When the Council of ministers discussed the draft of the Museum Just for laughs, Gilbert Rozon

Photo: Pedro Ruiz The Duty
In its own evaluation, the permanent Committee within the ministry of cultural and social affairs indicates that the project of the museum “not responding to an important need of our society.”

The Museum project Just for laughs in Montreal, supported by the State, frankly, the prime minister Robert Bourassa did not find him funny in 1991. “The population does not include such an investment at a loss “, predicted his Finance minister, Gérard D. Lévesque. Claude Ryan, also in the cabinet, shared this opinion, then, that an economic crisis struck the country.


Canada has experienced one of its three worst recessions since the Second world War from march 1990 to April 1992. The dream museum of the king of humor Gilbert Rozon has been supported during these hard times. The minutes of the meeting of the executive Council on 27 February 1991, for example, is out the support of Daniel Johnson jr, then president of the treasury Board.


The division of the firm, as revealed by the archives recently made public, has not prevented the payment of an envelope of 5.5 million by Quebec (and Ottawa) out of a total budget of 21 million. The museum opened in 1993 has rapidly turned into a disaster. This predictable end was also considered in the analysis folder.


The closures and the successive failures of the relaunch of the Museum of humor, until the ultimate end of 2010, have been well documented previously. Records dug up two decades ago have already allowed them to understand the exaggeration of attendance data projected to support the viability of the project and ultimately the support of both levels of government. The transcript of the Council of ministers, in contrast, offers the first tangible evidence and undeniable of the division of the firm, but also supporters of corporate Mr. Rozon.


The socio-political influence of Gilbert Rozon was still visible there a few weeks ago. The cultural entrepreneur has acted as statutory auditor of the Company for celebrations of the 375th anniversary of the city of Montreal until his resignation now in October in the wake of accusations of harassment and sexual violence in The line of Duty and on 98.5 FM.


His empire is for sale. The ex-prime minister Pierre Marc Johnson, brother of Daniel Johnson’s son, is a member of the board of directors of the Just for laughs Festival.


The project


There are a quarter of a century, the same Gilbert Rozon succeeded, therefore, be to support a project for the museum of humor in presenting it as a project holder of the 350th anniversary of the city.


The executive Council discusses the folder on the museum of humor at its meeting of 27 February 1991, chaired by the prime minister Robert Bourassa. Fourteen ministers are involved in the discussion who also wear that day on a draft law amending the law on cinema, and a plan of remediation of contaminated sites. The folder of the museum of humor is the last one discussed.


The minister Liza Frulla-Hébert (now Liza Frulla), licensee of cultural Affairs (which became the ministry of Culture the following year), submits to his colleagues a report of analysis dated February 1991. The summary explains that the Just for laughs Festival develops the project of a building complex integrating a set of activities on the theme of humour ” since 1989. At the same time, a related company, Films Rozon inc., bought with a partner in the building of the former brewery Eckers (then Dow), Saint-Laurent boulevard in Montreal.


The complex of the laughter must include a nightclub, a museum, a documentation centre, shops, School, humor, etc., The sponsor evaluates the set at 21 million, and requests $ 5.5 million to Quebec to Ottawa, and $ 2.5 million to the City.


The agreement in principle of the ministry is granted the July 12, 1990 provided they do not participate in the costs of operation of the future museum. “The submission noted that the final form of the draft tabled on 6 December 1990, in fact, a project of non-standard relative to the financial Assistance program for cultural facilities. “The standard does not recognize as eligible only half of the complex, about 3,000 of the approximately 6,000 square meters of the total.




The memorandum of understanding signed with the ministry of cultural Affairs provides that the sponsor assumes all the cost overruns and ” the totality of the funding of the operations of the equipment.” The treasury Board recommends approval of the project.


By contrast, in its own assessment cited, the permanent Committee within the ministry of cultural and social affairs said that the draft ” does not respond to an important need of our society.”


Robert Bourassa himself is concerned about ” the way [the project] will be perceived in the public in the context of economic and budget “, summarizes the thesis deliberation. Claude Ryan, then minister of municipal Affairs, is going in the same direction, finding it ” difficult to justify a museum of humour in the current context, both socially and financially “.


Michel Pagé, minister of Education, sees the perspective in which the museum vacillerait after the government support. Gérard D. Lévesque, minister of Finance, notes that “the latest economic forecasts are very worrying, “and that” something very hard should be taken by the government “.


He expressed ” great reservations about this project “, and as the other he hopes for “at least” to change the name of the Museum Just for laughs from the festival. The Museum of the humour will come back to this name more known at the time of an attempt of recovery.




In the early 1990s, the government Bourassa is committed in spending cuts in the whole of the administrative machine. The only annual grant from the Quebec to the great museums was cut by 2.5 million. In its objection, Claude Ryan cites the example of ” the financial difficulties experienced by the housing programs “.


Daniel Johnson, president of the treasury Board, turns out to be the most ardent defender of the folder of the museum of humor. He sees it as “a unique project “which” will increase the number of attractions that already has the city of Montreal “. It also establishes a link with the recent participation of the government for the acquisition of the Expos.


“In this case, it is a promoter in quebec that presents itself,” says the summary. The prime minister noted that the time is not very appropriate to make the announcement of such a project, says the text. Mr. Johnson replied that “this project is already announced,” in reference to the agreements given by Ottawa and the City of Montreal, which, in turn, will provide 2.5 million.




The problems that were going to take away the museum are known from this discussion of the executive. The documents of February 1991 emphasize in particular that the major costs of operation of the establishment, without funding to pay for the expense of real estate, the purchase of exhibitions, or staff, are based on a level of annual attendance of 450,000 visitors, paying $ 10 each.


They will never, at least not at this threshold, worthy of the good years of the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal. The Duty had revealed as early as the mid-1990s that the promise of attendance, first, more modest, had been adjusted upwards by a firm of consultants to justify the viability of the museum complex.


The last notes of the minutes of the executive Council say that Robert Bourassa calls ” the responsible ministers to be discreet about the announcement of this project “. Ms. Frulla-Hébert said so agree with that ” the next year will be a difficult year for the artistic community in general.” Québec has delegated to any minister at the official opening on April 1, 1993, the day of pranks and practical jokes.


The museum was born under the name of ” Museum of humor. It occupies the building at 2111 Saint-Laurent boulevard in Montreal. The complex is in the process of transformation with new grants to install the creation centre of the circus group The 7 fingers of the hand. The Just for laughs Festival is the 2101, boulevard St-Laurent, south of the old museum. The sale of the empire Rozon must be finalised within the next few weeks, promise its spokesperson.

Ce text is part of our “Outlook” section.

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