Radio-Canada's 70,000-piece costume collection gets new home

Radio-Canada's iconic costume collection has been closeted for almost a year due to budget cuts at the Crown corporation, but it's found a new home - and a new lease on life.

One of North America's largest costume collections soon to open for business again in new heritage home

Radio-Canada's 90,000-piece costume collection will be moving to a new home in April 2016. (Radio-Canada)

When Radio-Canada announced it was closing its costume department to save money late in 2014, the Crown corporation's French-language television viewers were shocked.

With 70,000 costumes and 20,000 accessories, it's one of the largest collections in North America.

Many Quebecers have fond memories of what the characters wore in beloved television shows from their childhood --- programs such as Passe-Partout and Le temps d'une paix.

Thirty thousand people signed a petition to save the collection.

The Quebec Ministry of Culture stepped in to save some of the most precious costumes, sending them to the Musée de la civilisation de Québec – costumes from children's programs such as Bobino and Fanfreluche, period costumes from television series such as Belles histoires des pays d'en haut and La soirée du hockey.

For almost a year, it looked as though the rest of the collection would be dismantled.

Brainstorming to save collection

But behind the scenes, producers, costume designers and city of Montreal officials were brainstorming about how to save the collection and make it available to film and television productions shot in the city.

This week, in an exemplary show of solidarity, the city of Montreal, Quebec's Ministry of Culture, Radio-Canada, private producers and a not-for-profit community development corporation announced they'd come up with a solution: Le grand costumier.

With a new logo and new location, Le grand costumier will be a costume-lending and creation service available to anyone working in the film and television industry in Montreal.

Heritage home for heritage collection

The collection will be housed on five floors of back storage rooms at the former Montreal library, now known as the Édifice Gaston-Miron.

The city of Montreal will clean up the rooms and outfit them with new lighting and proper temperature controls – an investment of $600,000 – and given to Le grand costumier for a token rent of one dollar per year.

Le grand costumier is expected to pay for itself once the original investment is made. It will not operate with public grant money.

Private partners

Three Montreal private film production companies are also partners in the venture, including the company producing this year's le Bye-Bye, the annual year-end review that airs on New Year's Eve on Radio-Canada.

Le Bye-Bye's producer, Louis-Philippe Drolet, said this year, it was a scramble to find outfits for the production.  

In past years, he would have simply dipped into the collection. 

Collection to be online

The province is kicking in $100,000 to digitize the collection, to make it accessible online for prospective rentals.

Quebec Culture Minister Hélène David says it's the "perfect ending [to] what was, at first, a sad story...and a beautiful beginning of something new."

"The television and cinema industry is important to Montreal," David said. "Now producers will come to this magnificent heritage building. It's a perfect place with a perfect business plan to do this."

It's also a happy ending for Radio-Canada's senior vice-president, Louis Lalande.

"I feel very good, very proud," Lalande said, "to have a project that really shows our care about cultural vitality."

Le grand costumier opens in the new location in April 2016.


Jeanette Kelly works as the arts reporter at CBC Montreal. She's also the host of Cinq à Six, Quebec's Saturday afternoon culture show on CBC Radio One.


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