When Luc Provost transforms into Mado Lamotte, one of Montreal's most famous drag queens, it's a magical moment. His over-the-top makeup and costumes make Mado edgy, unique, beautiful and welcoming – much like his native city. And like Provost, Montreal undergoes its own transformation every summer.
Situated in Canada's Quebec province, Montreal's winter temperatures can be brutal. The average high is just 13 degrees. But for the months of June, July and August, temperatures pleasantly hover in the 70s.
''Everything happens in the summer – especially after six months of hard winter,'' says Mado. ''It is like a new awaking every year.''
Mado believes Montreal is at its best in the summer, and visitors appear to agree. Summer is the peak tourism season, with people from around the world flocking to the historic city to sightsee and participate in a multitude of festivals.
A SUMMER OF FESTIVALS
With the Cirque du Soleil headquarters in Montreal, it's appropriate that one of the newer additions to the city's festival calendar is the Circus Arts Festival. Running July 3 to 14, the festival includes circus troupes from three continents, offering 14 performances at venues across the city.
One of Mado's favorite festivals is Divers/Cité, an LGBT arts and music festival July 29 to Aug. 4. Most of the programming is outdoors and showcases a variety of artistic genres, from modern dance to electronic music to cinema. As part of Divers/Cité, Mado hosts ''Mascara,'' North America's largest drag show.
Just a week after Divers/Cité, Montreal's LGBT community holds its annual pride celebration, Aug. 12 to 18. The featured events are a community day on Saturday, Aug. 17, and a parade on Sunday, Aug.18.
HITTING THE STREETS
In the song ''It's Raining Men,'' when the Weather Girls sing ''the street's the place to go,'' they easily could have been referring to Montreal's Saint Catherine Street.
Montreal's main commercial thoroughfare, Saint Catherine Street spans nearly the entire city from east to west. In the downtown core, Saint Catherine's serves as the anchor for the city's famed shopping district with large department stores and unique boutiques. For one weekend every July, a large section the street closes for one of the world's largest sidewalk sales. This year's sale will be held July 14 and 15.
It is also on Saint Catherine Street that you find Mado. Her cabaret is located in Montreal's LGBT neighborhood, commonly referred to as The Village, which is on the east end of Saint Catherine Street. It stretches about a dozen blocks from east to west and extends out two blocks each direction, north and south.
The Village has served as the heart of Montreal's LGBT community since the 1980s. Today, there are more than a dozen bars, nightclubs, cabarets, restaurants, saunas, strip clubs and retail shops that cater to Montreal's large and visible LGBT community. It has becomes such an established destination within the city that it is designated on official city maps and the entrance to the Beaudry Metro station in the center of The Village is decorated with rainbow-colored columns.
Throughout the summer, the section of Saint Catherine Street that extends through The Village is closed to vehicular traffic and becomes a pedestrian promenade. In addition, the local bars and restaurants are able to take advantage of the warm weather and street closure by building temporary patios that extend out into the street.
FRENCH, BUT NOT RUDE
Montreal has a very European appearance and vibe. Mado is quick, however, to dispel any notion that this bilingual city with deep roots in the French culture is unfriendly.
''Montreal is not Paris. We are far more patient with our tourists,'' Mado promises. ''We don't get many during the winter, so in the summer the tourists become stars. When we have been with the same guys all winter it is like we have fresh meat for the summer.''
WHERE TO STAY
Located near The Village, the Gouverneur Hotel Place Dupuis is a 4-star property with more than 350 rooms. It offers free Wi-Fi and an indoor saltwater pool.
Delta Centre-Ville is located in the downtown area near historic Old Montreal and the beautiful Notre-Dame Basilica. The hotel's amenities include a heated indoor pool and a revolving rooftop restaurant.
On the west edge of the downtown area you will find Hotel Le Germain, a trendy boutique property with 101 rooms and suites. There is also the large Marriott Chateau Champlain. Both of these properties are near the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. And Montreal certainly boasts an abundance of smaller, gay inns along all corners of The Village.
More information on visiting Montreal is available at tourisme-montreal.org.