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culture In the heart Montréal’s identity

Par le 26 September 2017

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Rosemont-La-Petite-Patrie – the heart of the city and island of Montréal – is a neighbourhood attracting more and more gays and lesbians, as the Plateau Mont-Royal is becoming progressively more saturated. This shift began with the redevelopment of the Angus Shops where numerous individuals of the gay community adopted residence, many being lesbians moving to the north out of Plateau where they had been quite present.

More distant from the downtown area, these mainly residential localities are the heart of the city’s identity. Culturally, Rosemont is the birthplace of musical band Beau Dommage and its legendary 6760, Saint-Vallier, Montréal. The band has quite possibly best described Montréal’s lifestyle and culture. Until the end of the 20th century, the gay community was mostly invisible, limited to a few gay saunas. In many ways a traditional city at the time, as in a Beau Dommage song where they sing about their youth ‘garçons agaçai(en)t les filles et s’appelai(en)t tapette (“the guys annoyed the girls and called each other faggots”). I myself grew up in Rosemont at a time when, like today’s gays and lesbians, young families spilled out of the Plateau or Hochelaga-Maisonneuve into Rosemont. It’s also a neighbourhood that was largely developed a century ago by my Great-Uncle, the property developer Ucal-Henri Dandurand, and Rosemont actually owes its name to his mother, Rose Philipps.

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From an architectural standpoint, especially in the western part, it’s a neighbourhood where residential buildings from the first half of the 20th century are dominated by an element that is quite unique to Montréal: the exterior wrought iron fence leading up to the floors. Visitors can admire the urban lifestyle when the alleys were, and still are, places for socializing, where you could hear parents yelling to their kids playing, like in another Beau Dommage song ‘Manon vient souper, si tu viens pas, tu pourras t’en passer. Attends pas que môman soit tannée, pis qu’a descende.’ (Manon come to supper. Don’t wait for Mom the get fed up and go out there). While strolling along the streets and alleys, you will discover a typical Montréal atmosphere which was described by many of our great artists, from playwright Michel Tremblay, to Beau Dommage and stand-up comedian Yvon Deschamps. If you come by a old shed, which were so popular back in the day, have a little though for the youngsters who played doctor there, who had their first I’ll-show-you-mine-if-you-show-me-yours games, innocently discovering their sexuality. Numerous municipal initiatives for greener streets, most of whom featured plenty of mature trees already, have made taking walks in Rosemont an even more enjoyable experience, with street gardens and greener alleys overflowing with flowers and shrubs. Actually, here in Rosemont is where you’ll find the most “green alleys” in Montréal city.

 

For decades, the neighbourhood and it localities have been where many Montrealers converge, whether for goods and fresh produce at the Marché Jean-Talon, shopping along the Plaza Saint-Hubert, going out to watch a movie at Cinéma Beaubien or to visit the Jardin Botanique. After decades of fierce competition from suburb malls, these neighbourhoods have revitalized and favoured a return to local shops with fresh quality products. This renewal is apparent on the many commercial streets of Rosemont. The Plaza Saint-Hubert has many gay-friendly establishments, and one that is exclusively gay: the Sauna Saint-Hubert. Since the year 2005, the Librairie Raffin has devoted a whole section to gay and lesbian literature. Close by, Isabelle Lehoux offers her hand-made jewellery and other creations.

At the northern end of the Plaza, Il Boléro is a popular place for fans of fetishism and sexy clothing for women and men. Still on the Plaza, make a shopping stop at Délires du Terroir. This micro-boutique with a small-town grocery store look offers a journey for the senses. Discover many local Québec products, such as cheeses, jams, sweets and micro-brewed beers. If you’re looking for a bite to eat, the Fixe Café offers excellent coffees and gigantic brunches inspired by Spanish cuisine. A few steps away, the Casa do Alentejo offers Portuguese cuisine of grilled meats – and excellent value for your money. For fine dining, drop by La Récolte on Bélanger St. two steps from the Plaza, for their organic, fair-trade and eco-responsible products, all market fresh. The chefs modulate their menu in accordance to their taste as well as the seasons.

Beyond the major commercial area that is Plaza St-Hubert and its surroundings, the transformation of the neighbourhood is also very noticeable on Beaubien St. For the past four years, a very special bar for the alternative scene has been in operation, the Notre-Dame-des-Quilles. It is located inside a former bowling alley and there’s a very gay-friendly vibe there. All along the street up to Cinéma Beaubien, specialized boutiques, cafés and restaurants have multiplied. In the summer, the street is even livelier with the placement of temporary street terraces.

In the last twenty years, Masson St. just north of the Angus Shops, has also gone through some revitalizing and many gay-friendly establishments have opened. Some say it’s turning into another Plateau, but this is an exaggeration. The shops and services here mainly meet the needs of the neighbourhood locals, a neighbourhood that is as populous as the larger regional cities in the province, with 137 000 residents.

 

André Gagnon, editor

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