Montreal Modern: Retro Culture and the Modern Past in Montreal


  • Kristian Handberg Institute of Arts and Culture, the University of Copenhagen, Denmark



Retro, cultural memory, material culture, second-hand culture, Canadian culture, kitsch, subculture, popular culture


Through analyses of the retro scenes in Montreal, Canada, the article discusses retro culture’s role as cultural memory. It is shown how Montreal’s cultural identity is formed by memories of modern culture such as the Red-light and Sin City reputation of the illicit nightlife of the 1940s and 1950s, and the space age modernism of the 1960s following the Expo 67 and Quebec’s Quiet Revolution. This is reflected in the city’s thriving retro culture through the study of two groups of retro shops. In circulating specific memories and objects in a specific context, retro is an important negotiation of the past in the present. Especially, it is stated that the retro culture displays “local accents” and a new focus on the specificities of modern culture giving a revaluation to a previously overlooked identity such as the Quebecité.


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Empirical resources (September to December 2012 in Montreal):

Cul-de-Sac, 3966 Boulevard Saint-Laurent, Montreal, Quebec.

Friperie St-Laurent, 3976 Boulevard Saint-Laurent, Montreal, Quebec.

Kitsch ‘n’ Swell, 3972 Boulevard Saint-Laurent, Montreal, Quebec (

Montrealité, 3960 Boulevard Saint-Laurent, Montreal, Quebec (

Rokokonut, 3972, Boulevard Saint-Laurent, Montreal, Quebec.

Cité Déco Meubles, 1761 Rue Amherst, Montreal, Quebec (

Jack’s Objets et Mobiliers Moderne de XXe Siécle, 1883 Rue Amherst, Montreal, Quebec. (

Le 1863, 1863 Rue Amherst, Montreal, Quebec.

Mtlmodern, 1851 Rue Amherst, Montreal, Quebec.

PEI Mobilier Moderne 20e Siécle, 1023 Rue Ontario Est, Montreal Quebec.

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Old Wig Vintage Fair October 4th-6th 2012, Bain Mathieu, 2915 Rue Ontario Est, Montreal Quebec.

Rock around the Broc (Rockabilly concert and fashion fair) October 27th 2012, 425 Beaubien, Montreal Quebec.

Concert: Bloodshot Bill + Capitol Tease Burlesque + Lyse and the Hot Kitchen, La Salla Rossa, November 23th, 4848 Boulevard St. Laurent.




How to Cite

Handberg, K. (2015) “Montreal Modern: Retro Culture and the Modern Past in Montreal”, Culture Unbound, 7(1), pp. 67–89. doi: 10.3384/cu.2000.1525.157167.



Theme: Circulating Stuff through Second-hand, Vintage and Retro Markets