with added material by M. Daigle (summer 2021)
with added material by V. Samoylenko (winter 2022)
Taking inspiration from queer mapping projects Queering the Map and Mapping Montreal's Queer Spaces , the project
The exhibit is a pilot project: it is a testament to what is possible to achieve in terms of public history exhibits even in pandemic conditions. Even with limited time, resources and spaces explored, the exhibit highlights the sometimes contradictory realities that exist or have existed for LGBTQ2S+ people. Like our own memory, the project combines multiple times and spaces in a simultaneous manner. Hopefully, the project will inspire larger and more elaborate projects combining oral history and mapping. As well, the project is designed to inspire greater collaboration between the Archives gaies du Québec queer archives across Canada and even worldwide.
In the summer of 2021, we had the pleasure of hosting a physical version of the exhibit on the pedestrian portion of Sainte-Catherine. Keeping in mind the accessibility of knowledge,
The stories presented in this exhibit are those of seven narrators: Armando Perla (A.P.), Derek Vincent (D.V.), Pierre M. W. (P.M.W.), Ménélik Blackburn-Philip (M.B.P.), Mathilde Geromin (M.G.), kimura byol-nathalie lemoine (k-l.) and Michelle Wouters (M.W.). They talked about their experiences as LGBTQ2S+ people, as well as spaces that were important to them. Some of the participants were born here; others immigrated here because they felt that the city was more open towards LGBTQ2S+ folk.
The exhibit is subdivided by neighbourhoods to allow for historical context. Though some of the discussed spaces do not fall within the boundaries of the described neighbourhoods, they are nevertheless grouped by proximity for an easier browsing experience.
It is important to note that the exhibit focus on places which interview partners brought up in their interviews. In reality, many more existed. In addition, the transcriptions are kept in the language that the interviewees chose to speak.
To listen to the testimonies, click on the pin of your choice and press the play button. To consult the full photographs and their sources, click on the photograph of your choice.
Well before the current Gay Village of Montreal existed, Montreal’s gay neighbourhood was situated downtown. Centered around Peel and Stanley streets, and, at the time, offering affordable housing nearby, it was easily accessible to gay patrons. Downtown, however, was also a space sought after by real estate and the finance sector. The Jean Drapeau municipal administration (1954-1957, 1960-1986), wanted, on one hand, to make Montreal into an international, modern city, and on the other, to defend traditional morality. As such, the gay presence in Downtown Montreal became a problem for mayor Drapeau, both from an economic and a moral perspective.
The adoption of the Omnibus Bill 1969, decriminalizing homosexual relations between two consenting adults in a private setting, did not prevent police raids under the Drapeau administration. Instead, the authorities labelled gay bars as “bawdy houses” to justify arrests. Moreover, the federal legislation only decriminalized sexual relationship between adults in private spaces. As such, gays were harassed by police in public spaces.
With the Olympic games of 1976, Jean Drapeau’s infamous “cleanup” of the city ushered in an intensification of police repression, not only against gays and lesbians, but also against sex workers. The raids continued after the Games. Notably, the raids on the Truxx and the Mystique on the 21st of October 1977 elicited an instant response on the part of the gay community. After this raid, the Association pour les droits des gai(e)s du Québec (ADGQ), a young organisation defending gay rights, mobilized the community and the following day, about 2000 people filled the streets to protest police abuses.
Adress : 1417, rue Drummond
The Taureau d’or is one of the many bars where John Banks worked. John Banks is the organiser of the first gay march in Montreal. For more information, the AGQ produced a documentary about John Banks in 2018.
Adress : 1107, rue Sainte-Catherine Ouest
(1958- now located at 1196, Peel street)
Opened in 1958, the Peel Pub was one of the many gay establishments of the West Village. Due to the climate of police repression, the Peel Pub enforced strict rules regarding the proximity between men.
Adress : 1422, rue Peel
1422 Peel street was once home to the Tropical Room and the Downbeat Club in 1952. The Tropical was a unique space, as it refused visibly heterosexual clients. Armand Monroe, who was the master of ceremonies and a drag artist at the Tropical Room, fought for gay men’s rights to dance together, which became possible for the first time in Montreal in 1957. In 1965, a criminal fire destroyed the establishment, but the PJ’s took its place, and Armand Monroe remained the M.C.. The cabaret was a place which offered many drag shows. Until the 1980s, the PJs remained a very popular place in the gay community.
Adress : 1217, rue Crescent
1217, Crescent street (1975-1982)
3636, Saint-Laurent boulevard (1982-2001)
1436, Atateken street (2001-2002)
Androgyny was the first gay and lesbian bookstore of Montreal. It also had a section for feminist publications and gender-neutral books for kids. Founded in October 1973 and first located on Crescent street, it was managed by a small team, which was then joined by a group of volunteers in the fall of 1975. These volunteers formed a collective of lesbians, heterosexual women and gay men which operated until 1982, at which point the bookstore became a private business. From 1974 to 1977, Androgyny shared its location with the political bookstore Alternatives, linked to publisher Black Rose Books. In June 1975, Androgyny bookstore moved to a more spacious location on Crescent. It later moved to Saint-Laurent Boulevard in 1982, and finally to Amherst street (now renamed Atateken) in 2001, until it closed in 2002. While Androgyny first sold English language publications, the bookstore collective recruited francophone members in 1976 and adopted the name “L’Androgyne” in 1978.
The New Village of the East, contrary to popular myth, did not move to the East directly due to police violence or because of the “Olympic cleanup.” The Village took off in 1983 – many years after these raids. Economic factors, such as the increasing rents in downtown Montreal and the low cost of commercial spaces in the East, encouraged a number of entrepreneurs to open new establishments in what is now the Village. In addition, the architecture of the buildings, which were used as theaters, cabarets and cinemas earlier in the 20th century, was favourable for those who wanted to open bars. In the beginning of the 1980s, multiple bars and gay establishments still existed in the West Village and in the Red Light District, as the bars in the new Village multiplied; In the 1990, most of the gay establishments of Montreal were situated in the new Village. Once home to multiple large multifunctional complexes, such as the Bourbon, the Village’s unique character is currently threatened by gentrification, with bars and large complexes being replaced with condos.
Adress : 1366, rue Sainte-Catherine Est
The Drugstore was a large multi-story complex, popular with the lesbian community. It also served as a meeting place for LGBT groups. The Drugstore's liquor licenses dated back to 1908 and bore the original name of the establishment it had replaced, La Taverne du Village de l'Est.
Adress : 1264, rue Saint-Timothée
(used between 1977-1981)
Following the protests against the raids on the Truxx and the Mystique, the ADGQ continued its struggle to demand an addition to Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms that would protect gays and lesbians from discrimination. Bill 88 passed on the 15th of December of 1977; Thus, Quebec became the second government in the world to forbid discrimination based on sexual orientation. The location pictured above is the ADGQ’s first address, which it occupied from 1977 to 1981.
Adress : 1294, rue Panet #1310
(inaugurated en 1994)
Officially inaugurated by the City of Montreal in 1994 with a commemorative plaque for those who died of AIDS-related complications, the Parc de l’espoir is a protest space for HIV/AIDS organisations and gay groups since the 1990s. The parc continues to be a gathering and protest space: in 2016, following the PULSE shooting in the United States, Montrealers gathered in the parc for a vigil for the victims.
If the Village is gay, the Plateau Mont-Royal is, historically, a lesbian neighbourhood, even if it is so in a more informal manner than the Village. During the 1980s, or the “golden age” of lesbian visibility in urban space, the Plateau was home to many lesbian bars, cafés and community organisations. Though the amount of “mixed” establishments increased in Montreal, the number of exclusively lesbian bars fell significantly in the 1990s, while gay men kept establishments exclusive to men.
The gay and lesbian communities of Montreal followed different trajectories. Women being excluded from taverns until 1971, they could not have exclusive bars in the same way as men did. In mixed gay rights organisations, lesbians were often pushed aside. As such, lesbians – mostly middle-class – decided to create their own spaces, and settled in great numbers in the Plateau area. The first lesbian organisations, such as Montreal Gay Women (1973-1974) and Coop-Femmes (1977-1979), were situated in the Southeast limits of the Plateau.
Adress : 4848, boulevard Saint-Laurent
(built in 1932)
The Sala Rossa was built in 1932 by Montreal’s Jewish community as a center for cultural, recreational and political activities. The Centro Social Espanol now uses the building as a cultural center for Spanish-speaking people. The Sala Rossa is known for hosting events such as Kiss My Cabaret, the Meow mix, The Goods night, and balls. Meow Mix parties (1997-2012) were created by Miriam Genestier and her then girlfriend, Irene, for “bent girls and their buddies”.
(inaugurated in 1901)
Parc La Fontaine was known as a cruising spot for gay men, at least until the turn of the century, as was Parc du Mont-Royal. This park has also been a place of struggle: in 1979, a mixed demonstration for gay rights of about 200 people took place there. So did the first gay pride march of Montreal organised by John Banks in 1979 also, where about 200 people marched between Square Saint-Louis and Parc La Fontaine.
The Red Light District is a rectangle roughly defined by Saint-Laurent boulevard at the West extremity, Sherbrooke at the North, René-Levesque (previously Dorchester) at the South, and Saint-Denis street at the East. The Main is the nickname of the western extremity of the rectangle – the lower Saint-Laurent boulevard.
In the years following World War II, this neighbourhood already had a bad reputation due to its association with organised crime, sex work, and visibly non-heterosexual people. For lesbians in the 1950-60s, the Red Light bars and cabarets were their main meeting places. Even though lesbians, gays and crossdressers socialized in these bars and cabarets, many of them had a mixed clientele, meaning that heterosexuals frequented them too. That being said, middle and upper-class, as well as anglophone gays and lesbians tended to avoid the Red Light, due to its negative associations. Despite all, for those who frequented the establishments of the Main and the Red Light, these spaces were cherished and important, because they allowed for a freedom that the rest of society did not grant those who lived on the margins.
Adress : 162, rue Sainte-Catherine Est
(late 1920s- 1990s)
Established in the late 1920s, the Monarch Café, or the “Zoo” as it was also known, is one of the first established gay venues on the east side of the city, as well as one of the only permanent establishments from the 1945-1960s that was exclusively for gay men.
«We used to go very often from there [Montreal Swimming Club] at the Monarch or the Zoo. We were always treated like royalty. They had contests that the guy used to play the piano and if you could guess the name of the song you got a free beer and that sort of stuff.» Armand Monroe dans A Sense of Belonging (Higgins 1997, 278)
«The customers were of an oIder age group. The Monarch had a dance floor where a sign I observed in the mid-1970s forbade slow dances. Pierre explained: Oui, oui, oui, ils voulaient pas avoir de troubles avec la police. C'était une mesure de protection pour l'escouade de la moralité. Comme aujourd'hui, avec les affiches sur les drogues. » (Higgins 1997, 283)
Adress : 1278, rue Saint-André
The mixed clientele of Les Ponts de Paris was divided into three sections: lesbians were seated to the left of the stage, heterosexuals and gays were on the right, and those who wanted to pay for sexual services sat at the bar. In the 1950s, Les Ponts de Paris became well known to the public as a meeting place for lesbians. This allowed more lesbians to know about the place, sometimes through unsuspecting family members. However, the increased popularity also meant that they were exposed to the voyeuristic eyes of other customers. Narrators in Chamberland's research project (Remembering Lesbian Bars, 1993) who were patrons of Les Ponts de Paris described it as a warm place where they could have fun, attended lesbian weddings, and met friends.
Adress : 302, rue Ontario
La Paryse was one of the restaurants and cafes regurlarly frequented by lesbians. Like many other places whose customer base is not explicitly LGBTQ2S+, having many LGBTQ2S+ employees draws in non-heterosexual people and contributes to a feeling of safety.
Adress : 1230, boulevard Saint-Laurent
Opened during in the mid-1970s, the café Cléopâtre is the last of the old Red Light District establishments that remains open. While the first floor offers striptease shows aimed at heterosexual men, the second floor has shows featuring drag queens and trans people who were marginalized even within the gay community.
Adress : 94, rue Sainte-Catherine Est
Opened in 1954, the Casa Loma among the many Montreal cabarets operating during the 1950s and 1960s. Though the patrons were not exclusively homosexual, many gays and lesbians frequented it. This cabaret, like many others, gave drag shows, which were rather popular at the time. Well-known artists performed there as well, such as Ginette Reno, Alys Robi and les Jérolas. The Casa Loma closed in 1971 due to multiple pressures: TV providing entertainment directly at home, the opening of the Place des Arts, as well as a triple murder linked with organized crime at the Casa Loma.
LGBTQ2S+ associations in universities and cégeps played and continue to play an important role in the life of LGBTQ2S+ youth. For example, groups like Gay McGill, formed in 1972, responded to needs such as education on gay topics, psychological support, and simply organizing social events. Notably, Gay McGill’s dances could include hundreds of participants. The cégep du Vieux-Montréal and the cégep Maisonneuve also organized similar events. Student LGBTQ2S+ groups continue to provide community and provide access to information on sexual and gender identity.
It is becoming clear that gentrification is intensifying in the Village, just like in other Montreal neighbourhoods. Village businesses report that they are making less and less profits as time goes by. Is it a sign that LGBTQ2S+ are less necessary to meet new people or to feel safe? Or is it, on the contrary, a sign of further marginalization, as municipal policies let gentrification go unchecked? Whatever the answer may be, the lack of spaces and dedicated to LGBTQ2S+ people and the closing of many places dear to community members does not go unnoticed.
Despite the decline of the Village and of lesbian bars, there are still queer and trans-friendly spaces around Jean-Talon Metro, and neighbourhoods such as Rosemont and Little Italy. LGBTQ2S+ people can also feel comfortable in places that are not explicitly queer or trans. After all, our identities are complex. Indeed, we are many communities, not a single one. Our multiple identities, be they gendered, racial, sexual, ethnic, linguistic, etc., make every single LGBTQ2S person’s experiences unique. Many of the narrators said that they would like to see more politicized LGBTQ2S+ communities that would collaborate closely with social justice struggles, such as racial equality or feminist movements.
The neighbourhoods explored in the exhibit are far from the only places where LGBTQ2S+ people gather. There are as many LGBTQ2S+ spaces as there are people who identify as such. We make spaces queer and create queer spaces simply by existing.
This map cannot hope to capture all the experiences of LGBTQ2S+ people or all the issues we are affected by. Nevertheless, the interviews of only seven narrators already demonstrate how diverse our communities are. It is by telling our stories that we can understand where we come from, and it is by listening that we can decide our future directions.
If you wish to speak about your own experiences, do not hesitate to leave a comment (the comment section is moderated).
If you wish to donate archival materials to the Archives gaies du Québec, please contact : firstname.lastname@example.org
The full interviews used in the exhibit are available for consultation at the AGQ. Subscribe to our newsletter by contacting email@example.com to know when the Archives will be open to the public again.
Words from the original curator of the exhibition: This exhibit would not have been possible without the collaboration of the seven narrators who generously shared their stories and their comments throughout my research.
A sincere thank you to Pierre, Armando, Derek, Ménélik, Mathilde, kimura and Michelle, not only for contributing as interview partners, but also for their advice, help in recruitment, and multiple photos in the exhibit, which make the exhibit come alive.
Thank you to the volunteers and employees at the Archives gaies du Québec who helped me to find photos and gave thorough feedback on the exhibit as I was putting it together. Thank you especially to Fabien Galipeau, archivist at the Archives gaies du Québec, for the help in locating archival materials, addresses, and for writing the texts for Androgyny Bookstore, the PJ’s, and the Casa Loma. I also thank Jonathan Proulx Guimond for designing the maps.
And finally, thank you to Mitacs and Summer Jobs Canada for financing the project.
We have sadly learned that Michelle Wouters passed away on October 28, 2022. Michelle was a 2-spirit survivor of the 60s scoop, and an educator in the Montreal community. We want to thank her once more for the infectious energy her stories brought to The Walls Have Ears. Her full interview is preserved at the Archives gaies du Québec and will always remain available. Rest in peace.
Additional thanks for the pedestrian version:
Thank you to the AGQ team of the summer 2021: Fabien Galipeau, Marion Daigle, Jonathan Proulx Guimond, et Simone Beaudry Pilotte.
Warm thanks to V. Samoylenko for the help throughout the process of adapting the exhibit.
Thank you for the financial support of: Emploi-Québec, Emploi d’été Canada, Québécor, the donors of the Archives gaies du Québec.
Thank you for the collaboration of: Archives Lesbiennes du Québec, Michelle Ronback, André Querry, André C. Passiour, Ross Higgins, the team of Village Montréal, and Fierté Montréal's team.
Allan, JamesSky’s the Limit: The Operations, Renovations and Implications of a Montréal Gay Bar.Master's thesis. McGill University. 1997.
Boulevard Saint-Laurent. «La Sala Rossa: À propos.» Consulted on June 24, 2021.
Chamberland, Line MA. «Remembering Lesbian Bars: Montreal, 1955-1975.» Journal of Homosexuality, Volume 25, Number 3. 1993. pp. 231-270.
Crawford, Jason B., and Karen Herland. “Sex Garage: Unspooling Narratives, Rethinking Collectivities.” Journal of Canadian Studies/Revue d'études canadiennes, Volume 48, Number 1. Winter 2014. pp. 106-131
Demczuk, Irène, and Frank W. Remiggi, éds.. Sortir de l’ombre: histoires des communautés lesbienne et gaie de Montréal. Montréal: VLB Éditeur. 1998
De Montigny, Julia. « Negotiating Everyday Spaces, Making Places: Queer & Trans* Youth in Montréal.” Master’s thesis. Concordia University. 2013.
Guindon, Jocelyn M. « La contestation des espaces gais au centre-ville de Montréal depuis 1950 ». PhD thesis. McGill. 2001.
Higgins, Ross. «A Sense of Belonging: Pre-liberation Space, Symbolics, and Leadership in Gay Montreal.» PhD thesis. McGill University. 1997.
-----. «Le Drugstore: Chronique d’une fermeture annoncée.» Fugues.October 18, 2013. Consulted on June 24, 2021.
Lecavalier, Philippe. «Le Village gai de Montréal: Un territoire d’appartenance en voie de disparition?» Master's thesis. Université du Québec à Montréal. 2018.
Podmore, Julie A.. “Gone ‘underground’? Lesbian visibility and the consolidation of queer space in Montréal.” Social & Cultural Geography, 7:4 (2006), 595-625. DOI: 10.1080/14649360600825737
-----. “Lesbians in the Crowd: Gender, sexuality and visibility along Montréal's Boul. St-Laurent.” Gender, Place and Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography, 8:4 (2001): 333-355. DOI: 10.1080/09663690120111591
Archives gaies du Québec. AGQ-F0187, Fonds Association des bonnes gens sourds (ABGS)
------, AGQ F-0017, Fonds Association pour les droits des gai(e)s du Québec (ADGQ)
------, AGQ-F0127/I-026 (photos B). Fonds John Banks.
-------, AGQ-F0141. Fonds Comité du Berdache 20 ans plus tard