5 interesting gay facts about Montreal, Canada
“Diversity is the engine of invention. It generates creativity that enriches the world”
…spoken by one of Montreal’s most famous (straight) residents, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who led the gay parade when the city was hosting Canada’s first nationwide Fierte Pride.
Canada has always been at the forefront of LGBT rights, being one of the first countries to legalise gay marriages and with one of the most progressive transgender laws in the world. Montreal, in particular, has always been a bedrock of acceptance and cultural diversity, to the point where it has developed the largest gay village in North America, and hosts many gay events throughout the year. Here are our 5 interesting gay facts about Montreal, celebrating its evolution as a haven for the LGBTQ community in North America.
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Le Village Gai: Montreal’s huge gaybourhood
Montreal’s gaybourhood, otherwise known as Le Village Gai or just The Village is famous for being the largest gay neighbourhood in North America. It’s literally an entire district of the city, officially recognised in tourist city maps and searchable in social media location tags.
This is the heart of the city’s LGBTQ community, based along the mile long Saint Catherine street, bordered by St Hubert Street to the west, De Lorimier Avenue to the east, Sherbrooke Street to the north and René Lévesque Boulevard to the south.
The Gay Village dates back to the 1980s when it used to be a poor working-class neighbourhood. It was first occupied by gay and lesbian businesses after they were forced out from downtown Montreal. Over the years, the area gentrified massively to become the pink bubble of fun it is today.
During May-September, St Catherine Street is closed to cars, allowing the cafes, bars and restaurants to spill out onto the pavements to create outdoor terraces, giving the village the exciting buzzy atmosphere we love about it. It also has a rainbow crossing to mark its starting point. You can read more in our gay guide to Montreal.
Montreal has many many balls
…and they’re bright pink!
During the non-snowy months of May to September (when large clunky snow vehicles no longer need to access the roads each day), a stunning large art installation called Pink Balls is hung above the main pedestrianised road (St Catherine Street) running through the Gay Village.
Pink Balls is an installation made up of 170,000 pink balls suspended over St Catherine street, designed by architect Claude Cormier. The balls are fastened to wires that are strung out through the trees, giving a spectacular wave-like effect running through the Village.
During the Fierte Canada Pride in Montreal, the balls are changed to 18 shades of the colours of the rainbow flag to make it look like a giant rainbow covering the village. We love it because it not only has an awesome name – 18 Shades of Gay, but it also gives the gay village an incredible effect, unlike anything else we’ve ever seen before.
The first executioner in Montreal was a gay drummer
Montreal’s gay claim to fame dates back to 1648 when a gay military drummer stationed at the French garrison in Ville-Marie (the former name of Montreal) was sentenced to death for sodomy – more specifically: “crimes of the worst kind”(!)
However, after a last minute intervention by the Jesuits, his life was spared, but on condition that he accept the office of first executioner of justice for New France.
The gay drummer’s name is not officially known, but historians think it might be René Huguet dit Tambour, and his lover, a local lad, who managed to escape.
The Sex Garage parties: Montreal’s Stonewall
Montreal had its own Stonewall-type moment in 1990 at one of the Sex Garage parties. The Sex Garage was a famous LGBT after-hours venue in the 1980s and early 1990s in Montreal’s old town neighbourhood. At that time, targeted police raids on gay businesses were common, on the grounds that they were illegally selling alcohol.
On 16 July 1990, one particular police raid found no alcohol on the premises, but nonetheless forced the 400 patrons to leave without their possessions and severely assaulted many of them. The police subsequently denied the assaults, but thankfully one patron, Linda Dawn Hammond, had her camera to hand and photographed everything.
Soon after this event, many protests followed, which also led to much police brutality and arrests. However, this united the Montreal LGBT community together, and highlighted to other citizens the very unfair treatment of gays and lesbians in Montreal. As such the Divers/Cité movement was created in 1993 and a pride event has taken place each year since.
Gay friendly churches hosting a Pride Mass
Montreal has a handful of churches that welcome us! We both come from very religious and conservative backgrounds, neither of which have anything positive to say about the LGBTQ community – Sebastien: Catholic in France and Stefan: Greek Orthodox.
However, walking through the streets of old Montreal, we stumbled upon the Christ Church Cathedral, which had a big pink sign outside advertising a Pride Mass taking place during the Fierte gay festival. We were pleasantly shocked – we’re not really used to religion and gay appearing in positive light in the same sentence!
Christ Church even has its own LGBTQ section on its website and in addition, we also noticed a handful of other churches in the city who welcome us and even perform same sex marriages, like the Unitarian Church of Montreal.
Watch our vlog about the first ever Fierte Canada Pride in Montreal right here: