Tag Archives: bisexual

Rocky Mountain Singers—Beginnings

Thanks to One Voice Chorus, the Calgary Gay History Project recently hosted a live presentation on the history of Calgary’s first LGBTQ2 chorus, the Rocky Mountain Singers. At a well-attended zoom event on April 19th, former choristers shared poignant memories and together we created a history narrative of the choir.

Attendees then spent an extra hour visiting and are even considering a reunion concert—if we Calgarians are so lucky! This is the first of several blog posts recounting some of the history we uncovered as part of this commissioned research project.

RMS papers in the Glenbow Archives

The Rocky Mountain Singers (RMS), 1989-2002, became an important focus of artistic expression in Calgary’s LGBTQ2 community. We conducted interviews with 12 former members; everyone expressed very fond and cherished memories of RMS. The chorus actively built and strengthened the LGBTQ2 community in Calgary and through their participation choristers created enduring friendships that have lasted into the present.

RMS had a well-known public presence and performed regularly; they were musical ambassadors for many gay community organizations including Calgary Pride. The chorus participated actively in the growing gay choral movement of the 1990s and represented both Calgary and Canada at the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses (GALA) Festivals. RMS paved the way for future LGBTQ2 choral organizations in the city, including the contemporary Calgary Men’s Chorus and One Voice Chorus.

RMS Pin (1992)

Luke Shwart, an RMS founder, recounted his memories of the origins of the choir.

“When my Vancouver Men’s Chorus buddy Dan Worsley insisted that I attend the 1989 GALA Chorus Festival in Seattle, I had no idea what to expect. But, countless individuals will tell you how GALA Festivals have a powerful way of transforming people through music. Imagine a world of black and white suddenly turned to colour; or the sound of a vinyl record turned into the experience of a concert. Everything was like before, but different, better, filled with promise. It happened to me. GALA demonstrated that the world is filled with gay people who love to sing. I realized that people like that lived in my city and province too.

I made a few decisions on the flight home from Seattle:

1.To attend the next GALA festival, in Denver in 1992

2.To attend with a chorus from Calgary, because that was the only possible way to have a better experience than I had in Seattle.

3.The choir’s name would be Rocky Mountain Singers.

I spent the summer networking, and met Karl Siegfried – who was trying to get a group of Calgary singers to go to Gay Games in Vancouver in 1990. We joined forces, and recognized that we had a few small problems – neither of us could conduct or play piano, other than the two of us we didn’t have any other singers, and if we ever did find some, we didn’t have any music, nor a place to practise.

We worked hard, and one by one resolved the issues. On October 3, 1989, at the MCC (Unitarian) Church on 16th Avenue NW, eight singers joined together with our first music director Bill Bradley—who conducted from the piano, and we started learning Christmas music. The choir grew from those humble beginnings.”

Michael Wright remembers that their very first concert was at Columbia House, a seniors’ residence in Bridgeland, noting, “they were a pretty generous audience.”

Suzanne Dextraze went to an RMS Christmas concert in 1989 at the Unitarian church and immediately felt the need to join: “I thought it was so cool and I wanted to sing there too.”

The choir was incorporated as a non-profit society on January 23, 1990. By then, they had found a critical mass of singers and a purpose. 1990 would prove a crucible year for RMS as they sorted through issues of gender, being open about their sexual orientation, AIDS, and the Gay Games—all to be explored in the next RMS history post.

Festival Chorus at the 1990 Gay Games in Vancouver

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Queer Film Saved Us

The Calgary Gay History Project’s Kevin Allen has created a historic poster exhibition for the City of Calgary’s Open Spaces program. Open Spaces began in 2009 and celebrates the diversity and quality of works by regional artists, with gallery windows on the Centre Street LRT platform: enlivening the Calgarian commuter experience.

The Fairy Tales Queer Film Festival premiered in Calgary on June 17, 1999, and has become a treasured annual event ever since. The LGBTQ2 Festival has a history of engaging talented local artists to design its festival posters. Over the years, Fairy Tales accumulated a backlog of visually iconic posters that served as both marketing vehicle and artwork. Queer Film Saved Us is a curated retrospective of those beautiful posters. They assert—on the walls, streets, and bulletin boards of Calgary—that queer people were here and always have been.

The 23rd Annual Fairy Tales Queer Film Festival, produced by the Calgary Queer Arts Society, is happening soon (online again this year): running from May 21 – 30, 2021.

Seeing ourselves represented on the big screen was alchemy and moved LGBTQ2 rights forward when public funding for queer cultural events was considered controversial. Festival organizers routinely got harassing phone calls and hateful mail but kept the event going—defiantly.

Fairy Tales posters would paper the streets every year at festival time, claiming space in our city. Queer Film Saved Us is a retrospective of those claims: stylized, beautiful and proud. Artists and graphic designers represented in this exhibition include Lisa Brawn, Glen Mielke and Toqueboy Studios.

Poster from the 5th Annual Festival created by Toqueboy Studios

We especially thank Heather Campbell, Public Art Consultant for the City of Calgary, who managed all of the administrative details for this exhibition. She is a delightful and enthusiastic collaborator.

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Everett returns to Crescent Heights

The Crescent Heights Community Association (CHCA) embarked on a mural project last year to rehabilitate a local eyesore—an unloved retaining wall on Centre Street on the hike up from downtown Calgary. The wall is immediately north of the the iconic centre street bridge and its emblematic lion statues.

The artist trio of Sydonne Warren, Tyler Lemermeyer, and Cory Bugden, were selected by a community jury. The mural was conceived to honour the people, places and history of Crescent Heights. Part of their proposal was to include a portrait of Everett Klippert, whose story they had researched. They were particularly impressed by his role in the human rights struggle of the LGBTQ2 community in Canada.

Artists Cory Bugden, Sydonne Warren, and Tyler Lemermeyer stopping traffic on Centre Street.

The Klippert family lived in Crescent Heights from 1934-1942 and they worshipped at Crescent Heights Baptist Church. The artists contacted the Klippert family and received consent to memorialize Everett in this way.

Sandra Neill, the CHCA’s Engagement Director wrote: “You will see our beloved lion who overlooks the City from Rotary Park, and the portrait is of Everett Klippert who lived in Crescent Heights as a teenager. The lion is symbolic of Everett’s bravery who was a catalyst for change towards the decriminalization of homosexual acts between consenting adults. The Rollerblades [on another panel] represent the different ways of travelling up and down the hill. The pants in rainbow represent fashion and an inclusive element to the LGBTQ2S+ community.”

In September 2020, with the help of many volunteers, the artists made the mural manifest and named it #yycmagicwalk. Everett passed away in 1996; perhaps he would be tickled to know that he has moved back to Crescent Heights—just a few hundred metres from his childhood home.

CBC Calgary: How Calgary artists turned the “walk of doom” into the “magic walk”

{On a personal note, I graduated from Crescent Heights High School in 1988; the community has a soft spot in my heart. I’m delighted the mural is there! – Kevin}

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