Montreal’s Big French Kiss to the Gays
For those of us living in large American cities where winning is paramount and money the raison d’être (and the scream of sirens ongoing...), there is a great deal of comfort to be found in a city where civility is celebrated. Few cities in North America are more civil than Montreal - and particularly to LGBT people.
During the past decade, Montreal has earned a reputation (and numerous nominations and awards) as one of the world’s best LGBT destinations - and after spending time in Canada’s second-largest city, it’s easy to understand why (and, trust us, it’s not only because Montreal’s original name was Ville-Marie or "City of Mary").
In 2005, Canada was one of the first countries to offer full legal rights of marriage to LGBT people - while way back in 1967, it was Pierre Trudeau, the Minister of Justice, who astutely remarked, "There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation." Contrast that statement with the 1986 US Supreme Court decision in Bowers vs. Hardwick which stated otherwise - and you have a better understanding of why Canada, and Montreal, have a history of social progress that puts the US to shame.
Recently designated a UNESCO City of Design, Montreal received the award for its citywide emphasis on talent, tolerance, diversity, and technology - all factors that enable a plurality of values and overall inclusiveness of its citizenry. The 2006 honor takes on even more resonance when you realize that Berlin and Buenos Aires are the only other recipients of UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network award.
The "Paris of North America"
As the second-largest French-speaking city in the world (after Paris), Montreal has often been considered the "Paris of North America" - but there’s more to that appellation than language. Montreal’s other moniker is "Canada’s cultural capital," which is a testament to the city’s unequivocal support for the arts and design - and particularly music.
Montreal locals often remark that there are two seasons in their city: winter and festivals. Every year, Montreal hosts more than forty festivals (nearly one a week), from the Jazz Festival (the world’s largest jazz fest, according to Guinness), which happens at the end of June, to the Just for Laughs Festival, Montreal’s largest festival - and the largest comedy festival in the world.
And while there are specifically LGBT festivals running throughout the year, such as BBCM’s Black and Blue Festival during Canadian Thanksgiving (American Columbus Day weekend), and Divers/Cite during the last week of July, as well as the Montreal LGBT Pride Festival in August, there are also festivals that draw nearly as many LGBT people as heterosexuals, such as Bal en Blanc in April, and Igloofest in January.
The point is, Montreal’s population is so openly supportive and inclusive that LGBT people are nearly always a factor at every one of Montreal’s forty festivals throughout the year.
Montreal has its own Gay Village, known locally as "Le Village" and readily identifiable by the rainbow pillars at the entrance to the Beaudry Metro station. With historical roots that go back to a gay cake shop on St. Antoine Street in 1869, the Village is centered on St. Catherine Street - and at more than a mile long, it is one of the largest areas of LGBT businesses in North America.
Like a phoenix rising from governmental repression during the nearly thirty-year regime of Mayor Jean Drapeau (who established the Public Morality Committee), the Village expanded exponentially during the Eighties. Originally called "East Village," because of its location along the eastern swath of St. Catherine, the Village is the hub of all things gay, from clubs, bars, and discos, to restaurants, saunas, bed-and-breakfasts, and boutiques. During the summer, St. Catherine Street is closed off to vehicular traffic - and, instead of cars, pedestrians and pergolas command the street, making St. Catherine Street a Canadian manifestation of the Piazza Navona in Roma.
While many people celebrate Montreal as the birthplace of Cirque du Soleil (and with good reason: few other circuses have tapped so deeply into an audience’s inner desires and sublimated dreams), the largest bilingual city in North America has its own symphony, opera, and ballet - all of which are about to receive a new cultural campus, not unlike Lincoln Center in New York (which Montreal’s performing arts center resembles in both layout and construction materials).
Place des Arts, right next door to the Gay Village, is currently a massive renovation project, with work on a concert hall for the Montreal Symphony Orchestra scheduled for completion in 2011 - at which point, the Quartier des Spectacles will be a mecca for art and culture mavens, anchored by the Museum of Contemporary Art of Montreal (built in 1992) and the new 1,900 capacity hall.
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