Home Base at the Belgo

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The view from our corner of a historic locale

Plank has been calling the Belgo Building home since 2000. Located at Ste. Catherine and Bleury, it’s in the heart of downtown Montreal. It’s easy to miss amongst the hustle and bustle, but we think it’s worth a closer look. The Belgo is a curious building with a long and storied history. We know there’s a lot more to uncover – that’s part of its charm – but here is a little glimpse.

By Jeangagnon ([1]) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Belgo Building was originally constructed to house W.H. Scroggie’s department store, which opened on November 25, 1913. Scroggie ambitiously touted its new location as a “Store of Wonders,” promising myriad benefits to shoppers and employees alike. We’re still investigating whether the animal show featuring a real lion ever actually materialized, but it was the largest department store in Montreal at the time. Scroggie’s ambitions may have been too high, however, and sold their operations to Almy’s, an American department store,
a short two years later. Almy’s lasted until 1922.

The Belgo also housed the Traymore Cafe and Windsor Bowling and Billiards, and became one of the central buildings for the needle trade in Montreal. Several other buildings in the neighbourhood – the Jacobs, Blumenthal, and Kellert buildings – were an important hub of the fur and garment industry. The Belgo is the only one of those buildings to survive, the others were demolished to make room for Place Des Arts in the early 1960s. 

In the 1980s, artists began occupying the run-down Belgo Building, staging temporary exhibitions and establishing studios and galleries. Today, the building still houses many independent galleries, and is well known as a hotspot for art-lovers. 

For a sketch of the Belgo’s history, check out this comic by Jack Ruttan.

These days, the Belgo is a mixed bag of galleries and art studios, dance companies, therapists, and agencies. On our floor alone, we share the creaky floorboards with hip-hop dancers, yogis, kung-fu students, and even a garment manufacturer. There’s a gorgeous Breather space right next door to our office, if you ever feel like being our neighbour for a day.

If you’re interested in checking out the galleries at the Belgo, The Belgo Report is the best scene report on what is going on in the building and provides a comprehensive listing of news and reviews relating to all of the various exhibitions taking place in the space. We’re lucky to be in such a creative building and share this location with esteemed galleries and artisans. Montreal’s annual Nuit Blanche is always a big party here in the Belgo, with lots of open doors to explore. 

Over the years we’ve been here, we’ve noticed lots of little things that make working in this iconic building even more “interesting”.

  • Located just behind several important government offices, as well as the American Embassy, we have a perfect view of virtually any march, protest, or demonstration in Montreal.
  • With Musique Plus (now noovo) right across the street, we’ve seen lots of visits from Boy Bands. This also means lots of teenage girls and lots of shrill screaming and crying! Plankers sometimes get caught in the action.
  • Just a block from Place des Arts / Place des Festivals, there is always something to check out on the street, whether it’s food trucks, interactive art, or outdoor entertainment.

But if you’re not looking, maybe you’ll find it…

If you’ve never visited the Belgo Building, do make a point to come and explore next time you’re kicking around downtown. We promise you will see the unique charm that makes this place so special.

This post was written with files from Plank alumni, Sarah Bagnall and Tanya McGinnity.