Tag Archives: CommunityWise

Heritage Award & “After Stonewall”

Although there have not been weekly gay history posts lately, we have been diligently working on the history project behind the scenes. Kevin Allen has been going through the first edit of his history book manuscript, incorporating suggestions and edits to make the book a better read.

Last week, we were honoured by CommunityWise and given the 2017 Heritage Award at their Annual General Meeting. The award reads that “the Gay History Project continues to enrich and inform our present society and illuminates vital chapters of history in this shared place.” CommunityWise, formally known as The Old Y , is widely recognized as the historical hub of Calgary’s gay community dating back to the 70s.

CommunityWise Heritage Award

Erin, Jian, Thulasy & Phil from the CommunityWise Staff Collective present Kevin with the 2017 Heritage Award

We are also grateful to our colleague, Dr. Valerie Korinek, who is a professor of Modern Canadian History at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. She recently wrote a Notches blog piece on the prairie publication, “After Stonewall” exploring the politics and milieu of gay liberation in the late 70s. You can read it: here. Calgary’s Gay Information Resources Calgary (GIRC) was part of the liberation discourse of its day that Dr. Korinek writes about. Furthermore, the problematic National Gay Rights Coalition (NGRC) which is referenced in the article, interestingly sounded its death knell in Calgary when conference delegates in 1980 voted to disband the organization, seen as having outlived its usefulness.


1989 – Burning Down The House

Arson in the Old Y, is our third and final post in advance of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia coming up next week on May 17th.


On the evening of April 20th, 1989 a fire was started in the basement office of Lesbian and Gay Youth Calgary (LGYC), one of several gay and lesbian groups housed at the Old Y, 223 12 Ave. SW (now called CommunityWise). Firefighters were called around 8:30 pm to extinguish the blaze which fortunately was contained to the LGYC office. There were no injuries, but about 40 people were evacuated from the three-storey brick building. The LGYC office was heavily damaged by smoke and there was approximately $1000 worth of structural damage to the building.

“Quick extinguishing of the blaze kept damage to a minimum,” said fire department Captain Gord Cantley to local press.

Arson investigators determined the blaze was deliberately set. The fire was started in a garbage can and was made to appear as an accident. None of the contents of the office were disrupted and it occurred about an hour after volunteers had left the LGYC office.

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Modern Pink Cover Illustration: Joey Sayer

Stephen Lock, who worked at Gay Lines upstairs in the Old Y, speculated that LGYC had been targeted. He said: “The fact that the offices are tucked away in the basement in a maze-like area indicates to me somebody searched them out.”

The LGBT community was bracing for an increase in violence that summer due to the very high profile Gordon Summers case in Calgary. The 24-year old, who knowingly was HIV positive, faced three counts of aggravated assault for allegedly having unprotected sex with one man and two women, one his girlfriend. This precedent-setting legal case made Summers a household name that April, and a source of AIDS panic locally. {He later pled guilty to the lesser charge of being a common nuisance and was sentenced to a year in jail.}

The arson investigation seemed dormant for a couple of months but then police started questioning members of LGYC. In June, the group received a letter from the city stating that the investigation may reveal that LGYC was responsible for the damages to the city-owned building, surprising everyone at the Old Y.

That same day as receiving the letter, the Police arrested 19-year old Robert John Girouard at the LGYC office, who was carted away to the surprise and shock of the other LGYC members present. LGYC later released a public statement: “It is the position of Lesbian and Gay Youth Group of Calgary, that the arrest was unjust and that the accused is completely innocent.”

Girouard went to court July 11th and pled not guilty. The court set a preliminary inquiry date for October 18th, but it is unclear that he was ever convicted.





OUT: Queer Looking, Queer Acting in Halifax

One of the delights in the Calgary Gay History Project is being connected to other queer history researchers across the country.  Last month I was in Halifax for work but managed to squeeze a meeting in with Robin Metcalfe, Nova Scotia’s unofficial queer historian/force of nature.

At that meeting, Robin gave me a copy of Out: Queer Looking, Queer Acting Revisited,  a book that was launched this past February.  It is, in fact, a reprinting of a collection of queer history essays originally published in 1997.  The decision to publish a second edition with new commentary came about for a few reasons.  Robin described a renewed sense of queer activism in Halifax led by a younger generation.  He noted that the community’s locus of activism has shifted from sexual orientation to issues of gender identity.  He also explained that these younger activists have an expressed interest in seeking out queer elders and forming a deeper connection to a history that has been relatively unknown to the larger community.

It is a good read too.  I particularly liked the story of the Turret (1976-1990), Halifax’s gay social venue and bar run by the community group Gay Alliance for Equality (GAE).  The Turret’s success made GAE one of the wealthiest lesbian and gay organizations in North America.   In 1977, GAE has the Tits’n’Lipstick controversy: a mural painted by a gay male artist in support of lesbian pride on a back wall of the Turret.  The mural – not universally loved – ended up getting defaced by angry feminist members of GAE, and eventually painted over.

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Reproduced Mural by Genevieve Flavelle, 2013

The history of the Turret is inspiring.   Robin talked about how young queer activists in Halifax, and in particular the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) Queer Collective, have re-inspired him.   Last year, in collaboration with artist Emily Davidson, they hosted a Turret Resurrection event and redecorated the space based on archived images, held a disco, a cabaret and a community discussion with older activists.  Artist, Genevieve Flavelle even reproduced the 1977 Tits’n’Lipstick mural for the resurrection.

We see profoundly similar trends at work in Calgary – just look at our sold out Club Carousel Cabaret this past  January.  We also are grateful to connect with queer history peers across the country to share our findings, and see our current and past narratives come into focus.

Thank you Son Edworthy, from CommunityWise (part Calgarian, part Haligonian), who connected us to Robin!