This is the second in my series of blogs about Manchester’s streets and roads and will concern Canal Street. This weekend is Manchester Pride, an annual parade which takes a positive stance against discrimination and violence toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people (LGBT), which serves to promote equal rights and to increase the visibility of their social group to the wider community. This is a good time to mention the history of Canal Street and what it stands for today. This street is the heart of the LGBT community in Manchester and houses the Manchester Gay Village.
Canal Street, according to local history records, got its name on December 21st 1804. It has grown over the years into a true symbol of equality. Since the late 80’s the street has proudly advertised itself as ‘The Gay Village’. The first pub in the area to openly welcome the gay community was the Union Hotel, this was followed by bars which openly advertised themselves as existing for the gay community such as Manto. Below is an image courtesy of Manchester Archives which shows the Union Hotel in 1970.
The street is situated close to Rochdale Canal and hence its name. The Canal runs for 32 miles with 92 locks and has a great history. It has carried boats with essential fuels, materials and necessities for everyday living and is currently used as a leisure facility. The Canal was completed in 1804, abandoned in 1952 due to an Act of Parliament and later refurbished in 2002. So what was Canal Street, home of the gay village, before the canal was built? According to maps viewed with courtesy of the Manchester Room, the Canal and gay village was a field intended for Church gardens/Parsonage fields, so when people walk along the street and throw litter into the canal, I fear they know not of the great history the canal has brought to them. Maps dating to 800AD show how Manchester was built around one street; Deansgate.
In the early 20th century, the street was used as a red light district (a part of an urban area where there is a concentration of prostitution and sex-orientated business) as the street was in itself dark and unvisited. Until the Sexual Offences Act in 1967 legalised homosexuality, it would have been risky to partake in these activites. The street’s 31 bars are now used as a night out hotspot for the LGBT community and many others. The village is without doubt the most liveliest area in the city and firmly on the tourist map.
An important symbol of the gay community worldwide is the rainbow flag. The flag consists of the colours of the rainbow and is to express diversity and inclusiveness. I am pleased that the Pride movement exists. It started on November the 2nd, 1969, when a parade was held in New York City. Today the acceptance of every sexuality has reached a greater degree. Below are a few images of the street today.
Over time the street has become pedestrianised, in a similar way to Market Street (which I will discuss in a later series of my blog) and used to have cars driving through. It has also become increasingly popular. I am pleased to live in a City with such a scene which attempts to encourage equality.
Please keep an eye out for my next blog, which will feature Market Street and some of Piccadilly.