining Place des Festivals.

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Promenade des Artistes

Quartier des spectacles' Promenade des artistes in Montreal's entertainment district.
Daoust Lestage Architecture Design

Just behind Place des Arts and its esplanade lie Promenade des Artistes, a narrow stretch of street and public space linking Quartier des Spectacles' Place des Festivals on its western side to the Parterre in the east.

Larger-than-life visuals and light shows are often projected on the façade of Université du Québec à Montréal’s Complexe des sciences Pierre-Dansereau, an oval-shaped building across the street from Place des Arts.

And eleven white, geometrical structures dubbed “event vitrines”, are found here. These white ''boxes'' can serve as art installations as well as other festival and event purposes. Musical swings are fitted to the vitrines in warmer months when not otherwise in use.

Notice how there's a braille-like code on each event vitrine. The key to solving the code is located at event vitrine #0 (every vitrine is identified by a number). Be sure to take a photo of the key to avoid going back and forth when attempting to decode the secret messages inscribed on each vitrine.

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Le Parterre

Quartier des Spectacles' le Parterre in Montreal's entertainment district
Quartier des Spectacles

Just east of Promenade des Artistes and Place des Arts' Maison symphonique de Montréal is Le Parterre, a square-shaped public space typically used to host outdoor concerts at the corner of de Maisonneuve and Clark.

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Îlot Clark

Quartier des spectacles' Îlot Clark in Montreal's entertainment district.
Quartier des Spectacles/Raumlaborberlin

Yet another Quartier des spectacles public square devoted to live shows and special outdoor events, Îlot Clark is just south of the Parterre, at the corner of Clark and Ste. Catherine Street, less than one block east of Place des Arts.

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Place de la Paix

Quartier des spectacles Place de la Paix
Société des arts technologiques

Barely a block north of Montreal's Chinatown on St. Laurent near the corner of Ste. Catherine is Quartier des Spectacles Place de la Paix. That's French for Place of Peace. In the summer, it hosts weekly evening BBQs, DJ sessions, and film screening associated with different festivals and events, including the Fantasia Film Festival.

Audiovisual performances associated with MUTEK are also among the square's recurring events.

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Place Pasteur

Quartier des Spectacles' Place Pasteur.
Montréal Complètement Cirque

A public square on the southern edge of Montreal's Latin Quarter on St. Denis near Ste. Catherine is Quartier des Spectacles' Place Pasteur. 

Perhaps the square's most notable annual event is Montréal Complètement Cirque. The circus fest typically puts on free performances in and around its vicinity in July. 

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Place Émilie-Gamelin

Quartier des Spectacles' Place Émilie-Gamelin also called Jardins Gamelin in the summer.
Peter Unger/Getty Images

Place Émilie-Gamelin is Quartier des Spectacles' easternmost public square, located at the corner of Berri and Ste. Catherine. For years, it was dilapidated, better known for its drug deals than its annual, family-friendly events.

But a lot can change in a few short years.

Today's Place Émilie-Gamelin hosts Christmas events as well as a slew of summer happenings courtesy of its spring and summer metamorphosis into Jardins Gamelin, one of Montreal's best terraces. Montréal Complètement Cirque's most epic free performances have been held here, acrobatics carried out on structures several stories high.