BY Isabelle Devi Poirier & Alessandro De Luca

The cancellation of the 2024 Just for Laughs Festival came as a shock to many Montrealers, especially for comedy club owners.

“We’re pretty sad about it,” says Sid Khullar, the founder and owner of MTL Comedy Club. “Hopefully we can survive the summer.”

“Every summer whenever they launch the festival, we also get a boost of at least a healthy 20 per cent of ticket sales,” says Khullar.

“The void is going to be felt worldwide, not just in Montreal or Canada,” says Ali Mohammadi, owner of Comedyville.

“A lot of top comedians come to Montreal for Just For Laughs and a lot of them got discovered from the festival,” he adds.

But Khullar and Mohammadi remain positive.

“I’m pretty sure the festival is going to come back stronger and will give us a boost again in 2025,” says Khullar.

“Comedy in Montreal is stronger than ever, especially on the local level,” says Mohammadi. “There are a lot of shows every week in Montreal, it is definitely stronger than what I remember from many years ago, so that will continue to flourish.”

Comedian giving a show on stage

A look at a stand-up comedy night at Melrose Resto, located in the heart of downtown Montreal, hosted by MTL Comedy Club. Photo by Sid Khullar.

Montreal has been grappling with a disheartening trend: the gradual disappearance of some iconic landmarks.

Moshe Lander, an Economist at Concordia University, emphasises their impact on the economy.

“The loss of symbols are very, very important, especially to a government that lives by symbols,” says Lander. “That’s why we need to spend half a billion dollars to repair a roof of [the Olympic Stadium] that nobody uses. Or the Just for Laughs festival; while it’s a tragedy that it was cancelled, does that in any way mean that no tourists are coming to Montreal in the summer, or that Montreal has nothing else to offer the world, then a comedy festival that runs for two weeks?” he says.

image of one of Montreal cultural landmarks the Olympic Stadium

The spring sun shines on the Olympic Stadium roof. Photo by Isabelle Devi Poirier.

However, Lander says that he does not see the loss of cultural landmarks as a problem.

“I see this as an opportunity to advance, and I think that when you get attached to symbols and when you get attached to this is the way it has been, that’s when the economy stagnates, and I don’t think that it’s an accident that Quebec is the only province in Canada that’s in a recession right now,” he says.

“The government doesn’t have any money to be able to put into cultural preservation,” says Lander. “If you’re running a $11 billion deficit, when you’re at generationally high interest rates, fundamentally, the problem here is that the government has not managed their budget responsibly at all.”

“[The government’s] ability to have a buffer to protect cultural identity, if that’s something that they feel is important, is being increasingly constrained by their mismanagement every step along the way,” says Lander.

While the closure of iconic landmarks may be concerning, it’s essential to recognize that the city’s unique charm extends far beyond its physical landmarks.

According to Tourisme Montreal’s 2022 annual report, Montreal drew in eight million visitors who spent a total of $3.72 billion, solidifying its position as the top North American city for sustainable tourism, according to the Global Destination Sustainability Index.

Click on the markers to uncover the original significance and present-day transformations of 10 Montreal historic sites. Map by Isabelle Devi Poirier.

According to the 2021 census, 80 per cent of workers were proficient in at least two languages in the census metropolitan area, with 69 per cent being fluent in both English and French. Additionally, 28 per cent were proficient in at least three languages, the highest numbers for Canada's big cities.

How are Quebec's language laws affecting filmmakers? Video by Alessandro De Luca.

Natalie Boucher is an anthropologist and founder of Organisme Respire, a research organisation that promotes planning, renewal and uses of urban spaces. She believes the loss of the city’s landmarks affects some Montrealers more than others.

“The fact that we as Montrealers feel that some of the landmarks are gone, I think it's true. I think it also could be a generational observation. Most of the landmarks that were important to me, in my teens, are gone. But obviously they are not the same for another generation,” she says.

Boucher explains how citizens will only see issues in the city when it directly affects them. She explains that there is a disconnect between what people perceive and the larger economic and legal struggles of a city.

“Montreal is coming out of the pandemic, and even before that, so many of its commercial streets were empty . . . For so long, downtown was really important, but now maybe it's not,” she says. “[Montreal’s boroughs] have their own cultural life, they aspire to have their own cultural industries and restaurants and atmosphere and places where you can go within the 15-minute-city that we all talk about. So that means that people living in Verdun, they don't need to go downtown anymore.”

According to Thom Seivewright, a certified guide in Montreal since 2016, the city’s cultural landmarks reflect its distinct culture.

“I always tell people; you have to visit Mount Royal. If you don't visit Mount Royal, it's kind of like you didn't even come to Montreal, it's one of those things that is just absolutely a must. Because it's the heart and soul,” says Seivewright.

vertical image of one of Montreal cultural landmarks Sir George-Etienne Cartier monument with the Mount Royal cross in the background.

Sir Georges Étienne Cartier monument with the infamous Mount Royal cross in the backdrop. Photo by Isabelle Devi Poirier.

While visiting iconic Montreal landmarks is important when visiting the city, Seivewright likes to encourage tourists to go off into a neighbourhood they have never heard of.

“And they’re always so impressed,” says Seivewright, “Because they all have a cool little part of that neighbourhood with great restaurants and shops.”

Whether exploring iconic landmarks or venturing into lesser-known neighbourhoods, Seivewright agrees that Montreal's allure remains rooted in its unique blend of culture, language, and community resilience.

“You can preserve the past, while also moving forward,” says Lander, “Respect the past, acknowledge the past, and move forward. You could put something in[the Olympic Stadium’s] place with a huge plaque, or you could call it the Olympic Stadium Memorial.”

“If we have the capacity to decide which parts of nostalgia we want to preserve, and not preserve, then the vibrancy of Montreal going forward is going to be in the ability to adapt to the needs of the tourists that want to come here,” says Lander.

Tourists at Mount Royale lookout

Tourists gather at Mount Royale lookout. Photo by Isabelle Devi Poirier.

Main photo by Isabelle Devi Poirier.
Published May 3, 2024.