Tag Archives: Beltline

Shop local for queer history

I have lived in the Beltline for most of my adult life, which has also been central to Calgary’s queer community for more than 50 years. Additionally, most historians I know are voracious readers. Consequently, it is no surprise that my favourite Beltline store is Shelf Life Books.

Author Kevin Allen at Shelf Life Books, source: Calgary Metro

Shelf Life has an interesting queer history itself as the site of the former Parkside Continental gay bar. There is an excellent mural on the backside of the store by Kyle Simmers, that subtly evokes this history with the inclusion of the bar’s now iconic logo.

The book store has been the largest seller of my book, Our Past Matters, and has hosted yycgayhistory special events for which I am very grateful. They also stock the books of queer friends and colleagues. Pick up any book by Suzette Mayr, Vivek Shraya, or Rae Spoon and you won’t be disappointed. Sharanpal Ruprai, whom I adore as a person, writes books of poetry that sing, charm, and sizzle. They also carry more comprehensive Canadian queer history readers such as the Valerie Korinek’s Prairie Fairies and The ArQuives‘ recently published OutNorth.

In fact, all independent book stores in Calgary need our custom. Furthermore think hyperlocal—support Calgary authors by buying their books. If you need inspiration, there is no greater source than Shaun Hunter’s Calgary Reading Lists. She virtually single-handedly has created a canon of local literature, as well as a useful reader in Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers.

I am wishing all Calgarians a safe, happy, and restful holiday season. Take care of yourselves and each other—find joy in unexpected places. — Kevin


These boots are made for yycgayhistory walks…

One of Kevin Allen’s favourite aspects of the Calgary Gay History Project are public gay history walks. Started at Jane’s Walk 2013, Kevin has been conducting these tours of a little known Calgary ever since. There is something unique about locating history in the landscape. Parks, alleys, and storefronts open to reveal their hidden past. Walkers learn new stories about the neighbourhoods they live in or travel through.

Nancy Sinatra’s iconic Boots video still (1966). Perhaps an early Pride commercial?

Every year the walk evolves as more stories from Calgary’s LGBTQ2 past come to light. Kevin will be hosting several walks for Calgary Pride 2020: two in the Beltline, and two Downtown. All of them are fundraisers for Calgary Pride, whose operations have been sharply impacted by the pandemic.

The Beltliner Presents Pride History Walk & Brunch

Kevin has teamed up with The Beltliner to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Calgary Pride with a History Walk through the Beltline, followed by brunch on both Saturday, August 29th and Sunday, August 30th at 11 AM.

The event begins at The Beltliner (243 12 Ave. SW) with coffee and pastry for the Walk, which lasts approximately one hour. We will travel to significant historical gathering spots for the LGBTQ2 community in this inner city neighbourhood, including Calgary’s first gay bar, Club Carousel. Returning to the restaurant, brunch will be served! Tickets are $50 (plus applicable taxes and fees) and are available at www.showpass.com/pridehistorywalk.

The event is an #OURPRIDE initiative which invites businesses to host their own pride festival event to show support for Calgary’s LGBTQ2 community and raise funds for Calgary Pride.

Kevin interviewed by Leslie Horton on Global News Morning, August 20, 2020

Downtown Calgary presents a Downtown Gay History Walk

The Calgary Downtown Association is hosting a tour with Kevin that will explore the city’s LGBTQ2 past through the city core on Saturday, August 29th and Saturday, September 5th at 2 PM. This one hour tour will inspire a deeper understanding of the community’s struggles and activism in Calgary and highlight significant political and social events that affected the gay community. On the way, tour guests will pass by several former watering holes where Calgary’s gay community gathered.

Meeting Place: Hyatt Regency Calgary (700 Centre Street SE) 8th Avenue Entrance. Tickets are $10 (plus applicable taxes and fees) and are available at https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/downtown-calgary-gay-history-walking-tour-tickets-117609496169. Ticket proceeds will be donated to Calgary Pride.

Note: Tickets are limited in all tours to allow for physical distancing. Please wear comfortable walking shoes and dress for the weather. Although we will miss the Pride Parade this year, march with Kevin on a 2020 YYC Gay History Walk!


A Woman’s Place Bookstore

Social worker Carolyn Anderson started what became a feminist community hub in Calgary in the early 80s called: A Woman’s Place Bookstore. At that time, alternative feminist and lesbian spaces, shops, and music festivals were cropping up across North America. An informal network between them was forged by women’s publications such as the still widely circulated newsletter Lesbian Connection.

After a trip to California, Carolyn discovered a lesbian bookshop that inspired her. Yet her bookstore evolved almost by accident. As a social worker, her area of expertise was in sexual abuse and its recovery, yet Carolyn found a dearth of books on the topic locally. So at professional conferences, she started buying multiple copies of the books she was interested in. She would then sell them to colleagues and clients out of the trunk of her car.

In fact, she amusingly started calling her car, “A Woman’s Place Bookstore,” but then women started requesting other reading materials and even feminist music. The car’s trunk quickly became too full. She found a business partner in Jacquie Stutt, talking one night over a curling game, and they opened a storefront in 1983.

Located in the Beltline at 1412 Centre Street, one entered a lavender door into feminist bibliophilic bliss. At any time you might be greeted by a fluffy dog, goddess jewelry, friendly staff and other shoppers when you entered: plus lots and lots of books.

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A Woman’s Place Bookstore Owner Jacquie Stutt with Buddy

Carolyn remembers: “The back room was where we had all of the lesbian stuff, all of the lesbian music, so people could go back there and, lots of times, people didn’t even know there was a back room! It looked like, maybe it was a business office or a storage room, but if you were gay you knew what it was, and we would make sure you knew what it was. People didn’t even really get what the gay stuff was if they weren’t gay.”

In the first years of the store, it was well known that Canada Customs officials would seize books with gay or lesbian content. So, Carolyn would have her shipments sent to friends in Montana and then drive down to get them – smuggling the books into Calgary.

Many customers who were too nervous to go into gay bars found a gentler entry point to the community through shopping for books and reading the community bulletin board/information centre. Any activities of interest to women were posted there; you could drop off event posters or call the store and relay event information to staff. For shoppers, the store had non-sexist children’s books, fiction, poetry, self-help tapes and books, calendars, recovery books, jewelry, t-shirts, women’s music, and – if you were still undecided – gift certificates!

By the late 90s, Jacquie had become the sole owner of the bookstore but it began to suffer from the movement of the “b-list” female prostitution stroll into the area (as defined by Calgary Police). Sometimes bookstore staff had to chase away cruising johns and customers began to stay away. The store was sold to a new owner in 2003 and moved to Marda Loop where it existed for a few more years before the business finally closed its doors.

Throughout its existence, the store was an anchor for Calgary’s lesbian community. On multiple occasions, the Calgary Gay History Project has heard from women who told us that this store saved their lives by ending their isolation.