Category Archives: Gay history

Len & Cub: Book Review

While on holiday this year, I was pinged by Calgary playwright Natalie Meisner about a book that had just come out, about a rural gay couple living in New Brunswick—more than 100 years ago. Meisner, originally from the Maritimes, explained, “I just found this [story] so lovely, uplifting….” That is how Len & Cub: A Queer History ended up on my books-to-read list.

Through an amazing find in the New Brunswick archives, authors Meredith J. Batt and Dusty Green delve into the lives of Leonard Keith and Joseph “Cub” Coates and their long-term relationship in the early 20th century. Len, an amateur photographer, created a photo documentary of his life with Cub. The images show a striking intimacy, and authors Batt and Green start with the refreshing premise that Len and Cub are in a relationship. This queer lens informs the incredible detective work that follows. Through assiduous research, the authors uncover many more details about the men, their families, and their life events. Impressively, Batt and Green are frank about what they cannot know but still weave a tapestry of their subjects’ lived experience in relatively unknown terrain for queer studies.

The book is beautifully designed with archival photos of Len and Cub given pride of place. Batt and Green write intelligently and accessibly about their subjects. The text struggles with the lives of Len and Cub gracefully and avoids presentism—the impulse to judge the past by present-day standards. However, the authors reflect on how this old story connects to contemporary queer life in New Brunswick, including what Len and Cub mean to them personally.

Many queer historians are acutely aware of how sexual and gender identity concepts have changed over time. Len and Cub were secretive about their love, but this was largely divorced from politics. The men would never have had a sense of being part of an equity seeking minority community. For modern-day queers, it’s hard to imagine what that would be like.

I enjoyed this book immensely and was delighted to learn that Batt and Green have also founded the Queer Heritage Initiative of New Brunswick. This archival and educational initiative will collect further queer histories of 2SLGBTQ+ people; I hope that means future books from these authors.

One can find Len & Cub in stock at Pages on Kensington or Shelf Life Books in Calgary. Support local independent books stores!


Francheska, Prairie Queen

{This is a post by Calgary Gay History Project Volunteer and Film Producer, Rosman Valencia, in advance of the premiere screening of Snapshot Studio’s Francheska, Prairie Queen at the Calgary International Film Festival on September 23rd, 7:30 pm, at Eau Claire Cinema. There is a second screening September 25th 1:00 pm, at the Globe Cinema. Online screenings are also available.}

It is known that in the pre-colonial Philippines, the non-binary folks were revered to be leaders and important members of society. Unfortunately, their stories have been silenced, removed, and prejudiced by the colonizers. The narrative against the community still proliferates even today all across and outside the archipelago.

However, the community did not die. The community planted themselves and grew strong roots. In fact, in Canada, it cannot be denied that the thriving communities of resilient FilipinX LGBTQ2S+ exist and flourish. They are our neighbours, friends, and our families members that are serving to shape our communities for the better despite facing numerous challenges as People of Colour. These FilipinX LGBTQ2S+ folks possess the power of their intersectional identities to engage, connect, and amplify the voices of their community that have long been silenced and ignored.

The documentary, Francheska: Prairie Queen confirms the intersectional power of being a FilipinX LGBTQ2S+ and explores the strengths and struggles of Francis (Kiko) Yutrago who is an emerging drag sensation that hails from Stirling, Alberta—considered to be in the bible belt of the province. Additionally, this film also shows that The “Art of Drag” is being reborn in the Filipin/o/a/x community. As time goes by, this art becomes a staple taste not only for entertainment but also becomes a vessel of messaging on relevant social issues.

The film successfully illustrates the motivation of a FilipinX LGBTQ+ healthcare worker and immigrant (Francis (Kiko) Yutrago) to improve the lives of their transnational family in the Philippines while pursuing their dream of becoming a drag superstar and an as a BIPOC activist that promotes gender equality and representation through drag and pageantry. Identities and intersections can be complicated—and that complexity makes them beautiful, intricate, and powerful.


Pride Wrap with Princesses

We talked to hundreds of people at last Sunday’s Pride Festival at Fort Calgary. Thank you, everyone, for the insightful questions, oral history tidbits, and sharing. For example, we learned about a former gay bar on Macleod Trail that we never knew existed (a future blog post…).

Two notable visitors to the history booth were this year’s Calgary Stampede Princesses, Sikapinakii Low Horn and Jenna Peters. They were enthusiastic to be participating in Calgary Pride. We also saw them, waving to the crowds, on an impressive float in the Pride Parade. The Calgary Stampede has been formally participating in Pride since 2017.

The Calgary Stampede Princesses visit the Calgary Gay History Project’s Kevin Allen. Jenna Peters (left) and Sikapinakii Low Horn (right).

Meeting the Princesses made us think how the pageantry of the Calgary Stampede and Calgary Pride are similar. Both have famously well-attended parades (now on the same route) with many participants dressing up in a particular fashion (cowboy-drag vs. drag-drag).

Fabulously, which two communities have such a strong connection to royalty protocols?

The Calgary Stampede anointed their first monarch in 1946, Stampede Queen Patsy Rogers.

Our own royal society, the Imperial Sovereign Court of the Chinook Arch, is the longest running queer organization in the city. Their first coronation ball, held in January 1977, crowned Calgary’s first Empress Veronica Dawn and first Emperor Jack Loewen. 

Both royal societies have a robust tradition of fundraising and being ambassadors for their respective Calgary communities. Good work we can celebrate and particularly resonant this week with the passing of our national monarch, Queen Elizabeth II.