The history of Pride in Montréal

The first Pride march in Montréal was held in June 1979 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Stonewall. 40 years later, Pride in Montréal had grown from 52 marchers in 1979 to more than 2 million participants in 2018.

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Modest beginnings

La Brigade Rose, which organized the first Pride march, didn’t have a Rainbow Flag, originally designed by Gilbert Baker for San Francisco’s Gay Freedom Day Parade in June 1978. So, Montréal activist John Banks sewed together two bedsheets, dyed them pink and cut them into a triangular flag, which he and Montréal drag legend “La Monroe” (a.k.a. Armand Monroe) carried at the head of the march.

In many ways, the story of Pride in Montréal reflects the wider societal acceptance of the LGBTQ2 movement in the city. Over 40 years, Pride in Montréal grew into an 11-day festival.

Montréal Pride is now the largest Pride celebration in the francophone world and is popular with all Montrealers.

But it took many years to grow. When Banks organized the city’s second Pride march in 1980, this time drawing 250 marchers, it was again held during Québec’s “Fête nationale” or national holiday. Called Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, the statutory public holiday is held on June 24 each year, four days shy of Stonewall, which began in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969.  

The Association pour les droits des gai(e)s du Québec then organized Pride until 1986; their dates also coincided with the Fête nationale. Between 1987 and 1992 various committees organized Pride events in and around the Gay Village, always at the end of June.

From a march to a festival

Montréal’s first bonafide Pride organization, Divers/Cité, was co-founded in 1993 by LGBTQ2 activists Suzanne Girard and Puelo Deir. Divers/Cité was inspired by Sex Garage, a violent Montréal police raid on an LGBTQ2 loft party in Old Montréal that is now widely considered to be “Montréal’s Stonewall” after partygoers resisted arrest and fought back.

Some 5,000 people attended Divers/Cité’s inaugural Pride march, including stand-up comics Scott Thompson and Lea DeLaria, who both participated in the parade and performed on the main stage afterwards.

Divers/Cité also switched Pride’s dates to late July and early August, so that the city’s Pride celebrations would no longer be associated with the Fête nationale. When Fierté Montréal took over the parade in 2007, it kept its festival dates in August.

Montréal Pride has since become the largest Pride celebration in the francophone world, hosting more than 150 activities annually. In 2017, Montréal Pride also welcomed 96 Canadian Pride organizations at the inaugural edition of Canada Pride – modelled on EuroPride and WorldPride – as Montréal and Canada marked their 375th and 150th anniversaries respectively and drew 2.7 million visitors. And Montréal Pride is now bidding to host World Pride in 2023.

While Tourisme Montréal partnered with Divers/Cité beginning in the 1990s to help grow Pride in Montréal, the relationship deepened with its partnership with Montréal Pride.

Today, Tourisme Montréal supports Montréal Pride’s presence at Prides in Boston, New York, Washington and Toronto. And for its 100th anniversary in 2019, Tourisme Montréal will have a special float in the Montréal Pride parade, as Montrealers of all stripes proudly celebrate the 41st edition of Pride in their city.

Richard Burnett

Richard Burnett, blogger

Richard “Bugs” Burnett is a Canadian freelance writer, editor, journalist, blogger and columnist for alt-weeklies, mainstream and LGBTQ publications. Bugs also knows Montréal like a drag queen knows a cosmetics counter.

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