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social sciences

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Montreal is located on an island in the St. Lawrence River in the Canadian province of Quebec. With a population of 1.8 million in the city proper and an additional 1.7 million in the metropolitan area, it is the second largest city in Canada. It is also--after Paris--the second largest French-speaking city in the world.

Bilingualism is extremely common, as there are large minorities of citizens who speak English and other languages. The city counts four major universities, two French and two English, as well as a large number of technical schools and junior colleges.

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Early History

First visited by French explorers in 1535, the site was noticed as a promising location for a trading post. It had a good natural harbor and was the furthest point inland that could be reached by boat, as white water rapids lay upstream.

Montreal was founded in 1642 (as Ville-Marie) by a society of devout French Catholics intent on converting and "civilizing" the native peoples.

The first recorded case of occurred soon after, in 1648. As only one Frenchman--a drummer of the regiment sent to protect the settlers--was arrested, it is likely that his partner was a native whose conversion had gone awry and who had escaped. Sent to Quebec City for trial, the drummer was given a choice between execution and taking on the job of executioner. He chose the latter option.

In 1663, the entire island was granted as a fief to another religious group, the Messieurs de Saint-Sulpice of Paris. As seigneur or lord of Montreal, their representative, François Dollier de Casson, was the first to draw up a plan for the city. Although surrounding lands were fertile, the fur trade was the main activity and the population was disproportionately male.

It is therefore not surprising that the second and most detailed case of sodomy in New France should again concern the military. One lieutenant, Nicolas Daucy, called St-Michel, and two soldiers were accused of this crime in 1691.

The local bailiff started an inquest, but Daucy refused to cooperate in spite of threats, noting that his case was beyond the purview of the Montreal judiciary and demanding to be tried in Quebec City. Surprisingly, he was aware of his legal status as a sodomite. The Quebec authorities started the procedures from scratch and condemned him to banishment and a fine, while his partners were sentenced to continue serving in the army for a few years.

These sentences might seem lenient in view of the prescribed punishment of death by fire, but such executions never occurred in the colony and only rarely in France. Exceptional measures were nevertheless prescribed: to avoid scandal, the testimony was ordered to be sown inside a bag and sealed.

Nineteenth-Century Montreal

No other cases of sodomy have been discovered until 1839, long after the fall of the city to the British in 1760. Two apprentices were caught having sex in the bed they shared.

Montreal was by then a busy port ruled by rich Scottish and English merchants. It received goods destined for the fast developing colony of Upper Canada (now Ontario) and exported lumber and grain to Europe. It was also developing as a manufacturing center. As such, the city grew to a size where young men could escape their families and gain some independence, both financial and sexual, as wage laborers.

These conditions no doubt contributed to the emergence of a male homosexual subculture, the first trace of which appears in 1869, when the police identified a store that served as a meeting place for homosexuals.

This discovery and the arrest of the owner spurred a crackdown and in the following days a man known for making indecent propositions to soldiers was arrested and fined. Other meeting places of homosexual men were occasionally mentioned in newspaper reports.

Outdoor cruising at the Champs-de-Mars, a promenade behind City Hall, was popular for decades in the second half of the nineteenth century, even though entrapment was frequent and gay bashings sometimes occurred under the complicit surveillance of the police.

By 1891 another city park, Saint-Helen's Island, provided an alternative to amateurs of outdoor fun. Gross indecency charges were first laid against a male couple having a tryst there in 1891, but this park was to have its heyday in the postwar years when many homosexuals frequented the Montreal Swim Club.

The Earlier Twentieth Century

In 1916, a male bordello that had existed for at least three years was closed and several people charged.

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Top: A view of the Montreal skyline.
Above: Jean Drapeau, the rabidly homophobic mayor of Montreal from 1954-1957 and 1960-1986.

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