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culture A VERY, VERY GAY VILLAGE

Par le 19 July 2017

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Boules-roses-14-768x506As is often the case elsewhere around the world, Montréal’s gay Village began forming in the 70’s in a declining neighbourhood. It was formerly called Faubourg Québec and was one of the oldest districts in the city. It was named as such because in the late 18th century, it had developed around the gateway controlling the road toward Québec city, as Montréal was then a walled-up city. In the 19th century, a third of the city’s population lived in Faubourg Québec and Faubourg à m’lasse further east. Close to the port, it was the city’s main industrial district, blanketed with factories that were crammed with people who had come from the countryside seeking work in light of the industrial revolution. In the mid-19th century, Ste-Catherine became the main commercial street, crossing the city from Faubourg Québec towards the west. In the second half of the 20th century, factories were gradually moved to industrial parks, and the de-industrialization of the area caused more poverty.

 

Under the administration of mayor Jean Drapeau, the city set about “cleaning up” the ill reputed neighbourhood and began levelling whole sections south of Ste-Catherine in order to expand Dorchester Street (now René-Lévesque boulevard), then build the Ville-Marie highway and the Maison de Radio-Canada television broadcasting station. This last undertaking had the purpose of creating the Cité des Ondes (City of Airwaves) where Télé-Métropole television station (now TVA) already stood. With the ongoing decline of the population in the neighbourhood, it wasn’t long before Ste-Catherine St. began struggling commercially, and the resulting cheap spaces and easy access by the Metro began attracting the first gay clubs, while young homosexuals jumped at the opportunity to move into the neighbourhood’s large, low-rent apartments. The gay sex shop Priape opened in 1974 and the first gay bar La Boite en Haut in 1975, located inside the building where the well-known club Sky now resides. By then the lesbian community already had their bar, Les Ponts de Paris, located on the corner of St-André. But the Village only really started gaining momentum in 1982, when three other gay bars opened: 1681, 2R and Max. The Nouveau Village de l’Est (by analogy with New York’s East Village) was born and quickly referred to as just “the Village”. Covering 1 km and around 15 intersections, it’s now the largest gay village in Canada and one of the largest in the world.

 

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Much like the young female character in playwright Michel Tremblay’s musical comedy Demain matin, Montréal m’attend, who dreamt of becoming a big Montréal star “surrounded by fags and furs”, more and more young men and young women from around the province where moving to Montréal so they could more freely live out their lives and identities, which helped to invigorate the city’s gay community and further develop the Village. Every year since the 2006 OutGames, Sainte-Catherine is turned into a pedestrian street for Aires Libres, a highly anticipated summer-long event when Montrealers and tourists enjoy the lively bars, restaurant terraces and street bands. In addition, the event holds three festivals: Festival Montréal en Arts, Fierté Montréal and Week-end Fétiche.
Prophetically, the production of the rock opera Starmania, created by Luc
Plamondon and Richard Cocciante, in which a female character follows the DJ Ziggy to go “dancing in very, very gay places”, was first presented at the old Station C in 1980 in the Village before it was a gay village. The heritage building later became a spot for many gay bars, notably the famed club KOX.

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