Babylon, P.Q.: So long to Seapig

So long to Seapig

Rob and Pig at Seapig

I hated that damn pig, and he hated me. It was forever a contest of wills, of one-upmanship. And there wasn’t an ounce of quit in his Vietnamese pot-bellied body. I hated that pig.

"Pig," as he was called, was a vindictive sonofabitch, and he wasn’t afraid to mix it up. He patrolled the loft space on the third floor of 494 De la Gauchetière with a proprietary air, and God forbid you should leave anything that you valued unattended at pot-belly level. He was also a thief.

The 2,500-square foot loft space was home, jam space, crazy party place and personal playground for members of my first band, Shine. It had a swing, a ping-pong table, a DJ booth protected by chicken wire and a fun-fur-covered bar that also housed an aquarium – what more could a young, underfed and underemployed, aspiring artist/musician type like myself ask for? For the amount of time I spent there, I should have been paying rent.

It was the early-’90s, and when we weren’t smoking our body weight in hash while watching The Simpsons, or popping trucker speed and rollerblading insanely around the space, or burning down the parking attendant booth in the lot across the street, we were preparing for imminent rock stardom and living about as large as one could on next to no income at all.

We played a number of rent party/concerts in the loft – many with a young Brit-rock-influenced band like ourselves called Wren, who would later evolve into The Dears of today – which eventually came to be known as Seapig because of the barquarium and the nasty-ass lush of a pig that would spend all night knocking people’s beer bottles over so he could finish them off. (Pig was both the unintended drinking buddy, and porky property, of our keyboard player, Rob.)

On one particularly memorable occasion it looked as though Pig may have licked up an errant tab of acid, the consequences of which were, shall we say, interesting. I will also say – apart from the time he fished a $10 bill out of my jacket and took off with it – it was the only time I ever saw the porcine prick look truly happy.

We weren’t the only band in the building. Goth-rockers Seven Deadly Sins were on the second floor, in the space that formerly housed the Sex Garage parties, largely attended by Montreal’s gay, lesbian and drag queen communities. In the early morning hours of July 16, 1990, Sex Garage was raided by police and many of the 400 in attendance were beaten, arrested and detained, a provocation that is now widely referred to as "Montreal’s Stonewall," after the Stonewall Riots in New York City. Sex Garage galvanized the queer community here, leading to the creation of Divers-Cité, which launched Montreal’s Pride Parade.

There was a recording studio/band crash pad across the hall run by Montreal underground producer Steve Kravac that catered to early punk acts like The Nils, Asexuals and The Doughboys (Kravac now lives in L.A. and has worked with the likes of Blink-182 and Less Than Jake), and there were numerous other bands, artists and assorted skeazy people scattered across all five floors. Good times, indeed.

And as it pertains to fond loft memories, perhaps not so significantly, I performed my first – and last – nipple piercing there, with a safety pin, on my buddy Mike. He bled like the proverbial pig. Damn pig.

Brazen Montreal indie-pop band The Snitches – among the best the city has ever produced – eventually took over Seapig, and exploited and expanded its virtues and vices in grand style until they too retreated to higher ground. Much of the building then reverted back to commercial use, up until recently.

Anyway, it was with no small sadness that I saw an ad in Monday’s Gazette hustling units in a 35-storey condo project planned for that very same southeast corner of Beaver Hall Hill and De la Gauchetière. The towering steel and glass construct, titled Altoria (a combination of "alto," meaning height, and "Square Victoria," over which it will loom), is scheduled to break ground this spring. And by ground I mean the building that is imbued with the memories, both rad and sad, of so many Montrealers.

The Seapig/Sex Garage building is located in an area of Montreal once known as Paper Hill, which in 19th-century Montreal was home to many paper manufacturers and printers, and which according to Heritage Montreal still has a number of historically significant buildings. Among these would be the imposing Unity Building on the canyon-esque (southwest) corner of St-Alexandre and De la Gauchetière, the enormous Southam Building on Bleury, and Saint Patrick’s Basilica, constructed in 1847 and designed to provide a symbolic line-of-sight link to Square Victoria. Saint Patrick’s will soon exist cut off from, and in the shadow of, both figuratively and literally, Altoria. And 494 De la Gauchetière will be lost altogether.

Heritage Montreal says it best: "Commonplace construction and overscaled buildings have been authorized [in Paper Hill] by the City of Montreal, whose regulations seem to disregard the heritage value of this sector… Paper Hill is thus threatened with disappearance by the heedlessness of revenue-hungry municipal authorities." The more things change…

I went for a walk and paused in front of the old Seapig loft earlier this week and felt a tangible twinge of missing it. As for the pig – which left town, grew tusks, got fat, died of cantankerousness, got stuffed and now resides in a garden shed behind Rob’s house in Toronto – I don’t miss that swine at all.

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