Canal Street is the main focus of Manchester's gay community and is lined with gay bars, clubs, cafes and shops. At night time (and in the daytime during the warmer months) the street is filled with party-goers, many of whom are gay and lesbian tourists from all over the world. The Manchester Gay Pride festival, formerly known as Mardi Gras and Gayfest, is held in this street and the surrounding area during the second half of August each year. The event culminates with a three day festival known as the 'Big Weekend', which is held over the August Bank Holiday weekend. The street looks across the Rochdale Canal into Sackville Park in Manchester City Centre.
Canal Street was built alongside the construction of the Rochdale Canal, with pubs built to service the users of the canal. In the 1960s, the canals of Northern England declined in usage due to the collapse of the cotton industry. The Canal Street area then began to attract the gay community, who moved into the area from the 1960s. To begin with this was mainly a lesbian-orientated area, but as the years went by it gradually become the focus for gay men. As the confidence of gay people in the UK improved, more and larger bars opened along the canal side, turning Canal Street into the largest gay village in Europe.
In the early 1990s Manto (Manchester Today) bar opened. This was viewed as something of a revolution as Manto had large glass windows, allowing the casual 'passer-by' to view what was going on inside. Previously many establishments catering for the gay community were often keen to 'conceal' activities from the general public. As the decade continued more and more establishments began to open, each with their own 'feel'. Manto was briefly renamed as 46 Canal Street; however, the Manto name returned to Canal Street in 2003.
In the late 1990s it was felt by many that Canal Street was becoming too 'mainstream', represented by the opening of a number of chain bars and the increasing number of 'straight' drinkers. Canal Street has always welcomed all comers, but it was felt by the gay community that the street was becoming too commercialized and losing its original ethos. A boycott was launched of the new Slug and Lettuce bar by the gay community, which eventually led to its closure, when it was bought out and re-opened as Queer. This, along with the re-opening of Manto, is widely seen as the turning point that led to the resurgence of Canal Street.
The gay scene on Canal Street was a focus of the fictional TV series Queer as Folk, produced by the Red Production Company and broadcast by Channel Four in 1999. "Village Voices" was a documentary also by Channel 4, about some of those for and against the Gay Village, broadcast in 1996. The rejuvenation of Canal Street in the Nineties was the backdrop for Manchester Slingback, a crime novel by Nicholas Blincoe.
Scenes in an episode of Coronation Street, broadcast by ITV were filmed in Canal Street, broadcast in October 2006. It includes shots taken outside Spirit, looking down Canal Street.
The memorial to mathematician, logician, cryptographer, early computer scientist, and gay icon Alan Turing is situated in nearby Sackville Gardens. At the canal end of the Gardens is the 12 ft high Beacon of Hope, an important memorial for all those affected by HIV & Aids.
- Guide to Manchester's gay village
- News about the gay village from the BBC
- Panoramic view of Canal Street from the BBC website
- Manchester Lesbian and Gay Foundation
- Manchester City Guide: Manchester Gay Scene
- Manchester Pride Festival
- Gay Manchester
- RED & WILD Manchesters Annual World AIDS Festival
- WHLN Manchester: Relaunch of the Paradise Factory (Formerly Industry)
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