Montreal

Ubisoft at 20: It's changed Mile End, but for the better?

When Ubisoft opened its Montreal studio in the old Peck Building at the corner St-Laurent Boulevard and St-Viateur Street in 1997, it was originally envisioned as a 500-person shop. It now employs 3,000 people, or a quarter of the French company's international workforce.

Video game giant celebrates 20 years in Montreal's Mile End neighbourhood this weekend

Thanks to massive hits like Assassin's Creed, Ubisoft's international growth has seen its Montreal studio expand to 3,000 employees. (Ubisoft)

It's been 20 years since French video game developer Ubisoft first set up shop in Montreal's Mile End neighbourhood, and some say the community has never been the same.

On the one hand, it's argued that change has been a good thing for Mile End, not to mention a boon for local businesses.

But others say that influx of money and young professionals has altered the character of the neighbourhood by driving out many of the artists who gave it its famous bohemian flair.

3,000 employees

When Ubisoft opened its Montreal studio in the old Peck Building at the corner of St-Laurent Boulevard and St-Viateur Street in 1997, it was originally envisioned as a 500-person shop.

Ubisoft's Montreal office opened at the corner of St-Laurent Boulevard and St-Viateur Street in 1997. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Thanks to meteoric growth sparked by massive hits like the video game Assassin's Creed, the company's Montreal office now employs 3,000 people, or a quarter of Ubisoft's international workforce.

Cédric Orvoine, Ubisoft's vice president of communications and human resources, says the company has done its best to nurture its growth as a business while maintaining the Mile End's traditional "eco-system."

"What we have in Mile End is kind of a fine balance, in terms of social communities, of businesses and in terms of cultural presence," he told CBC Montreal.

"We've been involved in the community through various initiatives, and we feel we've had a very positive impact on the area."

St-Viateur Street in the heart of Mile End is renowned for its cafes and, of course, bagels. (CBC)

The company's website lists local community activities it is involved in, including an annual Christmas food drive in collaboration with the Mile End Community Mission, blood donation drives for Héma-Québec and support for Pixelles, a group "dedicated to empowering more women to make and change games."

On Saturday, Ubisoft will celebrate its 20th anniversary in the neighbourhood with a party full of games and music that's open to all of its neighbours.

Development at odds with diversity?

When it comes to mixed feelings about the company's impact on Mile End, Orvoine said economic development is happening in areas across Montreal, including the Plateau–Mont-Royal, Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie, and Hochelaga-Maisonneuve.

"Montreal is changing, it's evolving, and I think that's a good thing," he said.

Yumna Siddiqi, who has lived in Mile End for nine years, feels the changes taking place in the neighbourhood predate Ubisoft's arrival, but said there's no denying the company's impact.

"It's become much more expensive and very, very trendy," she said.

The neighbourhood has changed over the years, but some say it is driving out many of the artists who gave it its famous bohemian flair. (Radio-Canada)

"I think it's become unaffordable for a lot of the artists who used to live here, so we are actually moving."

As she researched new neighbourhoods, she looked into Mile End's demographics and claimed she found very few residents over the age of 80, and few children.

"What it told us is this neighbourhood has become a much more wealthy, upper middle-class, professional  neighbourhood with much less of a range in terms of education and age," she said.

That's put property values out of reach for a family like hers.

"As much as I love this neighbourhood, it was just too expensive to buy a large enough space for me and my family," Siddiqi said.

With files from Laura Marchand and CBC's Daybreak

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