2 min

“Suspicious” fire on Montreal’s Main

Blaze engulfs building next to historic strip club Café Cléo

"SUSPICIOUS" BLAZE. The Oct 20 fire started in a vacant building next to Café Cléo. Credit: Google Streetview

A major fire engulfed the building adjacent to Montreal’s Café Cléopatre just after dusk Tuesday evening.

It’s unclear how the fire started, but the Montreal Fire Department is calling the incident “suspicious,” according to the CBC.
Café Cléo, as it is affectionately known to the queer and sex worker community which it serves, is a historic strip club and fetish venue on St-Laurent Boulevard. Talks earlier this year to develop the land for the future site of “Quartier de Spectacles” ended in a City Hall decision to reject recommendations of the city’s public consultation office (OCPM). City Hall gave the go-ahead for developers to raze the land on which Café Cléo and other historic buildings now stand.
Café Cleo has been one of the most vocal opponents of the city’s development plans for the area, known historically as Montreal’s “red light district.”
“Why did they even bother to have the OCPM at all if you’re going to go through with what you want to do,” says Velma Candyass, of the cabaret troupe Dead Dolls Dancers, who use the Café’s second floor show space on a regular basis.
At a public meeting this past September, City Hall announced that Café Cléopatre, the Montreal Poolroom and Club Opera will not be included in the “revitalization” of the Main — Montreal’s infamous St-Laurent Boulevard. City Hall has given the developers — the Angus Development Corporation — five years to complete the project. A separate project will house the new Parallèle Cinema, a modern dance school and it will serve as an arts and culture space.
Tuesday’s fire comes amid growing demands for an inquiry into municipal corruption. John Gomery, the retired judge who lead the federal sponsorship inquiry, has called for a public inquiry to examine links between municipal party fundraising and the awarding of contracts, reports the CBC

The city did not hold an open call for development bids for the Café Cléo site, as is usually done for a project of this size.

Émilie Laliberté, a community organizer at Stella — a sex workers’ rights organization — says the decision may not be written in stone, especially with the municipal elections coming up at the end of November.

“[Café Cleo owner] Johnny Zoumboulakis always rented the second-floor space to community organizations who did not have the means to pay for renting the space. And he allows students, marginalized people, the queer community and everyone to have a space to express themselves,” says Laliberté. “The women working downstairs won’t fit into any other stripper bars.”

As the city gears up for November’s election, voters may just decide to bring their frustrations about the city’s shady development history to the polling stations.
Laliberté believes the mainstream public could co-exist with the kinky sub-culture that now exists on the Main. “We could totally use the abandoned buildings to turn it into something Montreal citizens want,” she says.
As flames take over one of those abandoned buildings this week, one has to wonder if that idea is just a far-away dream.