By Lisa Baum –mtltimes.ca
In 1967 the International and Universal Exposition, or Expo 67, celebrating Canada’s centennial was underway in Montreal. This extraordinary “Man and His World” exhibition went on to become the most successful World’s Fair of the 20th Century.
Having an office at 2015 Drummond Street as a young man, I would stroll down to the Cave Don Juan discotheque in the evening which was located in the basement of the Stanley Street building. The club’s owner was Hungarian born Johnny Vago. Looking for adventure Johnny had left Hungary for Cuba, where he became an emissary for Che Guevara and after the revolution immigrated to Montreal.
I remember sitting with Johnny and a small group of regulars one evening. Johnny was excited and was telling us about a new Pub he was opening a few blocks away on Crescent Street. It was to be the first bar restaurant on the street, which at the time housed only professional offices and residences. Who would have guessed what was to come? Johnny Vago was a visionary. He saw things that others didn’t.
The opening of the Sir Winston Churchill Pub changed Crescent Street and the surrounding neighborhood forever. He opened more restaurants on the block, and other restaurants and bars would follow in the mid-1970s. The Crescent Street Merchants Association was formed in 1998. Each year the Association organizes activities related to the city’s sports and entertainment events. The most popular event is the Grand Prix Festival. I have written in this column before about the re-emergence of the Griffintown district of Montreal, once home to Canada’s industrial revolution.
Two art venues are already leading the way for the Griffintown district becoming a cultural destination for locals and tourists alike. Arsenal, at 2020 William Street, the contemporary art gallery is located in a 150 year old, 83 000 square foot building, formerly a Marine Works Canada shipyard. While the building’s architectural features attest to its rich industrial past, Arsenal now embraces the present by showcasing Canadian and international contemporary art.
The Montreal Art Centre, at 1844 William, is home to over 50 of Montreal’s greatest artists, working in their own personal studio spaces, creating and showcasing their artworks in three art galleries in an historic 19th Century building which is open to the public 7 days a week.
This summer, three restaurants will open at the Montreal Art Centre building. The “Lord William”, Gastro Pub, is the 8th and latest addition to the Yea Old Orchard Group of restaurants. Also “Le Fantome”, a neighbourhood gourmet’s delight, and “Lucci” an airy and stylish Mediterranean style charcuterie and cafe, featuring artisan meats, cheeses and breads. Plans are underway to hold the first Montreal International Art Festival in the summer of 2016 on William Street, a summer festival with hundreds of International and local artists featured in a four day exhibition.
I think of Johnny Vago’s vision for Crescent Street, as an inspiration for our plans to make William Street an artistic hub for our city, The “So Ho” of Montreal, as Crescent Street became the street for dining and entertainment.
Allan Diamond is the Founder of Montreal Art Centre in Griffintown.
Allan Diamond can be reached at (514) 726 3623 or drop by the art centre at: 1844 William Street Montreal Quebec H3J 1R5 firstname.lastname@example.org