Meet Henri Tranquille, whose name Montreal has given to a new public space

The public space temporarily called Esplanade Clark now has a new name: Esplanade Tranquille.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante announced Wednesday the public space behind the Montreal police headquarters, west of Clark Street and just north of Ste-Catherine Street, will be named after Quebec writer Henri Tranquille, who owned a bookstore on that stretch of Ste-Catherine in the 1940s. 

"The new name pays homage to Librairie Tranquille and its owner, Henri Tranquille, who contributed to the richness of the history and the culture of the city," said Plante.

Tranquille's bookstore was the place where an influential group of young artists and intellectuals gathered in 1948 to launch their Refus global — a manifesto rejecting the power of the Catholic church in Quebec and calling for the liberation of Quebec society.

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The city now plans to renovate the space named after Tranquille to include an outdoor skating rink in the winter and an urban terrasse in the summer. Plante said the newly configured Esplanade Tranquille will open next year. 

"It embodies the development vision of the Quartier des Spectacles, which is to live, create, learn and be entertained in the city centre," said Plante.

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Hub for Quebec's artistic and literary avant-garde

Librairie Tranquille opened its doors on May 8, 1948 at 67 Ste-Catherine Street West.

It soon became a gathering place for Quebec's artistic and literary avant-garde.

The bookstore frequently featured exhibitions of sculptures and paintings by emerging artists like sculptor Robert Roussil and painters Paul-Émile Borduas, Marcelle Ferron and others.

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As a creative hub, the bookstore was a magnet for young, intellectual Quebecers questioning the values of traditional society. Sixteen of them signed the Refus global, which called for a total rejection of all conventional thinking and advocated for a freedom of ideas. 

One of the most influential artistic and social documents in Quebec's modern history, it was distributed at the bookstore.

The artists' denunciation of the authority of the Catholic Church was a scandalous position at the time. But their ideas ushered in modern Quebec society and set the stage for the Quiet Revolution.

Tranquille drew sharp criticism from some prominent members of Quebec society for his liberal political views — including from members of the Catholic clergy. 

In a letter to Tranquille in 1949, Monsignor Albert Valois, the director of the Diocesan Committee for Catholic Action, implored the bookstore owner to remove from his shelves the works of French author Émile Zola.

Valois also condemned Tranquille when the bookstore owner threw an extravagant party in memory of Honoré de Balzac on the 100th anniversary of his death in August 1950.

As the Quiet Revolution took hold and Quebec became a modern society, the bookstore became increasingly irrelevant. It declared bankruptcy in 1975. 

Université de Sherbrooke