Montreal Hotel de Ville, 1978
I haven’t spent a lot of time in Canada, probably no more than a couple of weeks if you strung all the days together. I always enjoy Canada, though. Granted I’ve only traveled in Eastern Canada, mostly along the rail line that runs between Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City. Some day I’d like to continue further east out to the Gaspé Peninsula and Prince Edward Island, as well as westward across the prairie to Vancouver.
But today I write of Montreal, a gorgeous city which I just realized has always been associated in my experience with illicit sex. (Not that any involved me.)
I first went to Montreal in late 1970’s to represent my company at a graphic arts production conference. It wasn’t a big gathering, but North America’s most prestigious newspaper and magazine publishers were all represented. The talk was about the growing interest in what was becoming known as electronic pagination. (Keep in mind, nobody'd actually seen electronic pagination then. This was years before PageMaker made electronic pagination available to anyone with a decent personal computer.) I learned a lot, met some interesting people and had time to walk around downtown Montreal and have a few good meals.
Late each afternoon the people in our conference would adjourn to the hotel bar for drinks before dinner. Also at the hotel were several hundred American Motors mechanics (remember American Motors?) from all across Canada. They’d been brought in to preview the year’s new models and presumably be taught how to service them.
They might have done that. But what the mechanics really liked was the hookers who worked the hotel bar. Some afternoons there would just be one woman, the madam, I guessed. She’d sweep into the bar and sweet talk a half dozen or so AMC mechanics at a time into following her out to the street where a van was waiting to take them to her brothel. As soon as they left she’d come back in and gather up the next vanload. She was good at it. Some afternoons she’d have emptied the bar of mechanics by 4:30 p.m. If our group lingered in the bar, we’d catch some of her first customers returning to the bar to salve their post coital tristesse with more alcohol.
The next time I was in Montreal was many years later. We were doing some tourism research. Our local affiliate had arranged for our small traveling party to stay in a very trendy boutique hotel in downtown Montreal. It was an old place, but the rooms were spacious and comfortable and there was a stylish rooftop bar full of stylish people. I didn’t spend any extra time passing through the lobby, but did notice that whenever I was there the people who came and went during the day were all very well dressed and seemingly anxious to hustle in and out without being noticed. That night I asked my Canadian friend Julie to tell me what the deal was with this hotel. She giggled when she heard that my clients were staying there, and explained that this hotel was known as the place where Montreal’s elite liked to go when they were out for a bit of Le Afternoon Delight.