Farine Five Roses factory Montreal Niche MTL manifesto

The Niche MTL Manifesto

“It could not be a better time to celebrate Montreal’s cultural life in all its diversity and inclusivity. Niche MTL is our new column and we’re ready for that task. Not too big, not too small, it’s Niche MTL.”

Which iconic building is this? 

Hint: it’s on every Montreal mood board along with bagels and Smoked Meat sandwiches, Rue Barrée signs and orange cones. If you said Farine Five Roses, congratulations, you win! 

It is not, however, the traditional perspective from which this familiar edifice is often photographed. It’s taken at a different angle, from within the niche.

Niche is an often misused word. Nowadays we deploy niche to underscore the hyper-specificity of something hyper-specific, something that appeals only to a select few. 

You might say, for instance, that Arcade Fire is Montreal’s biggest rock band, but Godspeed You! Black Emperor appeals to a more niche audience. Or float further into the fractal: Godspeed You! Black Emperor is Montreal’s biggest post-rock band, but Fly Pan Am appeals to a more niche audience. A rich continuum of niche-ness emerges.

Montreal is uber-niche under this definition. One could argue that Paris is the world’s French cultural capital, but Montreal, Quebec, is niche. We’re not Paris, not New York, not Berlin, and we’re definitely not Toronto. And yet Montreal is among, and in some ways greater, than any of these. We’re a totally unique city, one-of-a-kind, but not for everyone. Niche.

We use the word niche this way, but niche is not primarily an adjective. It’s a noun. A niche is a physical space in which something else exists. It is an architectural feature. You’ll find niches predominantly in devotional places like churches and art galleries. Niches are indents or recesses in walls, carved out to showcase objects, like a sculpture or something else special. 

There is lots in Montreal that is niche, and that also needs a niche to showcase its niche-ness. There is an overabundance of cultural production in this niche city that flies under our radar, and all too often, flies elsewhere. The Montreal musician Julien Racine recently reminded me of this condition in our interview for this publication: As much as Montreal prides itself upon supporting its local scenes, there is only so much space upon the critical landscape. We have an exceptional problem: there is more signal than noise.

Montreal has Cult MTL, the city’s only English-language broadsheet, and thank goodness. Plus, there is MTL Blog, FnoMTL and other Montreal-defining feeds. No city loves to talk about itself as much as Montreal. And yet there is no niche for things like opera (which never used to be niche, but is now), jazz, travel, nature, animation, satire.

So I (along with the folks at Cult MTL) went ahead and carved out one: we launched Niche MTL as a column and a URL, with accounts on Instagram, Twitter and TikTok. (That’s probably enough niche for now!)

NicheMTL will be a space for things that are too niche for Montreal’s other publications, but nonetheless worthy of special attention. A niche doesn’t necessarily need to be ornate, either. It can start out austere. It’s what’s inside the niche that counts. 

In the early 2000s, Constellation Records posted a manifesto on their website: “The world has not changed. Evil cowards rule the world and terror prevails on all sides.” 

That world hasn’t and won’t change. The strategy now is to create a space where things can change, and terror is a stranger knocking at the door.

There are two possible outcomes for Niche MTL. It could become nothing. A lot of things become nothing. Or it could become something. It is already a web address, so it exists in what we consider space nowadays. Whether it becomes something else is something else. We’re not expecting nothing. If you are something, don’t ask for nothing, kinda thing.

The artist Dale Nigel Goble was the first person I knew who was an artist and nothing else. I grew up in Edmonton and moved to Montreal in 2004. Edmonton before 2004 didn’t have a lot of artists. But Dale had good ideas and worked hard to realize them.

Dale had lots of little sayings that he would scrawl on torn pieces of paper and duct tape to the wall. Things like, “before you can be, you must do,” and “don’t let your pies cool on the windowsill.” Dale died in 2019 at age 47.

One of Dale’s early motifs was to paint an otherwise completely darkened skyscraper with one solitary light on. That light was supposed to represent him, toiling away in his studio. I couldn’t help but think of Dale when I saw the light on above the niche in Farine Five Roses. It attracted me like a moth, like this city did.

The lifestyle is why people want to live in Montreal: the music, the art, the architecture, the literature, the theatre, the dance, the cinema, the scholarship, and yes, even the French. Montreal’s Old Port is this nation’s old port. It is the nerve centre for this side of Canada, and that is evident in the people who come here and the culture they produce.

People born and raised in Montreal always compare Montreal to other cities, as if tilting at some imaginary city-sized windmill, but there is no comparison, other than it is, in fact, a city. Montreal is a real, bona fide, modern, international metropolis. It doesn’t have to be the Berlin of Canada, or the Paris of North America. Montreal is the Montreal of Montreal. 

As such, Montreal deserves a dedicated publication that serves our niche, and serves it well. This niche will be a showcase for the kinds of things that come from Montreal, that are made in Montreal, that might have been transplanted here, but nonetheless take root and grow in Montreal. 

This incomparable city, and the fruits of its distinct culture, belong to no culture. The French might have colonized Quebec, but there were people here before, and many still to come. They will want a niche. 

It could not be a better time to celebrate Montreal’s cultural life in all its diversity and inclusivity. Niche MTL is our new column and we’re ready for that task. Not too big, not too small, it’s Niche MTL. ■

This article originally appeared in the June 2022 issue of Cult MTL.

For more Niche MTL, please visit the Niche MTL section.