A Renewed Tradition
Québec City’s former industrial and commercial core has seen a remarkable rebirth since the 1990s. Saint-Roch’s revitalization is largely due to the designers, artists, and digital communications professionals the city has attracted under its redevelopment plan. Focusing on innovators and innovation as a source of growth builds on a long tradition in the neighbourhood.
A starting point
To breathe new life into Saint-Roch, the City of Québec turned to the world of art and design in the early 1990s. Since many artists already worked in the neighbourhood, including in the Chambre Blanche collective, it targeted artistic creativity as a new source of vitality. The City attracted Université Laval’s School of Visual Arts to the La Fabrique building on boulevard Charest. It also leant its support to Méduse, a new contemporary art production cooperative and venue. And it offered incentives to encourage other artists to set up their studios in the area. In a span of a few short years, nearly a hundred studios formed a thriving cluster of artists in Saint-Roch.
A springboard for ICTs
The City also took advantage of a Government of Québec initiative aimed at promoting new information and communications technologies (ICTs) by offering tax incentives to ITC companies that located in a specific part of the neighbourhood. As a result, Saint-Roch now has a high concentration of ITC businesses of all sizes where innovation is a daily practice if not key to survival.
An innovative synergy
These two groups increasingly rub shoulders and work together in this neighbourhood where innovation is not only present but also highly visible and a big draw, with events such as architectural projections on the façade of the Saint-Roch Church, the annual multidisciplinary ambulatory theatre show Où tu vas quand tu dors en marchant?, and Mois Multi, an international festival of multidisciplinary and electronic arts.
Events like Webcamp Québec, which brings together Web users and designers in Saint-Roch, and Challenge Pixel, which combines master classes in computer animation, games, and modelling with a digital arts and interactive entertainment competition, are other sources of continuous innovation for artists in Québec City and elsewhere.
A tradition of innovation
Saint-Roch did not become Québec City’s economic heart in the late-19th century by chance. After the period of strong growth driven by shipbuilding on the Saint-Charles River, the neighbourhood continued to develop in the same way other North American cities did. In the 1870s the first steam engines set the city’s industrialization in motion in Saint-Roch, where some 200 shoe factories set up shop. Large companies such as Dominion Corset and Rock City Tobacco also opened in Saint-Roch and became nationally and internationally known for their productivity and spirit of innovation.
In the 1880s merchants joined the new department store craze to turn rue Saint-Joseph into a modern shopping street, and the City was quick to add electric lighting and electric tramway service. The street became the pride of Québec City. But merchants had to keep innovating to attract and earn the loyalty of customers. Québec City’s first “talking picture” theatre opened its doors on rue Saint-Joseph just one year after the first one opened in the United States. At the turn of the 20th century, another local business, F.-X. Drolet, became a leader in business automation and, later, elevator manufacturing.
Innovation truly has deep roots in Saint-Roch—and a very bright future.