Musician Martha Wainwright fights to keep Mile End cool with new café, Ursa

Preserving Mile End and keeping it out of the hands of developers is one of the motivations behind the new Martha Wainwright-powered café concept, Ursa, located under Pop Montreal’s headquarters on Parc Avenue.

New space set to open in June at 5589 Parc Avenue, beneath Pop Montreal headquarters

Martha Wainwright stands outside her new 'arts-culture-community centre,' Ursa, with Pop Montreal's Dan Seligman reflected in the door's window. The two are now in the same building. (Nantali Indongo/CBC)

Preserving Mile End and keeping it out of the hands of developers is one of the motivations behind the new Martha Wainwright-powered café concept, Ursa, located under Pop Montreal's headquarters on Parc Avenue.

The café aims to be community-based, featuring free performances and art events.

"A lot of artists have a fantasy of singing and having a café-thing and I'm actually doing it," said Wainwright.

Martha Wainwright had debating buying space in Villeray for her café but decided Parc Avenue would be better because of the pedestrian traffic. Ursa is on the ground floor. (Nantali Indongo/CBC)

The singer-songwriter bought the space beneath Pop Montreal headquarters for both the foot traffic Parc Avenue would offer and for its proximity to her friends at the music festival — Wainwright performed at the first edition of Pop Montreal in 2002.

Dan Seligman, the festival's co-founder and creative director, said spaces like Ursa help claim the neighbourhood.

"It's up to us, cultural communities, to continue to do things here, or other people will come in and take over and make it less cool," Seligman said.

Wainwright lived in the area as a teenager and then lived in New York City for nearly 20 years. She's back in Mile End and said she sees elements of the West Village in it.

She hopes to help preserve its charm.

"When I saw the building, the first thing that came to mind was, 'Don't change anything,'" she said.

"I love this space. I love Pop Montreal. I love this building."

Pop announces 1st wave of acts

It's been a week of announcements for Pop Montreal, as Seligman spoke about Wainwright's new venture while discussing some of the artists booked into this year's edition of the festival.

One big get for the 18th edition is Laurie Anderson — she's been creating art since the 1970s, and the festival has been trying to book her for several years.

"A lot of the local musicians and artists in Montreal have come up to me and told me we have to book her," Seligman said.

Other acts include Australian musician Nick Cave and the powerhouse vocalist, Tika.

Kelman Duran is another act to watch for: he's a Dominican-American DJ who was named an Artist You Need to Know by Rolling Stone magazine.

This is just the first wave of artists announced by Pop Montreal. The festival runs Sept. 25 to 29 in venues around Montreal.

With files from Nantali Indongo


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Account Holder

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?