The list of Montreal Streets that we’ve already profiled has gotten so extensive that I’m going to skip the usual witticisms and just lay out where we’ve been so far: Bleury, Maisonneuve, Saint-Paul, Saint-Zotique, Crescent and Greene Avenue. But, with Christmas and visions of over-stuffed shopping bags dancing around your checking account, we thought it was time to take a trip to Sainte-Catherine…
If there’s one street that visitors to Montreal know without consulting our profile series, Sainte-Catherine (or St-Catherine/Ste-Catherine) is probably it. It’s a massive east-west thoroughfare, which starts in Westmount and ends in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve and manages to pass through the Concordia ghetto, the Quartier Latin and the Gay Village on its way. Which is clearly too huge an area for us to cover in one post. And it’s not really necessary, because it’s the part of Sainte-Catherine that crosses downtown Montreal that is the big draw…and has been for years.
It became the Montreal home of the Hudson Bay Company, the oldest commercial corporation in North America, when it took over Morgan’s, a Montreal-based chain of department stores that had been in operation since 1845. This was the case with several other prominent department store chains- only Ogilvy’s, founded in 1866, has kept the same name (and nickname: the “Grande dame of St. Catherine Street”). It was also home to the Montreal Canadiens’ legendary Forum before the team moved to the Bell Centre in 1996. However, Sainte-Catherine still plays hosts, whether it wants to or not, to the crowds of Habs fans partying on the street during the playoffs. Basically, this is all to say that, no matter what name is hanging over the door, people will always have something they need down on Sainte-Catherine…
Malls: Though they might be steeped in history, a mall is a mall even when it’s a really nice one and I’m not about to start listing every store you’ll find in them. There’s Ogilvy’s, The Bay, Simons, Complex Les Ailes and the nearby and totes classy Les Cours Mont-Royal. Plus, when I hit them up via the Underground City, I never really know which one I’m under/in.
Birks: Not to be out history’d by the department stores, Henry Birks opened his first jewelry store in 1879 and soon moved to the Sainte-Catherine’s location where their flagship shop has remained to this day.
Big Name Shops: Not sure what else to call the places like Apple, Adidas, H&M and the like, but they are very popular. I mean, I’m sure there’s a new iPhone out this week that makes the one you bought last week totally useless.
There are several very interesting churches on Saint-Catherine, but I’m mainly bringing this up because Christ Church Cathedral is the only church in the country that is located on top of a shopping mall, which seems like a great way to segue out of the shopping section…
With so much of Sainte-Catherine devoted to the buying and selling of stuff, it’s not surprising that culture isn’t the first thing you think of when you think of St-C. But it does have it. It’s home to the Belgo Building, one of the largest concentrations of galleries, studios and visual arts workshops in the city. It’s also the focal point of the Quartier des Spectacles, which is the ever-developing centre of Montreal’s festival scene (make sure to stop and get some great deals on show tickets from La Vitrine while in the area). If you keep moving east, things get a little seedier, which is perfectly fine in my eyes, as you start running into small theatres like Theatre Ste-Catherine and big concert spots like Metropolis.
This has been long been one of Saint-Catherine’s weak points, in my opinion. Sure there are tons of fast food and some entirely decent food courts (none hold a candle, though to the Fauberg which boasts one of the best cheap Thai places in the city). There is P.M., my favorite Chinese food spot outside of Chinatown. And to accompany the development of the Quartier des Spectacles, some new places have sprung up: there’s the new Brasserie t!, which is the more casual version of famed Chef Normand Laprise’s Toque! as well as F bar, which is a pared-down Ferreira Cafe. But I think the most exiting new food spot is Dominion Square Tavern, which is an amazing gastro-pub type place, just a bit off of Saint-Catherine. Trust me- you’ll love it, whether you’re there for a quick mid-shop drink or a full meal.
For the most part, Sainte-Catherine is not where you go to have drinks- all of the streets that run through it offer much better options. But I would absolutely recommend the legendary Foufounes électriques (formally known as Foufs), which is basically/awesomely nothing like anything else mentioned in this post. You could also try the Pub Saint-Elizabeth, which is just around the corner from Metropolis and boasts one of the best terraces in the city.