Handsomest poet visits YYC in 1913

Shaun Hunter’s excellent new book: Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers, exposed us to the English poet Rupert Brooke who passed through the city in 1913. Brooke, born in 1887, lived a charmed life. Both sporty and artistic he earned a scholarship to Cambridge where he became active in Varsity theatre.


A profile portrait of Rupert Brooke, circa 1913. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

His performances on stage caused both men and women to swoon. Irish poet  W.B. Yeats described Brooke as “the handsomest young man in England.” Sexually adventurous, the young actor-turned-poet had affairs with both men and women, falling in easily with the bed-hopping Bloomsbury set. Virginia Woolf fondly remembered skinny dipping with him at University. Her husband, Leonard, thought Brooke “exactly what Adonis must have looked like in the eyes of Aphrodite.” 

Brooke took a train trip across Canada in the summer of 1913 to escape the drama of his famous literary circle back home. He disembarked in Calgary and wrote about it in a serial called “Letters from America” published in the Westminster Gazette. He praised Calgary’s newly built public library (in Memorial Park), calling it the best in the country.

Amusingly in his chronicles, he described a Calgary/Edmonton rivalry, which is seemingly perennial to this day.

The inhabitants of these cities are proud of them, and envious of each other with a bitter rivalry. They do not love their cities as a Manchester man loves Manchester or a Münchener Munich, for they have probably lately arrived in them, and will surely pass on soon. But while they are there they love them, and with no silent love. They boost. To boost is to commend outrageously. And each cries up his own city, both from pride, it would appear, and for profit. For the fortunes of Newville are very really the fortunes of its inhabitants. From the successful speculator, owner of whole blocks, to the waiter bringing you a Martini, who has paid up a fraction of the cost of a quarter-share in a town-lot—all are the richer, as well as the prouder, if Newville grows. It is imperative to praise Edmonton in Edmonton. But it is sudden death to praise it in Calgary. The partisans of each city proclaim its superiority to all the others in swiftness of growth, future population, size of buildings, price of land—by all recognised standards of excellence. I travelled from Edmonton to Calgary in the company of a citizen of Edmonton and a citizen of Calgary. Hour after hour they disputed. Land in Calgary had risen from five dollars to three hundred; but in Edmonton from three to five hundred. Edmonton had grown from thirty persons to forty thousand in twenty years; but Calgary from twenty to thirty thousand in twelve…. “Where”—as a respite—”did I come from?” I had to tell them, not without shame, that my own town of Grantchester, having numbered three hundred at the time of Julius Caesar’s landing, had risen rapidly to nearly four by Doomsday Book, but was now declined to three-fifty. They seemed perplexed and angry.

Brooke spent a year travelling the world, arriving back in England as World War I was breaking out in 1914. He enlisted, composed some well-received war poetry, and died in Greece. He had been on his way to the battle of Gallipoli but contracted sepsis from an infected mosquito bite.

Dead at 27, his poetry became immensely popular in England. His earnest biographers posthumously scrubbed any reference to Brooke’s male relationships. In recent years, love letters and secret memoirs have been released by the British Museum, casting Brooke in a much gayer, tormented, light.


Queer Art Friday in YYC

The Calgary Gay History Project recently had the pleasure of meeting two engaging queer artists: Mike Hooves and Ryan Danny Owen, who are both working at Arts Commons in the RBC Emerging Visual Artists program. Arts Commons is hosting an artist reception this Friday, March 1st from 7-10 PM which is free and open to the public.

We know Mike’s work as an animator and filmmaker but at Arts Commons, they are working on a dynamic portraiture project that is recording the lives of LGBTQ2 Calgarians – in felt marker! Colourful and intimate, these portraits are an archive of prairie queer identity in 2019. The portrait sitters Mike has chosen challenge cis-gender, homonormative identities, expanding the edges of our queer umbrella.

In conversation with Mike, we talked about our shared goal of claiming queer space in the public realm. Mike makes that claim viscerally, by creating artwork cross-legged in the window of the Lightbox Studio, just inches from the public passing by, who often stop for long looks.

Mike Hooves

Mike Hooves in Studio with Prairie Queer

Ryan Danny Owen is haunted by queer history. Their artistic practice reflects on identity, loss, desire, and emotion. Charming and precocious, Ryan uses retro gay male pornography as a launch pad for inspiration. Including, notably, a Calgary Stampeder named Blaine Lamoureux who was kicked off the football team in the 70s for posing naked in a gay porn magazine.

Their residency titled, Come Find Me, includes a series of 21 posters developed through a process of automatic writing poetry. When I visited Ryan in the Ledge Gallery, there were words everywhere – on walls, on the floor – in dripping ink, pregnant with references to Calgary’s queer history. These posters are going up in the gallery as well as on the streets of the city. Sites of queer history are being marked and remarked on in this process. The posters perhaps are as ephemeral as the former gay bars are in our memories.

Ryan Danny Owen

A poster by Ryan Danny Owen at the site of the former Calgary Eagle.

Mike and Ryan will be part of an artist talk beginning at 7:45 PM during the evening reception. We hope to see you there!


News from YYC Gay History

Parkside Love was a great success last week. Thanks to Shelf Life Books, and all the Calgarians who came out to share memories of the former Parkside Continental bar. It was a special place for many and formative for Calgary’s LGBTQ2 community.

Parkside Love

Kevin Allen standing in front of the original window/artifact from the Parkside Continental – 1302 4 St. SW.

Gross Indecency: The Everett Klippert Story has garnered a nomination at the Canadian Screen Awards for director Laura O’Grady. We were so thrilled to be part of this film and think Laura is a most deserving nominee. Keep your fingers crossed when the Academy votes next month.


Laura O’Grady – Canadian Screen Award Nominee

Speaking of Everett, we are working with the New Central Library on an exhibition in May to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality in Canada. If you have any thoughts on what should be included in that exhibition write to us at calgarygayhistory@gmail.com.

Klippert Aug 26 69

Excerpt from Everett Klippert’s diary in jail