And charming is how I’d describe the whole Fierte! celebration. It’s all done with a genuine sense of community. The parade was simple, small and uncrowded, inclusive and involving. There was the usual mix of true fabulousness and OMG-WTF? There was a seminal moment where the entire parade came to a standstill to observe a minute of silence. Simple, yet powerful. To close, Montrealers took to the Place Emile-Gamelin for the tea-party, the finale to its weekend of Pride. Again simple, community-spirited and powerful. Kudos to the people behind it all, Jean Francois-Perrier and Lynn Habel; and the people involved that I got to meet – including grand-marshal Gilbert Baker, the man behind the rainbow flag and a true darling John Banks, so dapper in his dazzling ruby Fleur de Lis, a founder of the first Montreal Pride and what came as a surprise, right-hand-diva to Marlene Dietrich for 12 years. (That story, coming soon!)
But there’s a lot more to Montreal than the gay scene – it’s an amazing city to amble in, especially in the long summer days. As you’ll know, I’m not the greatest guidebook sight-seer, I much prefer to go local. And I found everything I had originally pictured about Montreal from Mambo Italiano, even walking right into a street hockey game.
The old town is majestic, a collision of history, but also very touristy. But go off the beaten track and you’ll find some gems. Check out the Pierre du Calvet Hotel, built in 1725. Drop by and say hello to the parrots in the lobby. They’ll greet you back. Then drop in at Bonsecours Market, the city’s original food market. Alas, it’s now all about the designer boutique, but check out the maple stall for a truly sweet Canadian experience.
Wander around local neighbourhoods and drop into local businesses, don’t miss La Maison Cakao on Fabre Rue. And New York bagel meisters eat your heart out, wait till you try a fresh St Viateur bagel, only in Montreal, with a fantastic history to boot. The inside track is, the Moreno brothers are soon to release a Poutine Bagel, you can’t get more Montreal than that. Poutine (said like the Russian tyrant President and not like the French swear word) is another local delicacy of fries, cheese curd and brown gravy, great for a post-Village party pick-me-up.
If that’s too heavy, graze a Vietnamese ‘Buhn’ from a hole-in-the-wall at what is quite possibly the world’s smallest Chinatown. It’s so very quaint.
If you are a true blue foodie, Montreal’s fresh markets are not to be missed. Jean-Talon and Atwater will have your mouths watering or push your appetite limits. But you can work off some of that food on your Bixi, Montreal’s cheap public bike scheme now rolled out to the rest of the world. Just don’t do it drunk. I’m speaking here from experience.
Window shop the zhi-zhi Outremont or the 20th-century vintage shops in Plateau Mont Royale. Avid vintagers can also traverse the Boulevard St Laurent all the way to Mile End. And whilst you’re on the BSL, check out the mothership of North American street-art, just Northwest of Sherbrooke. The canvasses here will blow you away. Rest your bicycle pedaling legs on the chilled-out Rue Prince Arthur, the perfect spot for a Glace or Sorbet. Canadian Maple of course.
However, true hipsters will now tell you that this is all passe. I followed in the footsteps of Montreal’s coolest and headed out to Ho-Ma. Yes, you heard right. HO-MA. Short for Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, once a completely separate town, now engulfed into greater Montreal – the new habitat of the arty gays with beards and skinny jeans. But you can’t deny it, they certainly know where to hang. Another hipster tip is the infamous Piknic Electronic at Parc Jean-Drapeau, every Sunday from yes, you guessed it May to September.
So, whilst Montreal is ‘fierte’, is Montreal “Fierce”!? I guess it depends on how you define the word. Montreal is not a big, edgy, hipster city, but it certainly oozes charm in abundance. And I have to say – I really liked it.