14/02/2018 by Danielle Smith
History of Canal Street, Manchester – The world famous Gay Village….
Canal street was first developed in 1804 when the Rochdale Canal was first constructed, it was a major motorway of it’s time. This was the first canal to run right from the Pennines bringing raw materials into the city for them to be turned into final products ready for carrying to Liverpool, from there they would be distributed to all corners of the British Isles. This was quite the industrial area until the cotton trade saw a decline in the early 20th century, as the industry took a downfall the warehouses fell silent and empty. The area then at the time became a very dark and unvisited place, this then drew in gay men. With street lights unlit and narrow back streets men could meet to have relations in a time when it was frowned upon.
In the 1980’s Canal Street found itself fighting some tough relations with the police, even after the 1967 legislation of homosexuality. Still only people over the age of 21 were legally allowed to express emotions and only in private. The police would trawl the canals and the streets with flash lights looking for gay men, if they were discovered they would be exposed. The gay community were forced to go to bars where you could not see out and neither could anybody see in, they would be kept hidden away from the public eye.
The 1990’s brought a shed of light and hope for the gay community, following the council working toward lesbian and gay rights in the late 1980’s. Sackville Street Gardens were purchased, and Manchester became the first UK council to support civil partnerships. These were huge progressions to lead Canal Street into the 90’s. Manto opened in 1991, a proud gay bar. A gay bar that refused to hide anyone or for anyone to feel hidden anymore, they had large front windows so passers by could see in, no longer would they be invisible.
Over the next decade, more bars began to open along the Canal, each time the bar getting bigger and filled with even more pride. The street then gradually became the most successful gay village in Europe. Canal Street was home to TV shows such as Bob and Rose and Queer as Folk. The gay community began to thrive, and many visitors came to Canal Street.
As you walk the surrounding streets that lead to Canal Street you will see the trail of colorful flag stones beneath your feet, upon the walls of the street you will see big, bright statement wall art. To just alone walk the streets, you can gain a sense of the history and the passion that the community has put into the gay village. The community protect their environment as it is home to many businesses, residents and punters that have strived to make the street the vibrant gay village it is today.
The Gay Village is in the heart of Manchester City Centre and a stone’s throw from Manchester Piccadilly train station. It’s a vibrant street which is fully pedestrianized and is lined with bars and restaurants, attracting gay, lesbian, trans, bisexual and heterosexual’s. The gay village is an area full of pride, over years status has been fought for and has been deservedly awarded. This is celebrated annually with Manchester Pride, Sparkle Weekend, Bear Bash, just to name a few. The street is lit up and on weekends and weekdays of summer months the streets are lined with people, relaxing, celebrating and embracing life as themselves.
Canal Street, the Gay Village, a passionate community.