Businesses in Montreal’s Village struggle to cope with increased homelessness

How are the Village’s remaining businesses responding amidst several closures and moves in regarding the situation?

The stretch of St-Catherine Street between Berri and Papineau is the commercial and entertainment heart of Montreal’s Village, previously known as the Gay Village. However, it is lined with more and more desolate and deserted buildings awaiting new owners. Businesses in the Village are either closing shop permanently or moving out of the Village in growing numbers.

Arnaud Glay is the owner of Le Passé Composé, a restaurant that has been at the corner of De Maisonneuve Blvd. and Visitation Street for three years. They made the difficult decision in January to permanently close their doors and move out of the Village. 

The business explained their decision was based on issues with “fire, theft, vandalism, the presence of syringes and human feces on our terrace every day, and the physical harassment of our employees and customers,” according to their Facebook post.

Emma Monique, who works as a manager at Pizzeria Bros, was recently transferred from the Pizzeria Bros franchise restaurant in the Old Port to their location in the Village and has already noticed a stark difference between the two locations.

Regularly during the evening and night, unhoused people walk into the restaurant and beg her for food, money, or both. When she declines, they sometimes become aggressive.

“I’ve been called every name under the sun for refusing to give people free food, and they could yell, threaten to do stuff,” she said. “I’ve had somebody threaten to pee on the floor just because I couldn’t provide them with free stuff.”

Monique said that the restaurant is losing customers due to these issues—customers leave the restaurant because they’re scared or because they can’t get in due to someone using drugs directly in front of the restaurant.

Pizzeria Bros is only open until 10 p.m., while the Village’s nightlife stays open much later, usually until 3 a.m. Bar Le Cocktail owner Luc Généreux, fears for the safety of his staff and clients since his business stays open late.

“There are a lot of intoxicated people on the street. Our employees really don’t feel safe leaving work,” Généreux said.

According to Généreux, the police are called regularly to the bar, either by staff or the customers. The Village’s issues mainly affect the bar’s terrace. Last summer was the worst ever for Bar Le Cocktail’s terrace, Généreux said, with the business losing 90 per cent of its terrace revenue.

He originally purchased the bar in 2010, and he says these social issues have always existed in the Village but got much worse with the pandemic.

According to a 2023 report from Quebec’s Public Health Institute (INSPQ), the amount of unhoused people in Quebec has risen 44 per cent since 2018. That same report blames the shortage of affordable housing and COVID-19 for the increase. A different 2022 census created by Quebec’s Ministry of Health and Social Services found 4,960 unhoused people living in Montreal, almost double the 2018 figure.

Many unhoused people from around the city are driven to the Village due to the wealth and concentration of resources available for them, according to Généreux.

The main approach the management of both Pizzeria Bros and Bar Le Cocktail have taken to dealing with this problem is teaching their staff how to best deal with unhoused people, and encouraging a friendly approach meant to avoid escalating the situation, or incite aggressiveness or violence.

Prohibition is a chain of cannabis-focused drug accessory stores located across the city, including a location in the middle of the Village. While they deal with the same issues as other businesses in the area, they also gained new customers, according to one of its managers, Yoan Mailhot. Additionally, sales of certain drug-related items such as blowtorches and crack pipes have spiked heavily in the past couple of years.

Despite these business advantages, they also have had to cope with other issues that are increasingly common in the area. “Stealing is a big thing here. Compared to other stores, let’s say,” Mailhot said.

The shop has also had to deal with erratic and visibly extremely intoxicated customers.

Despite the challenges they encounter in the Village, some businesses like Bar Le Cocktail are closely connected to queer culture and the queer community, which makes them very hesitant about a prospective move.

 “I don’t think we’d have success outside [the Village], maybe,” Généreux said. “I won’t take that risk. I think that our business must be in the Village.”

Arts and Culture

Montreal’s sexiest subculture: fetish & kink

A deep dive into one of Montreal’s most secretive scenes and the community surrounding it.

Poutine, the Habs, French, and Mount Royal are the things that might generally come to mind when someone from outside the city thinks of Montreal. How about chains, whips, floggers, leather, and latex? 

Montreal is widely regarded as a global kink capital, featuring one of the largest fetish conventions in the world, a secretive yet growing kink scene, and an active passionate community. In 2024, just a short time after the scene mostly shut down and reopened following the COVID-19 pandemic, it is quickly evolving. 

What was once a largely secretive and private scene is increasingly becoming open to the public. A community that struggles with fracturing and drama is adapting to new values, as kink culture increasingly begins to intersect with queer culture. Behind all this change are venues and events that have revolutionized the scene by being open to the public and relatively affordable. 

Every year for the past almost two decades, fetish culture has taken over the streets on Labour Day weekend. Attracting thousands of local and even international fetish enthusiasts from the United States and Europe, Montreal Fetish Weekend (MFW) is the city’s largest fetish event. The event consists of workshops, expos, film screenings, social dinners, cocktail hours, and scandalous parties with music, dance, kinky play, and fashion shows, that take over Montreal’s nightlife. The event finally culminates on Sunday with a photo walk that dominates the streets with lingerie, leather, and latex fashion.

The large-scale event is produced by Eric Paradis, aged 58. Paradis has been active in the local fetish scene for the past 35 years and debuted the MFW in 2004. He believes that the local scene would heavily benefit from more political and media recognition. 

“It’s healthy, but it’s very underground when you compare it to other cities,” Paradis said of the local scene. 

The MFWd will be returning for its 20th anniversary this year, and Paradis teased some ambitious ideas. A fashion show led by the attendants of the event, a welcome dinner atop Place Ville Marie, and a kinky cruise touring the city from the St. Lawrence River are just some of the things attendants may potentially expect this year.

While the MFW has been a staple of the local scene for the better part of the last two decades, it has a significant barrier to entry with its pricing. The weekend trio pass costs around $200, while the V.I.P passes are upwards of $300, pricing out lower-income fetishists from many of the weekend’s events. It is also only held once a year. Certain newer public venues and events are lowering this barrier to entry by being much cheaper and running all year round. 

A portal into the world of kink can be found in a humble doorway in Montreal’s Gay Village, with a simple sign reading “TENSION.” Past the welcome area, visitors will find a large open space with a wooden floor, often covered in Japanese tatami, adorned by a massive “rope tree” in the center, its “branches” interconnecting and knotting with each other throughout the ceiling. 

Tension is a venue with a focus on teaching shibari (Japanese rope bondage), but also offers yoga classes, workshops on rope, as well as other elements of BDSM (bondage, domination, sadism, and masochism) play, social communal events that bring like-minded people together, and even occasional parties. Founded originally in late 2017 as a smaller venue, Tension moved to a much larger venue on St-Catherine Street in March 2019. 

According to 33-year-old Christophe Bolduc, one of the owners of Tension, shibari has appeals for both the person doing the tying (the rigger) and the person being tied (the bottom). This and other forms of rope bondage involve using rope to restrain someone and restrict their movement, though it can potentially be very artistic. 

Bolduc was introduced to the ex-owner of Tension and was first tied upon his visit to the venue. It was then that he realized the depth of the craft, and his interest in rope was sparked. He began taking classes in 2018 and joined the Tension team in late 2019.

While shibari offers a new form of artistic expression to those who practise it as riggers and a unique immersive sensory experience for bottoms, it is not entirely safe. Bolduc stressed that shibari could be dangerous when not done safely, with risks such as nerve compression & damage. Physical safety is emphasized in the classes taught at Tension.

Tension calls itself a “safer space,” and the team is constantly trying to improve for its community. The staff accomplishes this through various methods, including community talks, teaching classes on consent & negotiation, placing an emphasis on emotional safety, and accountability circles, where clients can contact a neutral party with issues or conflicts.

After struggling through the COVID-19 pandemic like other non-essential businesses, Tension is now finally seeing some solid growth. “It’s reassuring that the community has been managing to constantly show up,” Bolduc said. 

In stark contrast to the Zen atmosphere of Tension, a monthly event features strobe lights, lingerie, a dungeon, and the ear-splitting hard bass of hardcore techno music, LATEX is Montreal’s most trendy kink event right now. The event attracts hundreds of ravers every month and, most recently, international DJs from Germany and Iceland. It will be returning for a special edition in collaboration with the Pornceptual collective on March 15. 

Held monthly at Union Française de Montreal on Viger Avenue, LATEX has a strictly-enforced kinky dress code. The event features performances including shibari, pole dances, and other kinky performances. The event also includes a dungeon equipped with large restraints such as X-crosses, as well as sex toys like plastic floggers and paddles, allowing attendants to play.

Juliana (Jules) Schlamp, aged 20, is a regular at the event. She’s been to six events so far, having attended her first LATEX in April. She was introduced to the world of kink through a chance discovery after leaving Stereo nightclub and seeing people in their outfits lined outside the event venue. 

“Unreal,” Schlamp said of her first experience at the rave. “It was truly extraordinary. To see the level of comfort, what people were wearing… and nobody was hitting on each other, it was so consensual and such a respectful space.” For Schlamp,  the event feels like a safe space where, if ever she were ever in danger, her fellow ravers would help her. 

Former dungeon monitor, photographer, and DJ at LATEX, Ben Ohayon (known in the scene as warmrubberette), quit the event back in September. He cited safety concerns due to mixing kink with loud music, drugs, and alcohol. Schlamp expressed a similar concern, saying  that as the event attracts more people, it becomes harder to filter out bad actors, and the event becomes less safe. 

Ohayon is the organizer of Rubber Regalia, Montreal’s only latex-dress code party, as well as Dirty AF, the kink scene’s newest addition and the first-ever hip-hop/Y2K-themed kink party, hosted at Cabaret Berlin.  Dirty AF returned for its second edition in January, and Ohayon plans to continue hosting the event every few months, with the next event being scheduled for May.

As Ohayon recognizes, Kink culture in Montreal has begun to increasingly intersect with queer culture. Referring to concepts such as switching (when one switches positions from top to bottom or vice versa) that have been imported from queer culture, Ohayon said: “That makes kink even more accessible because there’s less constraints associated with it. There’s more possibilities, more labels. You can explore it the way you want to explore it without being judged.”

Organizers of the community are generally optimistic about the future of the local scene. As Paradis said: “Montreal will always find a way to express its creativity and its kinkier side.”  

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