Tag Archives: high performance rodeo

Club Carousel – Our Community’s Foundation

The Club Carousel Cabaret is happening in one week, a collaboration of Third Street Theatre and the Calgary Gay History Project.  If you want to attend this event at the HPR on January 30th, look for tickets: here.  Thank you Lisa at Metro and Brad at Beatroute for the recent media coverage.  We are getting pretty excited!

Club Carousel, is Calgary’s first gay bar, and an important milestone in our community’s history – it is where we collectively declared independence for the first time in Calgary from our culture of homophobia, repression and intimidation.

The story begins in 1969 where an unethical entrepreneur operated a basement gay club but would also sell tickets to straights to come down to “look at the queers.”  The gay community eventually boycotted it and decided to start their own club in the same location: the basement of 1207 1st St. SW.   Volunteers worked hard to clean it and get it ready.  There were some private donors who also helped to get it up and running.  They opened in Spring 1970 as Club Carousel – over time they developed their own theme song and newsletter.

Club Carousel Capers Cover

Club Carousel Capers Cover (April 1974) from the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (Toronto).

One of the founders, in an interview, said,

“The original name of First Street SW was Scarth Street, but since the name had fallen into relative obscurity and we were attempting to be somewhat discreet, we thought it was a great name to use for our society. The place needed to be totally cleaned up and redone. There was dirt on the floor several inches thick. When we started cleaning it off, we discovered tiles underneath it that we couldn’t even see.

We had a week from the time we acquired the property to our opening night. Everyone involved would come over right after work and spend all night cleaning, painting and building the bar. We hadn’t come up with a name yet. As we were working, we discovered an old can of Carousel brand paint, with a drawing of a carousel horse on the label. And that was it! The Club Carousel was born. Someone painted three similar carousel horses on the wall by the dance floor.”

Club Carousel Wall

One painted wall from the original Club Carousel survives to this day. Photo credit: Del Rath.

The police came that opening weekend and charged the group for operating without a license.  But one officer told them upon departing to get a good lawyer and dropped the name of Harvey Ghitter.  He arranged for the group to apply for a charter to become a Non-Profit Charitable Society, and eventually the Scarth Street Society was formed and would become a donor to a number of local charities in the 1970s.

Queer History Project News

It has been all quiet on the website for a bit, so I wanted to give you an update about work that is going on behind the scenes for 2014.

Club Carousel Mascot

Club Carousel Mascot

Firstly, we are working with Third Street Theatre to present the Club Carousel Cabaret, January 30th, as part of the 2014 High Performance Rodeo.  Club Carousel was the first gay owned social club (and drinking place) in Calgary which began in 1968.  It was the dawn of the community as we know it today – and it began while homosexuality was still a criminal offense (decriminalization happened in 1969 – read story: here).  Third Street, Calgary’s Queer Theatre Company has a new show opening this week: UNSEX’d  – check it out!

Secondly, we are specifically researching the University of Calgary’s role in our human rights movement, over the past 45 years.  This will culminate in a new public presentation, January 16th at the U of C’s Institute for Gender Research.  From Noon – 1 PM there will be a public lecture, and from 2-4 PM a panel discussion on queer history in general.

Professor Rebecca Sullivan, pictured here with co-op student Sasha Krioutchkova, has led the relaunch of the Institute for Gender Research. Photo by Riley Brandt

New history posts will begin in January, but as always please contact us, if you have artifacts you would like us to see, or stories you would like to tell!


A Trans Pioneer Making Excellent Theatre at the High Performance Rodeo

Belgian artist Vanessa Van Durme is in Calgary this week performing in her autobiographical play, Look Mummy, I’m Dancing, at the High Performance Rodeo.

One Yellow Rabbit presents: Look Mummy, I’m Dancing

The play is a heartfelt monologue that leaves the viewer with a lingering insight into her life as a transsexual woman; leaving an artistic impression of both the pain and triumph it caused her.  Born male in 1948, Van Durme struggled with her gender identity, coming into conflict with her parents and society at large.  As a young adult, she turned to prostitution in order to survive in an ignorant and marginalizing society.

However in 1975, her life took a turn when she travelled to Morocco to undergo a sex change operation.  The operation was conducted at the Clinique Du Parc, in Casablanca, which for decades was a spot of international pilgrimage for those suffering from “gender disphoria syndrome.”

Clinque du Parc was founded by Dr. Georges Burou, an innovator and pioneer of modern male-to-female sex reassignment surgery.  He invented the technique in 1956, and by the time Van Durme had her surgery the clinic had performed more than 3000 operations.

British born April Ashley (née George Jamieson) underwent the gender reassignment surgery at Clinique Du Parc in 1960 and found herself later in high-profile divorce proceedings with her aristocratic husband. The case hinged on a court deciding her gender and caused ripples through the Commonwealth.  Her husband was successful in nullifying their marriage by establishing that she was not legally a woman (whose precedent in England did not get overturned until 2004’s Gender Recognition Act).

Clinique Du Parc had Canadian patients as well.  In the early 1970’s, Canadian Provinces struggled to amend their vital statistics laws to allow transsexuals to change gender on their birth certificates – controversial in its day.  Alberta amended their Vital Statistics Act in 1973 to allow post-operative trans-sexual persons to be able to change their birth certificates.

I will be interviewing Van Durme about her artistic practice this evening at 6:30 PM in the Laycraft Lounge, EPCOR CENTRE for the Performing Arts, 225 8th Ave SE (2nd floor).  Please come out to this free event.