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Anthony Gagné, doorman at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel, looks out at the street from his post in Montreal on Jan. 5.Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

Anthony Gagné loved being a doorman. Between the gleaming twin columns of the Queen Elizabeth hotel, next to Montreal’s Gare Centrale train station, he could feel the pulse of the city.

When tourists, business people and honeymooners passed under his illuminated awning, Mr. Gagné took their bags and gave them advice in one of five languages. Don’t miss Square Saint-Louis, where the great poets lived; see how the Sun Life Building looms over the cathedral.

Even wearing a face mask and a Russian policeman’s hat – the uniform of a pandemic winter – Mr. Gagné enjoyed playing ambassador for what he calls the most beautiful city on Earth.

“I consider myself lucky to be a doorman,” he said, “because I’m in the middle of the action.”

Few people felt it more acutely, then, when the action went away. On Dec. 31, the government of Quebec imposed a 10 p.m. curfew across the province and closed restaurant dining rooms after also closing bars, theatres and anywhere else that people might go after dark.

Sometimes, René Lévesque Boulevard looked like something out of a Western set, Mr. Gagné said.Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

The view from Mr. Gagné's perch suddenly became less interesting. No more $20 tips or opportunities to practise Portuguese. Foot traffic was cut to a tenth of what it had been, and most pedestrians were just restaurant workers and security guards going home, letters of permission from their employers on their phones.

Sometimes, René-Lévesque Boulevard looked like something out of a Western set, he said – but with Uber Eats cars in place of tumbleweeds.

On the second night of curfew, he got a show: There was a protest near the hotel, and Mr. Gagné watched as police rounded up the demonstrators. It was the most street life he saw all week.

He soon realized there wasn’t much need for a doorman on the night shift any more. The hotel was almost empty, and he could count check-ins on one hand. On Tuesday, a homeless man asked him for a cigarette. Later, a woman approached – maybe a guest, someone needing his services. But no, she wasn’t and didn’t.

“I’m decoration,” Mr. Gagné said.

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This is Quebec’s second pandemic curfew and it remains the only province in Canada to have enforced one. The first lasted a painfully long time, from January to the end of May last year, and initially shut up residents earlier, at 8 p.m. But if anything the measure is less popular this time around.

On Dec. 31, the government of Quebec imposed a 10 p.m. curfew across the province and closed restaurant dining rooms after also closing bars, theatres and anywhere else that people might go after dark.Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

The government has pointed to studies showing that curfews reduce mobility, presumably cutting the close contacts that spread COVID-19, but many Quebeckers are unconvinced. The influential conservative columnist Richard Martineau, who has largely supported restrictive public-health measures, compared the imposition of the curfew to a man snapping his fingers to ward off tigers and citing the lack of nearby tigers to prove it was working.

The effects of being confined at night have been felt all over the province. According to media reports, one young man in the Montérégie region was caught violating curfew – and stealing cars – because of his footsteps in the snow. (The neighbour who tracked him was given a pass.)

Nowhere is the new reality more noticeable, however, than downtown Montreal. Whole sections of the city normally dedicated to the pursuit of nighttime entertainment, such as the Quartier des Spectacles, are abandoned, as if they have been evacuated for a natural disaster. There are quite a few cars on the road, but Mr. Gagné quickly understood how many of them are delivery drivers, bringing food to people stuck at home.

He started working at the Queen Elizabeth in April, 2019, a month after moving to Montreal from his native Victoriaville, a small city two hours northeast. “I found the best job I could have found,” he said. “It was never boring.”

This is Quebec’s second pandemic curfew and it remains the only province in Canada to have enforced one.Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

He wasn’t just a servant, opening the door of the Fairmont railway hotel: He was its face, the face of the city even, often the first local a visitor met. He talked Montreal up with the passionate love of a newcomer. Sometimes it was small talk but sometimes the conversations bloomed.

“There was a guest who was interested in architecture; I told him the story of the city through its buildings,” he said. “I saw the seasons unfold.”

The start of the pandemic, two springs ago, put him out of work. Occasionally he visited to check in with old colleagues and ask about gigs. Finally a doorman post opened up again. He started on Dec. 28 and got three normal nights.

If he was talkative with guests before lockdown, the pressure of isolation turned him into a fountain of words. “Before the pandemic I liked to chat,” he said, “but now I love it.”

When the curfew fell again, the chatting stopped. When the time got late, he stood by the entrance as mute as a statue. It made him sad to watch the empty city, thinking visitors might come and believe this void was Montreal.

During the curfew, Mr. Gagné considers himself a 'decoration.' With few check-ins, he soon realized there wasn’t much need for a doorman on the night shift any more.Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

Finally, on Thursday, the hotel let him go for now. He was only decoration, after all. Mr. Gagné will return to school on Tuesday; he studies urbanism at the Université du Québec à Montréal. Others are likely to suffer far more under the curfew. Advocates worry that police will use their discretion to harass people of colour and that women living with domestic violence will feel trapped in their homes.

It is the city Mr. Gagné worries about, not himself. His contract was day-to-day and he knew it might be cut short any time. It’s just “supply and demand,” he said: A city without people doesn’t need someone to greet them at the door.

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