The Centre-Sud: history at a glance

Workers at a textile mill, circa 1900. Écomusée du fier monde
Workers at a textile mill, circa 1900.
Écomusée du fier monde

The Centre-Sud is a an urban area situated along the St. Laurence River, east of downtown Montréal. In the 18th century this territory – called the Faubourg Québec – begins to take shape. Development occurs along the Québec road, which becomes the Sainte-Marie road, then Notre-Dame Street. Around 1850, industrialization gets under way in Montréal, primarily affecting downtown and the area around the Lachine Canal.

In the east, the outline is different; it’s above all small artisanal boutiques and backyard workshops that get woven into the urban fabric. Industrialization progressively intensifies and undeveloped areas at the city limits become increasingly coveted.

In the Faubourg Québec, transport infrastructure constitutes an important draw. Port installations and the arrival of the Canadian Pacific spur numerous factories, of various sectors, to establish in the area. A first industrial corridor develops along Notre-Dame Street, as the big enterprises join Molson’s Brewery, which has been present at the same site since 1786. Further east, another industrial zone spreads out at de Lorimier Avenue and Parthenais Street. The Canadian Pacific constructs its first workshops there in 1882, in proximity to the Dominion OilCloth and Linoleum installations, founded in 1874. Then, at the easternmost edge of the neighbourhood, a Canadian Pacific roundhouse is erected at the heart of a vast marshalling yard, not far from the installations of Montreal, Light, Heat and Power.

<b>Sheds, clotheslines and backyard, La Fontaine and Champlain Streets, 1974.</b> Photo: Daniel Heïkalo, Écomusée du fier monde
Sheds, clotheslines and backyard, La Fontaine and Champlain Streets, 1974.
Photo: Daniel Heïkalo, Écomusée du fier monde

Residential areas spread out next to these industrial centres in order to house the thousands of workers. Other factories, often smaller and linked to light industry, also get woven into an increasingly dense urban fabric. Working class housing stands side by side with factories, businesses, churches and schools. A living environment takes shape.

At the start of the 20th century, the neighbourhood’s population reaches 80,000. Growth continues, old establishments expand, new factories appear and the population keeps increasing. In 1941, close to 100,000 people live in Centre-Sud. After the war, a period of deindustrialization begins. Numerous enterprises leave the neighbourhood in order to establish themselves in new industrial spaces, often situated on the periphery of the city. Other sectors, for their part, are affected by the opening of international markets and the globalization of the economy. Companies watch their activities decline and disappear. This scenario especially affects clothing and footwear industries.

These upheavals likewise coincide with major urban development work that aims to modernize the city and revitalize certain sectors. The widening of Dorchester Boulevard (René-Lévesque) in 1956, or the establishment of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, which prompts massive expropriation and the departure of nearly 5,000 residents, serve to demonstrate the kinds of upheavals the neighbourhood goes through. Despite deindustrialization and the decline of the quality of life, residents of Centre-Sud are determined to take things in hand. They create numerous community groups that become tools for action within their surroundings.


To learn more about the history of the neighbourhood:

  • Burgess, Joanne (1997). Introduction in Paysages industriels en mutation. (p. 11-12). Montréal: Écomusée du fier monde.

        To consult the text: Introduction (Joanne Burgess)