Tag Archives: Imperial Court of the Sovereign Chinook Arch

Lois Szabo Commons

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 in the Club Carousel space in 2019: Source: Global News

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.

Lois at Club Carousel in 1972 with a little pomp!

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.

The Lois Szabo Commons under construction

Congratulations Lois!

*Jack Loenen was another Club Carousel founder and volunteer who is now deceased. In 1976, Jack also helped found Calgary’s oldest extant gay organization, the Imperial Sovereign Court of the Chinook Arch.

{KA}

HIV Community Link at 35

{The Calgary Gay History Project is presenting a series on AIDS history reflecting on how Calgarians and Canadians reacted to this earlier pandemic. This installment was written by Project researcher, Tereasa Maillie.}

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Globe and Mail excerpt from April 20, 1984

HIV Community Link has been active in the Calgary community providing support and education for over 35 years as a registered society. Its roots were in the early 1980s epidemic reaching Calgary, and little information was available to help people combat this deadly virus. Homophobia, prejudice, and discomfort around the ways HIV was transmitted blocked discussion and treatment.

In response, gay and lesbian activists first met in late 1983 to decide on a plan of action, and join together to advocate for infected people. AIDS Calgary Awareness Association was born, and according to activist Doug Young’s personal notes, the first meetings were about the legal fight for people who were HIV positive. They were not alone: Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver had also started their own chapters based on the many groups that had begun in the USA.

Known as AIDS Calgary, the group registered as a society on October 9, 1985. Their first office was at #300, 1021 – 10th Avenue S.W. and staffed by a core group of volunteers under Doug Morin, the first Executive Director. Money was tight, but LGTBQ2 organizations such as the Imperial Sovereign Court of the Chinook Arch donated funds and held community events. In the 1990s, AIDS Calgary began hosting their own signature fundraiser called Calgary Cares. The special event included silent auctions of local fashion designers’ clothes, a stage show, and dinner. The AIDS Walk and Run started 25 years ago; it has raised approximately $1.8 million to fund the agency and its services in Calgary.

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Doug Morin – Executive Director of AIDS Calgary, Dec. 1986. Photo source: University of Calgary Digital Archives

With this help, AIDS Calgary was able to expand their outreach and advocacy, including their hotline and newsletters: Ellipse, 360 degrees, and AIDS Calgary News. Part of their advocacy work was to lobby the government to fund research, promote health programs, and help end the stigma surrounding HIV positive people in Canadian society. In two National AIDS conferences (1985 in Montreal and 1986 in Toronto), AIDS Calgary joined with other organizations to create the Canadian AIDS Society. The goal was to tap into a larger umbrella group’s powers of shared information, advocacy, and support for all members.

In 2013, AIDS Calgary Awareness Association changed their name to HIV Community Link, as they also offered programs and services in Medicine Hat and Brooks. Their focus remains “on health promotion, increasing access to testing, delivering effective harm reduction programs, and reducing the stigma associated with HIV.”

{TM}

The Golden Age of Gay Bars in YYC

Calgary was booming in the 70s. The city’s population increased about 50% in those 10 years. Club Carousel, the only gay club at the beginning of the decade saw its popularity wane as commercial gay bars opened in the city. The owners and operators had more capital to invest in their emerging discotheques, and the growing gay community flocked to them.

The Parkside Continental ran from 1973-1986 and was located at the corner of 13th Avenue and 4th Street SW (where Shelf Life Books is currently). The Parkside was named after a famous gay tavern in Toronto. Vance Campbell, a businessman and gay bar owner from Vancouver moved to Calgary to start the Parkside with local partners.

In the early years, there were provincial regulations about food being served with alcohol at bars. Rudy Labuhn, who was initially a DJ at the club and then manager, remembered that when the Parkside began they served 50 cent burgers to all drinkers.  He explained that the Province also limited the amount of recorded music that could be played. Fortunately, a straight bar called Lucifer challenged those rules successfully ushering in the age of disco to Calgary. Interestingly, the bar would end most nights with a song that was decidedly more downtempo: Broadway singer Maureen McGovern’s song, “The Continental.”

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A grainy image of Vance Campbell in front of the Parkside Continental from the Body Politic, Sept. 1980.

The Parkside expanded upstairs creating a second bar called The Green Room. The Imperial Sovereign Court of the Chinook Arch in April 1976 was founded there; their first coronation followed in January 1977 at the Holiday Inn Downtown. Drag legend, Sandy St. Peters who grew up in Calgary and lived and performed across Canada, entertained occasionally at the Parkside. After a big Saturday night at the bar, she would run across the street to campily welcome churchgoers arriving Sunday morning for early service at the First Baptist Church. In addition to drag performances, Eartha Kitt famously did a highly regarded concert one night in the Green Room.

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Sandy St. Peters (1953-2001). Image Source: YouTube

Vance Campbell proved to be a divisive figure at times publicly opposing the local gay activist community, which revolved around Gay Information & Resources Calgary (GIRC), headquartered only one block away. He was described by the Body Politic in 1980 as one of the power brokers in the gay community “confident enough of his position to write to the mayor and counter GIRC’s claim that Calgary could face a gay rights march.”

Another reason perhaps why Campbell felt powerful was he was an owner of Calgary’s other gay bar of note: Myrt’s.  Opened in 1976, the sign on the building said Myrt’s Beauty Parlour and was located at 808 9 Ave. SW (now a parking lot). This gay lounge and disco were initially open Friday and Saturday nights for men only. As its popularity grew, it operated six nights/week and became a mixed club, reportedly played the best music in the city.

Parkside Discotheques

Advertisement in GIRC’s 1977 publication, “Gay Moods”

A hallway off the dance floor led to a 150-seat theatre known as the “Backlot” which also served as an after-hours bar. The gay community was encouraged to use it as much as possible; it was the venue for emerging theatre artists, Imperial Court drag shows, Mr Butch Calgary “Slave Auctions” and, on Sunday mornings, Metropolitan Community Church services. Myrts’ final song every night was Kermit the Frog’s “Rainbow Connection.”

Butch Bucks

Butch Bucks from a Calgary Slave Auction in 1978. Donated to the YYC Gay Archives by Terry MacKenzie.

The bar closed on New Year’s Eve 1981/1982 as the building fell victim to boomtown redevelopment. Myrt’s and the Backlot briefly moved to 17th avenue before it closed again. One former patron broke into the site and retrieved the neon “Backlot” sign. The preserved sign now hangs over the door of the contemporary Backlot bar on 10th Ave. SW.

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Neon sign at the Backlot Bar, 2017. Photo: Kevin Allen.

{KA}