Posted on April 15th, 2011 by .

Being an openly gay male in one of the most diverse and accepting cities in the world, it can be easy to forget the historical events that made it all possible. Read here as I explore the fascinating gay history of Montreal, and give this city its own Hanky Code!

Montreal has a vibrant and eccentric gay scene that rivals among the best on the planet. However it all had to start somewhere! 1869 to be exact! Apparently the first recorded gay establishment in North America was an apple and cake shop located on Craig Street (now Sainte-Antoine). Owned by Montrealer Moise Tellier, it was a popular place for men to have little “rendezvous”. [1]

A century later, Montreal’s underground gay scene is in full swing, centered around Dominion Square on Stanley and Drummond. The Dominion Square Tavern, which still operates today, is known to have once been Montreal’s premier gay bars. The original sign can still be seen in the back alley, where the patrons would enter. [2] How cool is that?! Since 2009, it has re-opened as a French style bistro and is great for a 5 a 7 cocktail with appetizers at their enormous bar. The “tavern” in the name stays though as a reminder that it will never forget its roots.

It was in the mid-70s that Jean Drapeau started a bid to “clean up” this area of town before the 1976 Olympics Games. He created the “Public Morality Committee” that is responsible to the raiding, closing and sometimes firebombing almost all the gay establishments in this area by 1980. The most serious happened in October 1977 where Truxx club was raided and over 144 men were arrested. Next to the 1970 October Crises, it was the single largest mass arrest in Quebec history. In true Quebecois style, 2,000 people showed up the next day to protest. [3] This is the moment where the gay rights movement in Montreal took off, and by December they had voted in Bill 88. Making Quebec the second society in the world to make discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation illegal!

I wasn’t born yet, however I can imagine that on those fun filled nights in the Dominion Square Tavern, hanky code was used. Now if you’re from the right demographic, during the right time you probably know a thing or two about hanky code. If you aren’t, you’re probably very confused. Hanky code is deeply rooted in gay history stemming primarily from London and New York City in the late 70’s. In a nutshell, hanky code is a hanky or bandana that is worn in either the left or right back pocket. Depending on the color or pattern of the hanky, it meant what kind of things you were into (types of men, what you were looking for, fetishes, etc.). In a time where it was not acceptable to be openly gay, its pretty interesting that an entire language was developed that if you knew the code you could seek out other gay men with similar interests.  If you’re still confused maybe the Canadian electro-grunge musician Peaches can explain better with her song “Hanky Code“.

Based on all of this, I thought it would be fun to throwback and create a “Hanky Code Guide to Montreal”, where I will match up a place in Montreal, with a popular and historical hanky code!

BLACK HANKY – INTO S&M: For all those interesting in the black hanky, sounds like your kind of place would be L’Aigle Noire on Sainte-Catherine. Full of all the leather and chainmail you could wish for, it’s definitely the place to get your kink on. Need supplies? Then the basement of Priape, located a few steps away, is discreet and full of costumes, trinkets and handcuffs to make any black hanky wearer extremely happy.

GREY FLANNEL HANKY – LEFT: OWNS A SUIT, RIGHT: LIKES MEN IN SUITS: Grey flannel means you love a nice crisp suit. Worn in the left pocket means you own and like wearing suits. So for the best and most luxurious suits in Montreal, the men’s department at Holt Renfrew has everything to make sure you’re dressed to the T from the finest world-renowned designers. If you wear this hanky on the right, it means you think nothing is sexier than a suave gentleman in a crisp ensemble.

TAN HANKY – LIKES SMOKING CIGARS: Like smoking cigars? A tan hanky means this. A night out at Whiskey Café where you can smoke these babies inside would be perfect! A friendly and relaxed lounge environment is the perfect place to enjoy its extensive array of fine Cuban cigars. Cigars and Whiskey go together like Sonny & Cher (common, they were meant for each other!) so enjoy both here for a night as smooth as their most expensive bottle from their collection of over 150!

WHITE HANKY – SAFE ONLY: If you’re wearing a white hanky, you’re into being safe only. A responsible hanky to wear, but doesn’t mean you can’t have fun! Keep it safe by simply holding hands with your gay-lover as you take a leisurely trip to a museum. The McCord Museum houses one of the most important historical collections in Canada. This year it’s celebrating 90 years with 90 of its most prized and important artifacts that will allow visitors to explore and discover the most fascinating part of Canadian history!

JOLLY ROGER BANDANA – CLOTHING FETISH: If I personally wore any kind of hanky, it would be this one. To satisfy my fetish for clothing I can think of no other place but Michel Brisson. With two locations (one in Old Montreal and one on Laurier) this is a store that knows style. Contemporary clothes, designer fits, with price tags to match – I simply can’t resist. When it comes to the Jolly Roget Bandana, Michel Brisson is the only man for me!

GINGHAM PATTERNED HANKY – LOVES THE URBAN OUTDOORS: There is no escape from the city, while still being in the city like the Botanical Gardens. One of the worlds largest, you are literally transported to another world. Over 22,000 (count em’!) different plants and species, and several different sections based on countries this is the place for those into the great outdoors. This park is so large that there are plenty of huge shrubs to sneak behind with your lover and…

Guest Blogger: Alex Dunphy



Dominion Square Tavern, 1243 Metcalfe, (514) 564-5056

L’Aigle Noire, 1315 Sainte-Catherine Street East, (514) 529-0040

Priape, 1311 Sainte-Catherine Street East, (514) 521-8451

McCord Museum, 690 Sherbrooke Street West, (514) 398-7100

Holt Renfrew, 1300 Sherbrooke Street West, (514) 842-5111

Michel Brisson, 340 Saint-Paul West, (514) 285–1012 / 1074 Laurier West, (514) 270-1012

Whiskey Café, 5800 St. Laurent Blvd, (515) 278-2646

Botanical Gardens, 4101 Sherbrooke East, (514) 872-1400

Photo Credit: Hanky Photo- Hanky Code, Michel Brisson- ©Marc Cramer

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