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The Écomusée du Fier Monde

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Found within the former Généreux public bath hall on Rue Amherst, across from the Marché Saint-Jacques, the Écomusée du Vier Monde shines a light on the working-class community of Montreal’s Centre-Sud. We visited the museum, and then took a walk around the neighborhood to which it’s dedicated.

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Not speaking French, I had no idea what “fier monde” might mean. Mentally, I had prepared myself for either the “Museum of Four Moons” or the “Museum of Fear World.” So, I was a little disappointed to learn that “fier monde” means something like “proud people”… not as exciting as Fear World, but we decided to check it out, anyway.

The Industrial Revolution was a turbulent time for Montreal, during which it rocketed past Quebec City and Toronto to become the richest and most influential city in Canada. The factories and the people who worked in them were based mostly in the Centre-Sud section of the city; basically, everything to the east of the Boulevard St. Laurent and south of Rue Sherbrooke.

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As neighborhoods full of factory workers tend to be, this was a low-income area with squalid living conditions. The Écomusée begins its story during the Industrial Revolution, introducing the lives and struggles of the shift-workers and their families. You learn about the attempts to unionize, and other ways the people of the Centre-Sud organized themselves to improve their lot.

Those early efforts at solidarity would pay off following World War II, when Montreal began to de-industrialize. The factories which had provided the people a living wage closed up completely, or moved out to the suburbs. With no ready jobs, the Centre-Sud became an area of severe poverty, as the families who had the means to escape did so. To survive, the remaining community had to band together, providing basic education and services to its least-fortunate members, and fighting for governmental aid.

Today, life has improved tremendously in the Centre-Sud, and it’s become one of Montreal’s most vibrant areas. The factories never returned, but that’s become less important. The Gay Village is part of the former “fauborg” (suburb), as is the post-industrial neighborhood of Sainte-Marie. Artists and young people have been moving in, drawn by the prime location and relatively cheap prices.

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The Écomusée does a good job in describing all this history with a set of exhibits that form a loop around the former pool of the Généreux baths. Built in 1927, this bath hall is itself a part of the Centre-Sud’s history, dating from a time when most residents didn’t have running water of their own, and depended upon such public solutions for their hygienic needs.

The museum is small, and doesn’t take much time to tour. But afterwards, you’ll probably want to spend some time walking around the streets of the Centre-Sud, to see first-hand how it’s matured into the modern day. In many ways, the story of this area is the story of Montreal, and it’s worth stopping in to the Écomusée du Fier Monde to learn about it.

Location on our Map
Écomusée du Vier Monde – Website

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May 27, 2016 at 10:07 pm Comments (2)

Montreal’s Gay Village

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One of the largest gay villages in the Western Hemisphere is in Montreal. A square of blocks centered around Rue St. Catherine, Le Village has provided a place of acceptance and inclusion for the city’s gay community since the 1970s.

Gay Village Montreal

Our personal observation is that “gayborhoods” such as Le Village seem to be on their way out, and we’re alright with that. Jürgen and I were lucky to come of age just as gays were being accepted in the mainstream community. When I came out to my friends, not a single one tried to beat me up; in fact, the most common response was “Cool!” It was as though they were happy to finally have a fabulous gay friend. (They quickly learned that being gay did not automatically make me fabulous… I was still the same sloppily-dressed computer nerd I’d always been.)

But I digress. The point is, my coming out process wasn’t filled with the anguish and sequestration experienced by legions before me. I wasn’t expelled by my family or renounced by my friends, and there was no need to seek solace in a neighborhood of like souls. I could comfortably go to “straight bars” (and even meet guys), and my straight friends had no problem accompanying me to the “gay bars.” It’s become all mixed up… which is the way it should be; it’s the very thing for which prior generations fought.

Gay Village Montreal

Which brings us to Montreal’s Gay Village: a paradise for the young gay man of 1979. There are strip joints, cruising saunas, drag shows, sex shops and bars with names like “Le Stud.” It’s the kind of place you might see the bear flag flying. Le Village might be a time warp, but we love it. Even if we can feel comfortable at a rowdy sports bar, it’s refreshing to be somewhere that gay guys aren’t the exception, but the rule. A place where banks advertise with the rainbow flag. Where even the neighborhood church has an AIDS memorial.

Montreal’s Gay Village came into being in the 1970s and 80s, after the forced closure of a number of gay establishments in other parts of the city. The city was making an effort clean up “undesirables,” but gays are like weeds. You’ll never completely be rid of us, we’ll just sprout up somewhere else!

Naturally, Montreal’s gays and lesbians now thrive all over the city, but a huge majority of the gay-themed bars and shops are still concentrated in the Gay Village, particularly along Rue St. Catherine. We spent many evenings here, underneath the pink balls which are installed over the street during the summer, and we always had a good time. It might not be 1979 anymore, but Le Village has managed to stay cool.

Location on our Map

Cheap Flights To Montreal

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May 9, 2016 at 7:34 pm Comments (0)
The comuse du Fier Monde Found within the former Généreux public bath hall on Rue Amherst, across from the Marché Saint-Jacques, the Écomusée du Vier Monde shines a light on the working-class community of Montreal's Centre-Sud. We visited the museum, and then took a walk around the neighborhood to which it's dedicated.
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