Lois Szabo Commons officially opened yesterday, and although we could not be there, we hungrily read the press and social media accounts of the park’s launch. The honour is well-deserved.
Lois told me she received so many hugs from the assembled crowd that it may have counteracted her pandemic’s hug deficit! She was particularly chuffed to get a hug from Mayor Naheed Nenshi (two of them apparently).
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi announced Monday the creation of a new park in the Beltline: the Lois Szabo Commons. Lois is well known to many in the LGBTQ2 community as a tireless volunteer and one of the founders of Calgary’s early gay institution, Club Carousel, in 1970.
The park was one of six newly named parks in celebration of Calgary’s 125th anniversary. One Voice Chorus’ Jasmine Ing coordinated Lois’ nomination with support from Kevin Allen and the Calgary Gay History Project.
Lois watched the announcement on a livestream of the City Council meeting and was very moved. She said: “I’m really pleased—and not just for me—but for the recognition of the entire community. It’s great we can have a park to sit in and be recognized; it does my heart good. I’m sorry some of the other Club members are not around to share this, particularly Jack.* It’s a community park; it’s not just about me!”
In the nomination package, we wrote:
“For more than 50 years, Lois has been a leader and organizer of Calgary’s LGBTQ2 community. Lois is the last surviving founder of Club Carousel – Calgary’s first gay club, incorporated in March 1970 – despite Calgary Police opposition. She was one of five individuals who dared to sign the club’s incorporation papers when homophobia and discrimination were the norms in Calgary, and few would sign on the dotted line.
She also rolled up her sleeves and became the Club’s most dedicated volunteer. Lois was instrumental in organizing expanded Club programming including, camping trips, motorcycle rides, holiday capers, and more. Furthermore, the Club saved people’s lives by creating the City’s first truly safe space. Lois leant a sympathetic ear to LGBTQ2 Calgarians in distress—likely averting many suicides—pushing back against the tide of our community’s despair. The Club became the locus of early gay rights activism in Calgary. Moreover, it seeded sister clubs in Edmonton, Saskatoon, Regina, and Winnipeg, creating a regional human rights network.
Since 1970, Lois has maintained connections to and volunteered for dozens of LGBTQ2 organizations. Even in her 80s, she shows up to most community events today and is well known to many; she is proud to share our community’s history. Lois was given the 2015 Chinook Fund Hero Award and was the 2017 Calgary Pride Parade Grand Marshall—recognition well deserved.”
The Lois Szabo Commons is under construction and will be completed later this summer at the corner of 9 St and 16 Ave SW in the Beltline.
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.
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.
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.
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!