Montréal’s Stonewall – Hard to imagine it was only twenty years ago…

On one of those insufferably hot July nights back in 1990, about 40 cops arrested 9 out of 400 party-goers after they raided a loft party. That those in attendance were homosexuals shouldn’t have made any difference, but ultimately it did, and the event is comparable to the Stonewall riots, though with a distinctively Montréal character. Those arrested, for the most part, ended up in the Montréal General Hospital, along with many more savagely beaten by SPVM officers. The cops stroked their batons in mock masturbation while the crowd was dispersed towards Beaver Hall Hill. What they didn’t realize was that they were completely surrounded, and the constables had quite illegally removed their identification. They were looking for a fight. Linda Dawn Hammond was on the scene taking photographs of the party when she became directly involved, chronicling the brutality and capturing the photographs which would run on the front pages of the Gazette and La Presse the very next day. It seems as though 1990 was a watershed year for police brutality against citizens of Montréal; thankfully it seems as though it was one of the last.

Richard Burnett gives a clear insight into the way by which the Sex Garage Incident forever changed gay politics in Canada, let alone Montréal, now a premier gay-tourism destination. Twenty years after one of the most horrific examples of police brutality, the annual Diver/Cité festival is estimated to generate about $40 million in revenue and economic spin-offs for the City of Montréal. How times have changed. Unfortunately, it would take another round of protests and beatings before the Chief of the SPVM decided to take action. Among other decisions, the police would scale down its anti-gay crusade, and harassment of gay men on Mount Royal was put on the back-burner while the police morality squad re-focused their energies. Also, two days after the incident, the SPVM promised they’d no longer attack peaceful protesters.

I’m still not convinced about that last point, but it’s good to know that events like Sex Garage aren’t going to happen again in this city. That is, as long as the citizens ensure the protection of their own fundamental human rights.

Victoria Square and Square Victoria – Then and Now

Victoria Square, Montréal - ca. 1900

Clearly, not the best quality photo, but a fascinating perspective on one of the city’s most famous public spaces. I’m going to see if I can dig up some pictures of this space between the 1940s and 1990s, before its major redevelopment. It’s actually amazing to see just how ugly this space became for a while. While its current incarnation leaves relatively few suggestions of its former self or scale, I can’t help but feel as though Square Victoria is still an emblematic space, despite the radical alterations of the cityscape in this sector. Guess that’s the cost of progress, though the integration of the Bank of Nova Scotia building and the Canada Steamship Co’s head office into the Montréal World Trade Centre will guarantee at least part of the square retains a 19th century architectural heritage.

Victoria Square, Montréal - photo credit to

I can’t count the number of times I sat in this very square, watching the world go by. Against the strong azure of a Summer evening’s sky, the Tour de la Bourse stands with a refined elegance. It was here back in the early Fall of 2006 where I watched, with much delight, army helicopters conducting special-ops maneuvers. Should’ve brought pop-corn actually. I could look at this building for hours, mesmerized by its subtle strengths and grace.

Tour de la Bourse - work of the author

Beware what lurks below… Griffintown/Goose Village edition

Before the Bonaventure - credit to

The photo above shows the old CN yards in Pointe-St-Charles, with Goose Village in the bottom right-hand corner. At the bottom of the photo is the entrance to the Victoria Bridge, and the Bonventure Expressway has yet to be constructed, allowing us to assume the picture dates from some time in the early 1960s. Along with Griffintown, (which is technically out of frame in this picture, though the name has been applied to most of the industrial zone immediately south of the city, straddling the Lachine Canal), this area, once known as Victoriatown and/or Goose Village, is also slated for eventual residential redevelopment. Though the Montréal Technoparc finds itself primarily to the south of Rue Marc-Cantin, it’s safe to assume the small wedge of industrial space between Bridge Street, the Canal and the Expressway will likely get the go-ahead for urban redevelopment once the Canada Lands Corporation project goes through. By extension, all the land south of Wellington between Bridge Street and the entrance to the Champlain Bridge will also likely be slated for redevelopment. Most of this rather large area is built on what was once a massive garbage dump. It is, as you can imagine, highly polluted.

This combined area could support significant population growth and is the most likely extension of what we define as Montréal’s ‘downtown’. Aside from the fact that it’s extremely well connected to the city (consider, it only takes about twenty minutes to walk from Dorchester Square to the Peel Basin), large tracts of land zoned for light industry have left the area without much of an architectural heritage, as many of these buildings are highly functional in nature and were constructed recently, which means they’re easy to demolish and replace with new residential zones. Consider how many formerly industrial buildings in this city, within proximity of the downtown, are currently residential; the list is staggering, a testament to our interest in recycling and breathing new life into old factories and warehouses.

So what’s the problem you may be asking? Land suitable for new development is at a premium and it makes a lot of sense to pursue developing the southern sector of the city for residential purposes. Moreover, such a plan could be argued from the standpoint that the city made an error forty years ago declaring this land industrial, and such development is necessary if we wish to correct a ‘historic injustice’. I don’t doubt for a second this last point has been passed around enough board-room meetings, especially with regards to Griffintown.

The Committee for the Sustainable Redevelopment of Griffintown has some excellent ideas and makes solid arguments for a ‘smarter’ development of this area, as most proposals have not adequately considered the few, though significant, heritage sites to be found there. Moreover, there seems to have been zero consideration for the fact that unused light-industrial space can be excellent lofts and studios for our artistic community, one which must be fostered at all costs. But underlying all aspects and concerns pertinent to southern redevelopment, we must ask whether the city was trying to do its citizens a favour by declaring this land industrial in the first place and rendering it unsuitable for living until such a time as the pollutants could be cleaned up? Was it slum clearance, or was it a harsh environmental reality?

Alanah Heffez over at Spacing Montréal wrote an amazing article on the extension of the shoreline in this area between 1890 and 1968, and the environmental concerns which affect this area. Great read, highly recommended. As to residential development in the centre-sud sector, it seems almost all projects slated for this area are either on hiatus or back on the drawing board while the developers try to pull together enough coin. Either way, it’s encouraging to see the high degree of public consultation.