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'Circus City' properties have grown with Cirque du Soleil

Tour the area around Cirque headquarters. The troupe is proud of the social and cultural contributions it makes to the Saint-Michel neighbourhood in north Montreal. ‘We have always strived to be a neighbour of choice'

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Cirque du Soleil's head office in Montreal. Fifteen years ago, Cirque chose to build in Saint-Michel in the north end of Montreal, a neighbourhood with a history of gang violence and where many families live in poverty.

Cirque du Soleil

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New wings have been added as the business has grown. The studio, finished in 1997, holds three acrobatic training rooms. The Ateliers was added in 2001 for construction of props and costumes. Le Mat, or the mast, completed in 2007, added eight floors of offices for administrative space.

Cirque du Soleil

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An exterior view of Cirque du Soleil headquarters taken in November from the National Circus School.

Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

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The windswept area around the Cirque du Soleil headquarters. The Cirque complex, which has expanded over the years, borders what used to be a limestone quarry and then a city dump. By locating there, the Cirque hoped that one byproduct of its creative mission would be urban renewal of the neighbourhood.

Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

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A residence for artists was built across the street from Cirque headquarters in 2003. Gaétan Morency, vice-president of citizenship for Cirque, says the company has helped to change the way residents think about Saint-Michel. ‘Instead of being the landfill neighbourhood, it is the Cirque du Soleil neighbourhood. That’s a very big difference.’

Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

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Artists’ residence. The municipal government stopped trucking waste to the quarry/dump in 2000. The two-square-kilometre area, officially called the Saint-Michel Environmental Complex, has been turned into a park with an artificial lake and bike paths, cross-country ski trails and various outdoor sports facilities. A network of sunken pipes collect gas from decomposing garbage to be burned to produce electricity.

Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

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TOHU, a neighbourhood cultural centre with a circular stage that offers regular performances, seen from the parking lot of Cirque du Soleil. Cirque has launched a program in the local schools and is one of the partners in TOHU.

Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

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The National Circus School was built down the street across from the Cirque du Soleil, adding to the ‘Circus City’ complex.

Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

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Neighbourhood around the Cirque du Soleil. Developers have been slow to follow Cirque’s lead in the neighbourhood. Pierre Durocher, who works with the non-profit community organization Vivre Saint-Michel en Santé, hopes that once the park is completed in 2020 that other development and businesses may come.

Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

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Mr. Morency is proud of the social and cultural contributions Cirque du Soleil makes to Saint-Michel. ‘We have always strived to be a neighbour of choice. To be a neighbour of choice you have to meet your neighbours and know them and see what their issues are,’ he says.

Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

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