Tag Archives: Edmonton

The Pisces Bathhouse Raid @ 40

We just passed the 40th anniversary of the Pisces Bathhouse Raid in Edmonton on May 30, 1981.

Queer historian and esteemed colleague, Darrin Hagen, has plumbed this history extensively. For the anniversary, he has written a five-part series for the Edmonton City as Museum Project and produced a video titled: PISCES for Theatre Network.

Court Sketch
Court sketch. Image courtesy of Darrin Hagen.

PISCES reveals some never-before seen details of the undercover investigation, the actual raid, and the aftermath of the largest mass arrest in Edmonton’s history. These actual documents are read by young members of Edmonton’s Queer arts community. It also feature first-hand recollections from one of the only men arrested that night to ever speak on the record about the raid, Edmonton Queer icon Michael Phair.” —TheatreNetwork.ca

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Front page news that summer in the Body Politic

One of the most striking details in the sting operation was how methodical and intense it was. In February 1981, the Edmonton Police Service started sending pairs of young undercover police detectives to pose as members of the Pisces Spa. In total, there were nine officers who spent weekend nights mingling, watching, and making copious, detailed notes concerning the activities of the men who gathered there for the purpose of sex.

Darrin’s work is riveting and recounts an important flashpoint in our human rights struggle in Alberta. Looking for a Calgary connection, Darrin told us: “so far we have not discovered any Calgarians in the list of found-ins but after a year, we still don’t have all the names. Navigating the process or getting info is a whole separate story, and it’s far from over.”

Queer history fades without champions; we thank Darrin for this consequential work.

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Klippert Month – Week 3

Everett Klippert was born in Kindersley, Saskatchewan in 1926, the youngest of nine siblings. His family relocated to Calgary when he was just 2 years old. Sadly, Everett’s mother died in May 1933 from kidney disease.

Everett’s 20-year older sister Leah took it upon herself to look after her eight younger brothers. The family was evangelical Baptist, and Leah made sure that the family regularly attended services at the Crescent Heights Baptist Church. There were so many brothers in the Klippert family that they were able to form their own baseball team with their father, called “the Klippert Nine,” which was once featured in the Calgary Herald.

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Everett (middle back row) with his father and brothers: The Klippert Nine. Source: Klippert Family, Photographer Lorne Burkell.

Everett’s siblings were discomforted by the police’s revelation of his homosexuality, but they stood by him – particularly Leah – throughout his drawn-out troubles with the state.

In 1960, after Everett’s first arrest, the Klippert family paid $9000 in bail: an equivalent of $72,000 in today’s dollars. For the trial, the family also procured a supportive reference letter from their Church Reverend, J. E. Harris. Although found guilty and incarcerated in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, Everett’s siblings made efforts to visit him in the Penitentiary.

Leah worked as a legal secretary in the offices of J. D. Salmon, Solicitor for the City of Calgary. It was she who kept writing Everett’s legal correspondence, engaging lawyers, and appealing his court verdicts as unjust: ultimately pushing his case to the Supreme Court. In early 1967, she along with her brother Howard trekked to the Court of Appeal Case in the Northwest Territories.

Howard Klippert was brought forward as a witness for the defence. In the trial, he said: “to the best of my knowledge Everett has been well liked and well received with my friends and family. He has always been noted for his gentleness and willingness to help others. I have never known him to be violent – never. On many occasions when going to school together, I have had to protect him from others who would start a fight with him.”

Everett would not be released from jail until 1971 and went to live with his brother William in Calgary. Phyllis, Everett’s sister-in-law, said: “He was the funniest person you ever met. He lived with us for 17 years. When he was around, there wasn’t any dark cloud anywhere. He was part of our family for years.” Despite his sunny character, she added that his years in jail had left Everett feeling stalked, and embittered.

Walter Klippert said he and his brothers never talked about their youngest sibling being gay, but “we knew he was out with boys a lot. See, he was a transit driver for the city. He was a popular driver, very happy go lucky. He was really nice to everybody, anybody.”

Eventually, Everett would move to Edmonton and marry his good friend Dorothy at age 57 (she was 65). He reportedly was happy and content in his final years of life, but both he and his family did not talk about the past. He died in 1996 at age 69.

Documentary filmmakers in 2001 interviewed several members of the Klippert family, including Everett’s widow. Most were resistant to the idea of a film. Dorothy said: “I don’t think it is right to bring up the past when you have no concrete way of knowing how he felt about it.”

Everett was buried next to his sister Leah at her daughter’s farm. While she was alive, Leah’s attitude was that she loved Everett, full stop. How could the fact that he was gay, ever change that?

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Pre-WWII Calgary and its Queers

Calgary was incorporated as a town on November 7, 1884, with a population of 506, and grew phenomenally over the next 60 years to be a city of approximately 100,000 by the end of World War II. This period’s gay history is challenging to research for a number of reasons. Firstly, people organized their sexual lives differently then, and the concept of having a homosexual identity is actually a relatively modern one that solidified in North America after World War II. Men who had sex with other men could be perceived as normal as long as they presented a masculine gender identity and also showed a passing sexual interest in women.

Yet however normally these men were perceived, they were still criminals. Anti-sodomy laws were established in the United Kingdom as far back as 1533 and were updated in the 1885 Criminal Law Amendment Act to make illegal any kind of sexual activity between males. This crime was categorized and named “gross indecency.” Oscar Wilde famously was convicted under this amended law and given the maximum penalty: two years of penal labour. Canada, being a Commonwealth country, inherited the United Kingdom’s legal system and took its cues explicitly from it. Gross indecency entered into Canadian statute law in 1890, although Canada stiffened the maximum penalty to five years from two, and allowed for the lash as extra punishment.

Women were generally not considered sexual agents and were expected to be chaste until marriage. In common law, lesbianism was largely ignored. However, lesbianism was also targeted in the 1885 criminal law amendments, but Queen Victoria refused to sign it huffily explaining, ‘women can’t do that together.’ Rather than challenge Her Majesty, her ministers removed women from the amendment.

Another difficulty in researching gay history in this period is that there are very few references to its existence in the historical record, and even fewer people alive who remember these decades as adults. Gross indecency was prosecuted very rarely in these times: not often relative to the rates of prosecution and incarceration after the 1940s.

Nonetheless, the criminal record is one of the main sources of information we have about gay history at this time. For example, on November 18, 1911, a 27-year old Banff jeweler, John Ward, was found guilty of gross indecency in Calgary’s district court for having had anal intercourse with three different men that year. On June 11, 1914, Michael Noland was charged with committing an act of gross indecency with John Norman the day prior. The facts presented in the depositions divulged that it, in fact, was a case about oral sex.

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A group of Calgary men in July, 1912: Image courtesy of Peel’s Prairie Provinces, a digital initiative of the University of Alberta Libraries.

Men in trouble with the law due to “perversion” or “degeneracy” tended to fall into two categories. Some men had the whiff of notoriety about them due to effeminate gender presentation; others were unlucky enough to have had sex with another man who was indiscrete. Often there was an outraged family behind many gross indecency investigations; they were seeking to punish the man who “perverted” their family member.

For much of Calgary’s early history, it existed as a frontier town with a distinctively masculine character. Not only was there a staggering influx of single working class men who built the City in its first booms, there was also a sizable population of British remittance men: black sheep in their Victorian families who had been gently exiled to the colonies – often for their sexual eccentricities – and funded to stay away.

During the pre-WWI building boom, the city census reported that Calgary was 75% men. The Albertan newspaper in 1907 wrote: “There are so many young men and so few young women that somebody was bound to get left in the cold.”

Much has been written about “Bachelor Subcultures” in North American cities of this era, and their fluid and accommodating sexual practices. Poolrooms, saloons, and rooming houses were central to this homosocial culture and Calgary’s landscape was typical in this regard.

The Alberta Hotel, built in 1888-90, is a sandstone treasure we have on Stephen Avenue. It was the city’s pre-eminent hostelry in its heyday and is Calgary’s oldest remaining hotel building. The hotel was the preferred lodging and gathering place for well-to-do ranchers, businessmen, local personalities and remittance men. It was described as a “male Mecca.”

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Alberta Hotel Postcard from 1907: Image courtesy of Peel’s Prairie Provinces, a digital initiative of the University of Alberta Libraries.

In contrast, the recently demolished Cecil Hotel was built for the working classes. Opened in 1914 with 57 rooms, the Cecil was purpose-built to accommodate travelers and blue-collar workers in the downtown east end. By 1924, it also housed a stable, blacksmith shop, grocery store, cafe and a tavern that took up nearly the entire ground floor.

After the roaring 1920s, the depression hit Calgary particularly hard. Its antidote, William Aberhart, brought a strange mix of socialism and social conservatism to the city. The high profile Crescent Height High School principal, also known as Bible Bill, started Alberta’s Social Credit Party. His crusade against the depression and conventional economics hailed “Poverty in the Midst of Plenty” made him premier in a landslide election in 1935. He brought Christian fundamentalist principles to his government’s administration and had a strong interest in regulating Albertan morals.

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William Aberhart portrait from 1937: Image, Provincial Archives of Alberta

By 1940, both Calgary and Edmonton had nascent gay communities, but the desire for “clean social conditions” brought Aberhart’s government to bear down on these loosely affiliated groups of men. In the high profile and sensational 1942 Same-sex trials in Edmonton, 12 men were investigated and convicted of participation in a “homosexual sex ring.” When several of the gross indecency charges were dismissed at lower courts, the Premier ensured that the Crown appealed these dismissals. He wrote: “I want to assure you that we want to do everything we can to curb the forces of evil.”

This sentence proved to be prophetic; for homosexuality, the moral tone in Calgary was now set for the next three decades.

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