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Canada’s Eastern Gay Capitals

Travelers will find the Canadian capitals offer big-city and small-town delights.

Story By Marc Kassouf • Photography By S. Nathan DePetris

Along Canada’s coast, the cosmopolitan capitals of Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa beckon to gay and lesbian travelers and provide communities rich with heritage, culture, attractions and nightlife. It’s no wonder that the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (www.iglta.com) counts dozen of hotels and even cities themselves as members.

TORONTO

• Gay Pride & Events Pride

Toronto has grown in size and popularity. With over one million attendees, Toronto’s Pride festival and parade week is one of the biggest in the world. When planning a trip for Pride, ensure you book well in advance to avoid disappointment.• Clubs, Bars and Nightlife Toronto’s nightlife and gay establishments are clustered around the Church Wellesley Village , adjacent to the Wellesley TTC metro station. The dual bars of Woody’s and Sailor are an institution drawing local and international visitors alike. Nearby Byzantium is a restaurant bar with mean martinis and lays claim to being the first martini bar in Toronto. Around the corner, the Fly rocketed to worldwide fame with the filming of the American version of Queer as Folk.

• Sights, Sounds, and Attractions

Start your village explorations at Cawthra Square on Church just south of Gloucester with a sobering visit to the AIDS Memorial. You can stroll down Church Street to the Alexander Wood statue at the corner of Alexander Street, covering the bulk of the village while window shopping. Make sure to visit the palatial Casa Loma, former mansion and dream home of Sir Henry Pellatt, now a museum, complete with ornate interiors and lavish gardens. Another must-see is the Royal Ontario Museum, featuring some of the best permanent exhibits anywhere. For the thrill seeking, a visit to the CN Tower, the world’s tallest tower and one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World is a must.

• Accommodations and Logistics

The Royal Ontario Museum’s modern exterior contrasts with the ancient exhibits inside | (c) 2012 S. Nathan DePetris

The Sheraton Centre Toronto is an ideal base of operations and bed in the city. Equally, the Strathcona Hotel offers a boutique ambiance with personable service at very attractive rates from its downtown location near the VIA rail and TTC metro stations.

• If You Go
Byzantium (www.byz.ca)
Casa Loma (www.casaloma.org)
Church Wellesley Village (www.churchwellesleyvillage.ca)
CN Tower (www.cntower.ca)
Hilton Toronto (www.toronto.hilton.com)
Fairmont Royal York (www.fairmont.com)
The Fly (www.flynightclub.com)
Pride Toronto (www.pridetoronto.com)
Royal Ontario Museum (www.rom.on.ca)
Sheraton Centre Toronto (www.sheratontoronto.com)
Strathcona Hotel (www.thestrathconahotel.com)
Sutton Place (www.toronto.suttonplace.com)
Toronto Transit Commission, the TTC (www.ttc.ca)
Toronto PATH, the underground city (www.toronto.ca/path/)
Woody’s and Sailor (www.woodystoronto.com)

MONTREAL

Stained glass at Montreal Metro’s Champ-de-Mars station is reminiscent of Chagall meats Mondrian | (c) 2012 S. Nathan DePetris

• Gay Pride & Events

In typical Québécois fashion, pride festivities in Montreal are fabulous and over the top. If one gay pride isn’t enough, there are two alongside other events throughout the year. For twenty years, the Divers Cité festival has celebrated all the colors of the gay rainbow in art, song, and dance. This benevolent bacchanal draws bohemians from all over the city and beyond to frolic in the joys of life. St. Catherine Street and nearby streets in the Village are closed off every July as performers take to the street and stage. Grandmothers, parents, and children revel alongside drag queens, gay boys and girls of all ages, shapes and colors. Fierté Montreal, Montreal’s newest addition and official Pride parade and celebration, celebrated its 5th anniversary in 2011. This newer pride organizes a parade and floats, and is held in August.Not to be missed is the renowned Black and Blue festival,a uniquely Montreal event. Started as a circuit party to benefit HIV/AIDS, it has expanded to include cultural, artistic, and sports events, culminating in the Black and Blue party.

• Clubs, Bars and Nightlife

Gay nightlife in this bustling metropolis could fill up pages, but is luckily concentrated around St Catherine Street, between Berri-UQAM and Papineau metro, for easy exploration. Montreal’s many bars and clubs are often grouped as complexes under one roof, such as the Complexe Sky, with restaurant, discotheque, and a rooftop terrace. Another restaurant and bar combination is Saloon Resto Nightclub, featuring gastronomical beef specialties, haute cuisine, and a popular bar. To mix things up a bit, head out of the Village to Au Diable Vert; while not an exclusively gay club or bar, it is a charming local hangout that serves amazing beers on tap and attracts all kinds of young hip crowds.Unique to the city, many microscopic gay saunas dot several neighborhoods. The largest is Sauna Oasis, with over ten thousand square feet of amenities. Another prolific offering is Montreal’s male nude dance clubs. The relatively new Stock Bar has nightly shows, theme parties, and special events regularly. Campus is popular during the afternoons as well as evenings, and draws a college crowd.

Oratory of Saint Joseph, dominated by the massive dome, overlooks Montreal | (c) 2012 S. Nathan DePetris

•Sights, Sounds, and AttractionsRegardless of religious persuasion, the Notre Dame Basilica’s late nineteenth century woodwork and sculptures are breathtaking. Of particular note is the Chapel of the Sacred Heart’s ornate wooden altar. Just outside the city center, the Oratory of Saint Joseph commands a towering perch and can be seen from several locations in the city; its dome and structure is architecturally stunning, and the site is a pilgrimage destination for Catholics.

Museums in Montreal are top-notch. The most intriguing include the Archeology and History chronicling the city’s past, Fine Arts which showcases exquisite collections of Canadian, international and decorative arts, and Chateau Ramezay with its 500 years of history in an uncluttered quiet governor’s manor and gardens.

Light plays a symphony of humble colors in the shrine, at the Oratory of Saint Joseph, Montreal | (c) 2012 S. Nathan DePetris

Either by walking or horse-drawn carriage, Old Montreal serves up a meandering maze of streets with restaurants and shops reminiscent of Europe. Start your explorations in the iconic Champ-De-Mars metro station, walk uphill and use the Ste Antoine Sud exit into old the town, passing by the grandiose city hall to meander down gently-sloping Place Jaques-Cartier. Also, head to the Promenades Cathédrale, an underground all-weather complex of shops and stores with a network stretching 33 kilometers for shopping,eating and people watching.

• Accommodations and Logistics
Rooms run the gamut in Montreal, and there are many fine hotels and inns. However the gay B&B, or auberge, is as charming as it is prevalent and affordable. One of the most centrally located is Hotel Felix, formerly the Auberge Cozy, right in the heart of the village. Even more centrally located to all of the city through its connection to Berri UQAM subway and bus depot is the Gouverneur Place Dupuis; this basic four star has been a stalwart supporter of the community and hosts many Gay and Lesbian events, offers over 350 rooms, and is the closest large hotel to the Village.

Ornate details adorn the altar of the Sacred Heart, Basilica of Notre Dame de Montreal | (c) 2012 S. Nathan DePetris

• If You Go
Auberge Le Pomerol
Archeology and History (www.pacmuseum.qc.ca)
Atmosphere (www.atmospherebb.com)
Au Diable Vert (www.audiablevert.net)
Black and Blue party (www.bbcm.org)
Campus (www.campusmtl.com
Chateau Ramezay (www.chateauramezay.qc.ca)
Complexe Sky (www.complexesky.com)
Divers Cité festival (www.diverscite.org)
Fierté Montreal (www.fiertemontrealpride.com)
Fine Arts Museum (www.mbam.qc.ca)
Gouverneur Place Dupuis (www.gouverneur.com)
Hotel Felix (www.hotelfelixmontreal.com)
Lord Berri Hotel (www.lordberri.com)
Notre Dame Basilica (www.basiliquenddm.org)
Oratory of Saint Joseph (www.saint-joseph.org)
Saloon Resto Nightclub (www.lesaloon.ca)
Sauna Oasis (www.saunaoasis.net)
Stock Bar (www.stockbar.com)

OTTAWA

Jogging along Ottawa’s Rideau Canal, a UNESCO world heritage site, offers spectacular views of Parliament Hill | (c) 2012 S. Nathan DePetris

• Gay Pride & Events

Capital Pride, the capital city’s annual gay and lesbian pride event, is held mid August. One of the nation’s oldest pride celebrations, it has grown from its humble beginnings over twenty years ago to a weeklong series of festivities.

• Clubs, Bars and Nightlife
In contrast to the ‘big city’ feel of Montreal and Toronto’s gay communities, Canada’s capital city exudes a quaint small town charm. You’re likely to feel like you walked into a neighborhood bar rather than a major metropolitan city when exploring. Don’t let that fool you, as Ottawa has a vibrant gay and lesbian community, great wealth of arts, events, and entertainment.

For the boys, Centretown Pub dubs itself as the “Only True Men’s Bar”, with three floors and three venues in one: CP, Cellblock, and Silhouette. I must confess that on the one night I visited, it felt more like a neighborhood soap-opera unfolding before my eyes, complete with drama and dish. All of this adds to the unique feel of Ottawa’s gay nightlife. A visit to The Lookout Bar offers a bustling venue in the hub of the Byward Market’s action.

• Additional Nightlife Options
Hump @ Mercury Lounge (Wed only, 56 Byward Market Sq).
Edge Club and Lounge (212 Sparks St)
Steamworks for Men (www.steamworksformen.ca 487 Lewis St)

• Sights, Sounds, and Attractions
Without hesitation, Ottawa has one of the most amazing collections of museums and galleries befitting a nation’s capital. The crown jewel, the National Gallery of Canada, houses superlative permanent collections and hosts exhibitions in a contemporary setting of massive spaces and modern grandeur. Even non-history buffs will enjoy the somber and well-curated Canadian War Museum’s collection of military artifacts and paraphernalia. A stroll around parliament hill covers the Library of Parliament, Supreme Court, and Bytown Museum and nearby Rideau Canal, a UNESCO world heritage site.

If you desire a great way to spend the morning or afternoon enjoying the outdoors, walk through the Byward Market. This kaleidoscope of shops, eateries and stalls traces its history for almost two centuries to the founding of Ottawa. Nearby, Kinki Restaurant offers pan Asian cuisine artfully crafted, and transforms at night to a very hip and happening venue.

• Additional Attraction Options
Currency museum of the Bank of Canada (www.currencymuseum.ca)
Ottawa Walking Tours, Haunted Walk (www.hauntedwalk.com)
Paul’s Boat Lines, Rideau Canal tours (www.paulsboatcruises.com)

Spindly legs of ‘Mamman’ frame the National Gallery of Canada’s massive glass edifice | (c) 2012 S. Nathan DePetris

• Accommodations and Logistics
With so many hotel options to choose from in this gay capital, it’s hard to focus on just a few. ARC the.Hotel is a luxurious yet unpretentious boutique and gay friendly property. This tag-approved hotel belongs to Preferred hotels and resorts. Rooms are modern and trendy, with exquisite on-site dining and beverage concoctions in an intimate setting, centrally located to all attractions. Also centrally located, and just behind the Centretown Pub complex of bars, is the Bostonian Executive Suites , with its massively spacious rooms furnished in a casual contemporary style.

• If You Go
ARC the.Hotel (www.arcthehotel.com)
Bostonian Executive Suites (www.thebostonian.ca)
Brookstreet (www.brookstreet.ca)
Bytown Museum (www.bytownmuseum.com)
Byward Market (www.byward-market.com)
Canadian War Museum (www.warmuseum.ca)
Capital Pride (www.capitalpride.ca)
Centretown Pub (www.centretown-pub.com)
Fairmont Chateau Laurier (www.fairmont.com)
Kinki Restaurant (www.kinki.ca)
The Lookout Bar (www.thelookoutbar.com)
National Gallery of Canada (www.gallery.ca)
Novotel Ottawa (www.novotel.com)
Ottawa Rickshaws (www.rickshaws.ca)
Parliament Hill (www.parl.gc.ca)

• About the Author:
Marc Kassouf has traveled to more than three dozen countries, lived on four continents, and sailed on over sixty cruises. He owns an award-winning travel agency and has published instructive articles for travel agents. A collection of his articles can be found at www.wanderlustjournal.com

First Published: TravelWorld International Magazine, Jan 15 2012, Nov/Dec 2011 Issue

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