Montreal is a city we have written about and visited previously, and we were fortunate to be able to pay a return visit recently.
Montreal is already well-established as a popular gay destination in North America. This is partly because of its unique blend of North America utilitarianism and European joie de vivre.
Montreal’s gay village, which stretches to over 1 kilometre on Rue Sainte Catherine Est between Berri-UQAM and Papineau metro stations, traces its history to over thirty years ago to 1982 and has resolutely remained there since. This means that virtually everything, bars catering to all different scenes, restaurants, clubs, saunas are all in one place. This is unlike London, where the gay areas of the city are constantly splitting and evolving, with divisions on near tribal lines.
Though, to be clear, not everything in Montreal is perfect. Anyone looking for a vacant property in The Village would have little difficulty finding one and some businesses were clearly doing a more brisk trade than others. I’m also sure the questions asked in London and elsewhere around the ongoing relevance of gay venues are also asked by locals in Montreal.
Where The Village really comes into its own is during the summer months. Montreal is known for its long and brutal winters (temperatures of -16 degrees Celsius are typical) which means that when summer comes nothing is taken for granted. From mid May to early September, a large stretch of Rue Sainte-Catherine is closed to traffic. This means that all the bars and restaurants on the street can set up generously proportioned outdoor terraces.
Furthermore, as part of the “Aires Libres” season, public art features prominently on the street. Some 200,000 pink balloons are suspended in the air over the pedestrianized area of Rue Sainte-Catherine Est, leaving no-one in any doubt where they are. Other features included another interactive art installation by Paprika entitled Memory Gaps and outdoor cinema screenings on a street corner (both also pictured above).
The result (as illustrated by the photos above and official video below) is a vibrant and distinctive street scene that gives the area a strong sense of permanence and identity. This is in very sharp contrast to cities on both sides of the atlantic, (London included), where a combination of the forces of gentrification and a general lack of public imagination can create an increasingly generic identity.