The Gay Village no Longer Gay
Via Kevin Lopez
There is a plethora of local businesses in the gay village situated in Montreal. I had the pleasure to work for one of them. Sadly, the part of the city that was considered a joyous place has now come to a downfall since the pandemic.
Before COVID-19, the gay village had its glorious days. As soon as you would get out of metro stations like Berri-UQAM, Beaudry and Papineau, you would make direct eye contact with gay pride flags hung on every lamppost. As you started walking down Sainte-Catherine, you would see these colourful spheres in the sky that would form a rainbow starting from Rue St-Hubert till Av. Papineau. You would feel like you were walking in a parade, surrounded by cheerful people who weren’t afraid to express themselves through their clothing.
As you continued walking down the street, you would be welcomed by local businesses such as souvenir shops, drag shows, bars, clubs and art galleries while simultaneously listening to loud pop music and watching people dance in the streets. By going further down Sainte-Catherine, you could smell all sorts of food from different restaurants. I worked at one of those establishments: an Italian dining place called Mozza.
My experience while working there during the summer of 2019 was nothing but excitement and entertainment. Customers would be interacting with strangers and building connections. We would receive tourists coming from all around the globe. The air was teeming with pure effervescence; there was never a day that felt like work. We were one of the oldest establishments in the neighbourhood and every day we would greet a considerable number of customers that would fill up the place. And that was the last time I saw the gay village so colourful.
In June 2020, my colleagues and I came back to work after months of unemployment due to Covid. We realized this magical area of Montreal was no longer the vibrant world we remembered. There were no more decorations on Sainte-Catherine Street. There were barely any people walking or enjoying the village’s charms. You would see many empty buildings due to bankruptcy. Luckily, our Italian restaurant stayed open, though it was not doing great. My colleagues and I would receive virtually a third of the tip that we would usually have gotten. We would attract fewer reservations. Our only busy days became Fridays and Saturdays. On days the restaurant remained quiet, a lot of employees simply got their hours cut.
Not only was the business at hands with financial difficulties, dealing with customers became problematic as well. A lot of them would react with aggressive behaviours over the fact that they needed to cooperate with safety measures that were given by the government of Quebec. On a daily basis, we would have to tell them there was a maximum of four people per table, to wear masks at all times except when seated, to write their names and phone numbers, to show us their vaccination passports with an identity card, etc. It was definitely a struggle. But it all stopped when our restaurant came to an end.
On October 29th, 2021, Mozza burned in a fire along with three other buildings. According to TVA Nouvelles, there had been four fires in less than a year inside the village, and two of those happened in our very building.
Coming back to the gay village months after the fire, I see no changes. More than two years have passed since the pandemic began, and the village still looks desolate, miserable. Walking there, I witnessed a conversation between a woman and her friend. Her words were: “It’s no longer an interesting place.”