An alternative guide to 1974 Montreal: Montréal Insolite, pt. 1
Montréal Insolite was a local guide to nightlife and the underground that may have only been published once or twice at the time. It belongs to a family of underground guides that seem to have only existed in the 1970s, encouraging tourists and locals to explore the new sex, drug and rock-and-roll post-60s hedonism.
The guide is along the same lines as the Peoples’ Yellow Pages reproduced elsewhere on this site, with a stronger accent on sex and a bit less on community resources. There are dozens of photographs of 1974 Montreal — we’ve included most of them here as cleaned-up jpegs, scanned from the original black and white pulp paperback.
The wry commentary by the author is a bonus, although despite appearing to be a homosexual himself, the terms and turns of phrase definitely predate any notion of political correctness. There is a strong sense throughout that while Montreal has many charms, its nightlife and red light district is not what it once was due to unspecified then-recent crackdowns by the authorities.
Here is the publication in full in PDF format with some sample pages. Click here to read the publication in PDF format.
Our efforts at tracking down the author, photographer and publisher were not successful. If you know anything about them or whether they ever managed to publish another edition of Montréal Insolite, please contact us!
This guide is unusual to say the least. It doesn’t claim to be complete. It aims to reveal an overlooked aspect of Montreal to visitors and locals alike:
This guide was put together by three guys of varying temperaments. Each in their own way are in love with Montreal.
Claude Jodoin is a journalist and an inveterate night owl. He’s been wandering around Montreal for the past fifteen years. You will benefit from his experience here. He’s a true Montrealer who continues to go out in “his” city.
Gérald Merkel is a journalist and photographer whose talent was unknown until recently in Quebec. A few years ago, he landed in Montreal from his native Algeria. He was seduced by the second-largest French city in the world, so much so that he photographed it from all angles.
Yvon Belzil is a guy from the Lower St-Lawrence that came up to Montreal about fifteen years ago and who never left. He directed the layout and production of this volume.
For many years, the city of Montreal was recognized as the most “alive” in North America. Its many gambling houses, its forbidden quarter, its more than three hundred cabarets and nightlife scene gave the city a very special character.
“MONTREAL by NIGHT” was a world apart, with special rules and where certain habits and customs had installed themselves.
Then, the reformers suddenly appeared!
It was a great cleansing.
The Committee for Public Morality, Pacifique Plante, Jean Drapeau, the League of Civic Action and the Caron inquiry began the daunting task of purifying their city.
The forbidden quarter was completely demolished and gave way to the “Dozois Plan”, the first public housing project in Quebec. Gambling houses disappeared one after the other and sex workers were forced to go into hiding.
A new era was nigh.
Our sex workers left the sidewalks and discovered the telephone. That was in 1954, the year of “call girls.”
Gradually, the moralist noose was tightened, Montreal’s nightlife was kept in check according to rigid moral standards.
More recently, massive raids were carried out in most licensed establishments… obvisouly aimed at revoking as many licenses as possible. At first, these police tactics seemed to strike a lethal blow to Montreal’s nightlife scene.
Many tourists now believe that it’s very difficult – if not impossible – to have fun in the second largest French city in the world.
This little unpretentious guide wishes to show that, despite the efforts of law enforcement, Montreal is still the “frisky” city it was twenty years ago, the only difference being that things are now happening clandestinely.
In order to find what we want, we need to know where to look… and how to organize. Because Montreal is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in North America and anything can be found… in any field!
If you know how to look, you can, with a bit of luck, land in the middle of a sex orgy with disciples of Lesbos; be solicited on the street by a “tall one” that will make you discover the delights of masculine love; get a taste of conventional sex with Martha Adams’ eyes or with Big Rita; further the experience with two or three wild partners; attend a “wedding à la mode” between two homosexuals who do not hesitate to show their colours; treat yourself to a “journey” in the world of the unreal with marijuana, hashish, mescaline, LSD or equally ethereal drugs.
For movie lovers, you can choose between thirty of the most racy films out there, all shown in our best movie theatres. Decarie Blvd., authorities will qualify them as artistic movies … while the same movie will be deem pornographic on Papineau Street. It was the story of I, A Woman!
In parallel, and to recharge your batteries, you can choose from the many first class restaurants of the city; attend a concert of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, one of the best in the world; applaud Charles Aznavour, Gilles Vigneault, Nana Mouskouri, Monique Leyrac or Harry Belafonte at Place des Arts; visit the Museum of Montreal and admire a stunning collection of the great names in painting; or discuss philosophy, politics or Maoism in one of the many cafés, the daily appointments of our intelligentsia.
You can learn in five lessons the art of “self defense,” karate; visit the holy placces of Saint-Joseph’s Oratory, Notre-Dame Basilica, Bonsecours church or one of the 190 temples in the city; frolic on the slopes of Mount Royal and spend hours at “Terre des Hommes,” a man-made oasis of arts and culture in the middle of the St. Lawrence River.
Some of the “victims” of the big cleansing that took place in Montreal through 70-71-72, when more than 180 night clubs in Montreal were closed by the authorities.
There was a time when the metropolis was “wide open, but honest,” to use the expression of one of its first magistrates, Mr. Sarto Fournier. There was a time, under Camilien Houde, when Montreal was an open city… no further comment. There was even a time when it was a closed city. This happened during the war of 39, when the military authorities banned the soldiers from accessing the metropolis; our “furloughs” returned to base with venereal diseases. The thighs of our “grandmas” were laying low the Canadian army! The authorities’ decision also created a mini-revolution amongst our prostitutes. A major medical cleansing was carried out and Montreal was an Open City once again… for the military and for others.
Those were the days! Montreal had a real and hidden red light district, where hundreds of girls practiced the oldest profession in the world with the apparent blessing of the municipal authorities. Solicitation and bawdy houses were prohibited by the Criminal Code, but this did not prevent brothels from thriving.
At the time, the nocturnal activities of our beautiful girls were confined by Saint Laurent to the west; Ontario to the north; Saint-Denis to the east; and to de la Gauchetière to the south. The most prestigious establishments were located in the north of this district. The further south one went, the more prices fell.
Everyone’s heard of the infamous 312 Ontario Street; it was probably the best-known brothel in America. You could get incredible girls at an affordable price (between $5 and $15) who’d get you straight to cloud nine. The brothel was located just across from Police Station Number 4, and from the window of his office, the commanding officer could clearly see the debauchery.
Brothels filled the surrounding streets… There were at least a hundred on de Bullion, Charlotte, Berger, Hôtel de Ville, Saint-Dominique etc. You could spot them from the red light marking their entry, which earned the district its official nickname – the “REDLIGHT.”
A solitary wanderer had only to walk those streets and choose … No fewer than 600 girls worked in the neighbourhood and they would get your attention by clapping their windows. For the ones who knew how to get by, it wasn’t difficult to find a bargain … So in the early mornings, the girls who hadn’t filled their quotas were ready to make any concession. And so this was how a certain journalist, well known for his amorous adventures, managed in this way to end many an evening for only $5. The same journalist also discovered that on Sunday mornings, the girls had absolutely nothing to do, since their regular customers all attended Sunday Mass. The journalist got into the habit of walking the streets of the neighbourhood Sundays and procure at significantly reduced prices the charms of major brothel owners Lucie and Georgette’s stars.
All around this underground district, nightclubs sprang up. On the “Main” … and Sainte Catherine between Saint-Laurent and Saint-Denis, there were over forty of them! A great many regulars pursued their sexual adventures at these the clubs. Others went occasionally for a few drinks to muster the courage to venture into the “REDLIGHT” jungle.
Tourists would bump into upscale hotel owners who were happy to direct them to the best brothels of the area. By late evening, however, nightclubs were transformed. At the time, although the law set the official closing time at 2 a.m., cabarets remained open until sunrise. Around 3 a.m., the “pimps”, the “gigolos”, and Casanovas in need went to brothels to fetch their “women” and catch the last show, namely at the Faisan Doré, Casa Loma, or at Vie… These gentlemen spent like millionaires the money earned horizontally by their favorite “employees”.
To use an expression from the milieu, the thickness of the “bankroll” that they’d flash was proof of the quality of the girl they had on their arm.
Then, nights would end in the famous “Spaghetti House,” the best Italian restaurant in Montreal at the time. Curiously, regulars would almost without exception order a “Pepper Steak!”
Meanwhile on St. Catherine Street, casinos thrived … as well as betting houses. For years the area was home to infamous “barbottes” where many came to lose a fortune every night throwing dice… The betting houses were part of international networks where one could place bets on horses racing anywhere in North America.
In the district, police activities were reduced to a bare minimum… There was the occasional “raid” here and there, for form, but everything happened in full view. Sometimes a priest would raise his voice against it all… but a substantial cheque for the good works of the parish would rectify the situation. All of this lasted at least twenty years, up until Pacifique Plante, wanting to play St. George, embarked on a cleansing crusade.
The political foundations of the city were shaken and his majesty, Jean Drapeau, became the reigning magistrate of Montreal. In less than two years, the “REDLIGHT” was a thing of the past, replaced by a huge public housing project…
Our peripatetic girls then went underground…. Rather than operate from brothels, they chose a bar from which they could work from… cabaret owners were quick to adapt… Soon enough, dancers replaced comedians and the girls of easy virtue took on the habit of sitting down with clients to get a few paid rounds of drinks.
The girls were sprightly and saucy. Some establishments employed more than fifty at a time … These “artists” didn’t hesitate to push the “striptease” further and have a drink with a client.
In fact, the girls were divided into two groups: those who “went out” and those who “didn’t go out.” Those who didn’t go out ensured the smooth running of the place, while the others ensured the smooth running of a parallel trade! A good tip to the waiter guaranteed the continuation of the “party” in a more conducive and relaxed atmosphere … provided that the customer had taken the required minimum consumption before departing.
In practice, it made the cost of amorous affairs soar. They cost between six and ten times more than before. The cabaret owners soon realized the profitability of the new pick-up methods… The “mixing” business quickly incorporated the added refinements. It was something to see. If one or two affluent clients entered the club, a swarm of dancers would surround them. If these gentlemen were not versed in the tactics of this con-fraternal guerrilla, they could wake up with a bill amounting to 300$ or 400$.
One night, we saw three American doctors who committed the terrible imprudence to pay the first round with a credit card … Within 45 minutes, the beautiful girls made their tab reach 900$. They left the tavern without much awareness of what was happening to them and without having “tasted” the charms of the ephemeral strippers.
However, this was the exception. More often than not, savvy clients willingly agreed to spend tens of dollars for the company of dancers before leaving the club with their favourites! The girls working these cabarets had a phenomenal drinking capacity. A good “mixeuse” could drink 100 cocktails without flinching. At first we used to serve them “phoneys”… vulgar “ginger ale” in a champagne glass.
Some cabaret owners were accused of fraud and it got sophisticated. They served the dancers-mixeuses cocktails in glasses stuffed with crushed ice, containing only a few drops of mediocre wine, highly diluted drinks (3 ounces of alcohol in half a gallon of water.)
Several techniques were developed. If the client strongly insisted they drink anything, the girls used the “transfer” technique. They took a sip of alcohol … that they were careful not to swallow…. then they pretended to take a sip of water in another glass. In fact, they regurgitated the alcohol in the half full glass that a busboy replaced with the manual agility of a Houdini. When it was a bigger sucker, someone who would not hesitate to buy her an $80 bottle of champagne, the dancer resorted to a subtler but equally effective technique called “dumping”.
To facilitate her work, the waitress would place the ice bucket used for cooling the bottle at the “mixeuse’s” feet. With one hand caressing the neck of her Romeo, the dancer would use her other hand to empty the bottle into the bucket. As all of this happened in the dark, more often than not, the champagne ended up on the carpet…. Then came the era of “gigagig.” Some girls soon realized that they were losing valuable time when they left the tavern to “do a customer.” So they developed the technique of “gigagig”… manual work… under the table, provided you showed the money!
The young ladies were killing two birds with one stone … they perceived their due for the drinks and received a generous tip for their skillful hands!
In some disreputable establishments, a back room was set up for the girls to let go without such restraint.
It was getting too good to last!
Mayor Jean Drapeau and his team of moralists decided to undertake a massive cleansing before the opening of EXPO 67. The City Council adopted the famous resolution number 3416, prohibiting any fraternization between cabaret employees and customers. This regulation gave rise to an epic struggle between our brave police officers who had to enforce it and the cabaret owners.
It didn’t quell abuses, but rather encouraged new ones. Customers continued to spend fortunes in cabarets, with the difference being that they often lost their lady partners to police officers.
Finally, after years of dithering, the police authorities had the last word… specialized cabarets lost their liquor license one by one.
Meanwhile, several networks of “call girls” permanently settled in the city … under the leadership of lady overlords, such as: the great Claudette, sweet Francine, beautiful Rose, big Rita… and Martha Adams, whose name was known all over America.
Today, these networks still exist, but their activities are limited. The competition is huge because thousands of girls now practice the oldest profession in the world part-time. Professionals don’t like to see what they consider unfair competition… but they can only try to limit the damage, not very successfully. Although times have changed, it is still easy to “have a good time” in Montreal. Our girls, some say, are amongst the finest in the world and their thighs are still particularly inviting.