Montreal Pride : A Canadian Fiesta
Even though I have had the luxury to visit Canada on multiple occasions, neither my partner nor I ever had the opportunity to visit Montreal, a city known for its French influence, historic buildings and delectable cuisine, until last week.
Upon arrival at Montreal’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, I already began to notice the French influence. All of the signs are written in French first, then English and all announcements are broadcast in French as well.
A brief 30-minute taxi ride from the airport led us to our beautiful hotel in what locals refer to as "Old Montreal" or the "Old City". Situated just blocks from the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral, the Hotel Nelligan is a modern boutique hotel offering many amenities of a four-star resort, including spa services, luxury linens, Jacuzzi baths and a full restaurant and bar.
On our first day in the city we decided to stroll down Rue St. Catherine through downtown Montreal into the East Village. This is the epicenter of LGBT activity in the city. As we entered the village, we noticed the huge stage constructed especially for The 2010 Montréal Pride Celebrations, which were to begin later that evening.
Both craving a taste of Montreal, we stopped for lunch at Steak Frites, a cozy chain restaurant serving up traditional French fare. The braised beef and jumbo shrimp salad were both delicious and the perfect way to begin the day.
Rue St. Catherine in the East Village is reminiscent of Greenwich Village in New York City, with its small boutiques, quaint cafes, including a Café Starbucks, and of course, sex shops.
Montreal is definitely an LGBT hotspot, with dozens of gay bars, ’family’ owned and operated restaurants, strip clubs and bathhouses located within a one-mile radius.
After meeting a friend of mine for dinner, who happened to be in Montreal on business, we returned to the village to partake in the festivities of Montreal Pride.
That evening consisted of a wonderful line-up of drag performers, which in essence, put ours to shame. Drag in Montreal is an art, with mostly all performances precisely choreographed with a team of no less than four back-up dancers. Most of the performers serenaded the audience of a few thousand in French, but it didn’t matter, the energy in the crowd made up for the language barrier.
Shortly after, we walked over to one of four strip bars in the area called Stock Bar. To our surprise, Montreal dancers engage in full nudity, yet tipping on stage is uncommon. You can surmise how dancers earn their wages.
The weather on Friday morning was absolutely gorgeous, a refreshing 80 degrees. Any temperature lower than our South Florida summer highs was welcome. After a few hours touring the Old City, we decided to go white water rafting in the Lachine Rapids, located just a 10 minute boat ride from the city.
A 45-person boat whisks thrill-seekers away as English or French speaking tour guides provide guests with a water tour of the city. After passing under numerous bridges and observing breathtaking views of Montreal, we arrived at the rapids. The brochure at the hotel warned us about the chance of getting wet, but we didn’t realize that we would be soaked up to our knees in water. The experience is definitely worth it and a great departure from the miles of walking we did the day prior.
Friday evening pride celebrations consisted of live music on the main stage from popular local bands. The crowd was substantially larger than the night before, with a lot more women in the audience as well. After the concert, the party continued a few blocks away at a club called Parking, which was reminiscent of Twist in Miami, although it was a lot larger.
In Montreal, drinks are inexpensive but weak, so most people settle on bottled beverages such as beer or Smirnoff Ice. Another common local custom is to drink shots all night, which typically cost a mere $3. The exchange rate is almost equal to the U.S., so don’t expect any bargains.
To complete our tour of the city, we decided to spend Saturday afternoon aboard a double-decker bus which brought us to the sites that weren’t in walking distance of our hotel. Among them was the beautiful St. Joseph’s Oratory, a basilica built to honor St. Joseph, Canada’s patron saint, which is known for its impressive copper dome.
And what Montreal vacation would be complete without a visit to the underground city? As a result of the harsh Montreal winter’s, city planners decided to construct an underground labyrinth of shops, restaurants, train stations, and hotels all connected underground. The entire complex is about 19 miles in length and would take days to travel through.
After maxing out the credit cards, it was time for more pride. One of the highlights of this year’s celebration was the "Queer of the Year’ contest. A group of five men were selected from around the globe and flown to Montreal to compete in a variety of activities including a charity carwash and a drag makeover. The group was filmed and placed on the competition website, where viewers were able to vote on their favorite ’queer’.
On Saturday evening, the winner was finally announced. Sean Horlor, a 29-year-old hottie from Vancouver, British Columbia won the ultimate title and enjoyed the complete Montreal VIP treatment including a designer shopping spree with a personal stylist, spa treatments and a gourmet dining experience.
Montréal Pride culminated on Sunday with a spectacular parade, on René-Lévesque Boulevard, which drew more than 100,000 spectators. Among the 86 participants in the parade were community groups, sports teams and local businesses. This year theme: FIESTA, was embraced by a majority of parade participants, bringing originality and innovation along the route.
Following the event, spectators and participants gathered in Émilie-Gamelin Park for the popular t-dance, with performances by DJs Stéfane Lippé and Oscar Velazquez.and Mark Anthony.
Those who don’t have the time to journey to France or would like to experience a more budget conscious vacation should definitely visit Montreal. Gay or straight, this city is a Northern gem and offers something for everyone.