The Heart of Downtown
By the mid-19th century, people were moving to Saint-Roch in droves. Pressures soon mounted to create a public market where they could buy food close to home. And so the City opened the Jacques-Cartier Market in 1847. It quickly became the bustling centre of a thriving part of town, and in time Place Jacques-Cartier, too, became a business hub and a lively cultural crossroads.
A natural crossroads
The shipyards drew huge numbers of new residents to Saint-Roch from the 1820s onward. In no time, the area from the cliff to Rivière Saint-Charles and from the mouth of the river to the General Hospital was inhabited.
Two of the neighbourhood’s busiest roads met where the Jacques-Cartier Market would later stand: rue de la Couronne at the bottom of côte d’Abraham (the easiest way to travel between Upper and Lower Town) and rue Saint-Joseph, the only street to cut across the whole district from east to west. And so the City chose this very spot for the new public market, not least because it was just steps from Saint-Roch Church, a popular gathering place.
An eagerly awaited market
The site was chosen in 1847, but it was another 10 years before construction began. The enormous covered market was made from brick, its two storeys housing not only 24 butcher’s stalls, but two upstairs rooms used for public meetings and theatre performances. So it was that the market square became the business, social, and cultural hub of Saint-Roch.
The market also gave a boost to rue Saint-Joseph. The crowds attracted merchants to the street, which was soon bustling with shoppers. A smaller building was added next to the bigger one in 1866, drawing more butchers, fish merchants, and grocers to the area.
A public square
As a new century dawned and rue Saint-Joseph transformed into the new heart of town with its department stores, tramway, and electric lighting, the market was a very busy place indeed. It was even the venue for the city’s first movie projection, in the Jacques-Cartier Market building that the popular Variety Theatre called home.
The smaller building was knocked down in 1910, one year before its larger counterpart was gutted by fire. Even with these buildings out of the picture, Place Jacques-Cartier did not become any less important, instead growing into a major bus and tramway hub, with some of the city’s most important buildings encircling it.
A new vocation
The square slowly lost its status as the city centre following Saint-Roch’s demographic and business decline around the 1960s and the closing of the department stores along neighbouring rue Saint-Joseph.
When the Gabrielle-Roy Library opened in the square in 1983, it breathed new life into the area, a process that has continued to this day. The public building came with an office block, cementing the neighbourhood’s role as a cultural centre. The library was a resounding success and played a key role in revitalizing the district.
The future of Place Jacques-Cartier
Today projects seeking to modernize this downtown square look to Saint-Roch’s new identity: the neighbourhood has become a hotbed of design, particularly in new communication technologies. This new role for the 21st century is sure to leave its mark on the square’s character and appeal.