Sainte-Catherine Street

Between Atwater and Papineau Sts, Montreal
Montreal, Canada

Submitted by: Christopher DeWolf

A long urban retail street.

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Why It Works

Ste-Catherine Street is Montreal's indisputable main street. Its main portion, stretching for two and a half miles from Atwater Street in the west to Papineau Street in the east, runs through a high-density residential neighbourhood, Montreal's main retail district, the burgeoning festival district, a former red light district, the Latin Quarter, and Gay Village. Throughout, it is constantly thronged with a diverse crowd of pedestrians from around Montreal. This is a twenty-four hour street that is constantly active.

What Makes Sainte-Catherine Street a Great Place?

Ste-Catherine is a one-way street with two lanes of moving traffic and two parking lanes. A metro (subway) line runs parallel to it and six major stations are located on the street, including the two busiest stations in Montreal. One bus route runs the length of Ste-Catherine, but dozens of routes connect to it via the cross streets. Also located near the street are Montreal's main intercity train and bus stations, as well as its two main commuter train terminals.

Being the main downtown street, taxis cruise down Ste-Catherine and can be easily hailed.

Ste-Catherine draws from a large pool of people. Nearly 100,000 downtown residents live within several minutes' walk of it, along with hundreds of thousands of additional office workers. Tourists and shoppers from the rest of the city frequent Ste-Catherine both during the week and on the weekend. Perhaps most importantly, three major universities -- representing a total of roughly 90,000 students -- are located on or adjacent to Ste-Catherine Street: Concordia, McGill and the Université du Québec à Montréal.

Ste-Catherine features architecture both grand and grimy, but its constant bustle unifies the street. West of Guy Street, it serves mostly the residents of surrounding high-rise apartment blocks, many of whom are students and young immigrants. Between Guy and University, the street takes on the role of both nightlife destination and retail hub. Strip clubs, often located in the upper floors or basements of buildings, coexist with chain stores such as the Gap and HMV. Further east, the street can be at times grungy, but it is never unsafe due to the constant flow of pedestrians. At its eastern extremity is the Village, a lively and gentrified gay neighbourhood that draws both tourists and Montrealers.

Ste-Catherine's sidewalks are relatively wide, but they often suffer from the crush of pedestrians, especially during summer months. There are few benches along the sidewalks but many public squares and plazas line the street, creating nodes of activity where people gather and congregate.

Auto traffic is often congested, which, combined with the many pedestrians, can at times create a noisy and somewhat oppressive atmosphere.

Ste-Catherine is a successful street due simply to its enormous range of activities. In the west, it contains many grocery stores and small neighbourhood restaurants, many of which cater to the area's large Chinese and Arab populations. Prominent department stores and other retail outlets draw people to the central portion of the street. At night, bars and restaurants keep the activity going. In the west and east, Concordia University and UQAM -- both of which are located directly on Ste-Catherine -- draw thousands of students to the street each day. In the east, the Gay Village's restaurants and bars -- but also boutiques and grocery stores -- maintain a constant level of activity. Hotels are located throughout the street.

Ste-Catherine combines residential, business and cultural activities to create a well-rounded street. The latter is especially evident in the five multiplex cinemas located on or just off Ste-Catherine; the large performing arts complex of Place-des-Arts; live theatres; and many nightclubs and bars, especially around Crescent Street in the west and St-Denis Street and the Gay Village in the east.

An abundance of public squares and plazas exist on Ste-Catherine, most of which are very well-used. In the west, Cabot Square is the terminus for many bus routes; McGill College Avenue and Place Ville-Marie provide pleasant seating areas and a sightline towards Mount Royal; Phillips Square and Berri Square are both popular places to sit, meet and linger; and Place-des-Arts, with its multilevel terrace and fountains, is a popular meeting spot for Montrealers.

Although street food vending is illegal in Montreal, vendors selling flowers and trinkets are common along Ste-Catherine.

Ste-Catherine attracts a very wide range of people and the mood is usually jovial, if at times hurried. Tourists are present on the street, sometimes in great numbers, but they are always outnumbered by locals: families come downtown to spend an afternoon, students, businesspeople, teenagers and so forth. Due to the high auto and pedestrian traffic, panhandlers and "squeegee kids" are also present and very visible, but rarely do they pose a threat.

Related Links:

  • Wikipedia - information on Rue Sainte-Catherine from an online encyclopedia
  • Montreal Tourism - visitors information on Sainte-Catherine and Montreal

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