Tag Archives: Kings Arms

The Passing of Nick de Vos

Last week I attended the funeral of Nick de Vos, who was one of the first gay elders we talked to when the Calgary Gay History Project started in the Autumn of 2012. Born in Holland in 1932, he and his family immigrated to Canada in 1948 after the war.

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Tom and Nick on holiday in 1960

He wrote to me once, “I have been gay since birth” and was lucky enough to find his life partner in 1959, Tom Deagon, who passed away in 2011 – a 51 year relationship! Nick was active in Calgary’s gay community when it was still largely underground, and talked often about fun times at the Palliser Hotel (the Kings Arms Tavern). He recalled:

Most of us had to enter through the front entrance and worked our way to the bar as the First Street bar entrance was too obvious – there was a danger of getting known and losing your job.

When the bar closed everyone placed a $1.00 on the table for someone to buy beer to keep the party going at someone’s apartment. There was always a volunteer host for those parties which went into the wee hours of the morning on weekends.

Nick valued his privacy and spent his lifetime being discrete where his sexual orientation was concerned; he operated on a don’t get asked – don’t explain principle with the world at large. Yet he was very out in the gay world, attending lots of gay events, including some he created. He was proud of the length of his relationship with Tom, and their 39th anniversary was featured in the June 1998 issue of Outlooks Magazine, a local gay publication.

A lifetime performer, Nick claimed the best gay bar Calgary ever had was Club Carousel, where he performed on stage numerous times, as well as created and managed numerous shows, including “It’s a Carousel World.”

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Nick (right) with a friend at Club Carousel in 1972

Nick was a bon vivant, a firm hugger, a prolific emailer and an accomplished event photographer.  He liked being in the centre of a party; his eyes often twinkled. In collaboration with Third Street Theatre, we held a Club Carousel Cabaret at the 2014 High Performance Rodeo. Nick, invited as a special guest, was moved to tears which he called tears of joy.

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Nick de Vos, Lois Szabo, and Kevin Allen at One Voice Chorus’ Club Carousel Concert  (2015)

We will miss you Nick.

{KA}

 

Our Windi City

Windi Earthworm, a gay artist and activist, lived in Calgary in the 1970’s, and was notable for his gender non-conforming dress and street music. He was a dedicated agitator who had the conviction of his beliefs.

In the early 1970s, Windi chained himself to a marble pillar in the Palliser Hotel when the during a provincial Conservative convention, to protest the absence in Alberta of legislation protecting homosexuals from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

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Windi Earthworm circa 1979.  Photo: François Couture from kersplebedab.com

In 1975, as part of the People’s Liberation Coalition, he was one of four protestors who took guerrilla action against an anti-gay skit.  It was included in the nightly performance of a band called The Dandies in the Four Seasons Hotel’s Scotch Room.  One evening in June, when the skit was about to be unleashed, Windi and his friends rushed the stage and took over the microphone.  They explained to the surprised audience why they were offended.  As the hotel bouncers dragged them away, they asked the manager if she had ever been to a gay bar.  When she replied, “no,” they told her they would going to invite all of their friends and turn the Scotch Room into a gay bar the following night if the performance was not changed.  It was changed.

At that point the four activists saw the need for a gay activist group in the city.  Gay Information Resources Calgary (GIRC) started shortly thereafter.  The group’s first chair was John Windi (a.k.a. Windi Earthworm).

Activist Doug Young (1950-1994), in a 1980 interview, remembered Windi hanging out in the Kings Arms Tavern in the mid 70s, and always thought him a bit strange with his long bluejean skirts.  He noted that Windi did not stay long at GIRC as the other people who helped set it up thought he was crazy and eventually squeezed him out.

Filmmaker, Claude Ouellet, recalled meeting Windi in 1976 when he was a young person hitchhiking across the country.  Finding himself in Calgary, without money, he ended up meeting the troubadour on 8th Avenue Mall.  Windi at that time was taking in street kids who needed shelter.  Windi sheltered Claude and his friend for the night.  Claude thought the denim skirt and cross dressing flare was courageous for Calgary in 1976.

Later in the 1980s, when both lived in Montreal, Claude made a documentary about Windi as a year-end film school project.  At that time Windi was central to that city’s anglo anarchist left.  He often was hassled by the Montreal police (or worse) for being a strolling musician (despite being licensed as such).  He was also seen occasionally in press coverage being dragged away from peace demonstrations.

Described as a caring, unique, and challenging human, Windi died of AIDS in 1993.  Windi’s courage and artistry are remembered fondly on a memorial website: There’s a Fire Truck on My Ceiling: Windi Earthworm Remembered.

{Wishing you a reflective holiday season and a happy new year!}

{KA}

 

The Kings Arms Tavern

The Palliser Hotel had a colourful watering hole when the hotel first opened in 1914.  Once known as the “Carriage House”, the pub is better known for its final name, the “Kings Arms Tavern” or as the gay community liked to call it, “The Pit.”

Tavern Sign in 1980

Tavern Sign in 1980

The Tavern was a known drinking establishment for gay men back into the early 1960’s.  You can still access the lower level entrance today on the 1st Street SW underpass, just south of 9th Avenue, into what is now a Starbucks.

Stop on a Gay History Walk in the Palliser Hotel - former location of the Kings Arms Tavern.

Stop on a Gay History Walk in the Palliser Hotel – former location of the Kings Arms Tavern.

The Pit was not an exclusively gay venue.  It was a popular spot for the business lunch crowd, old-timers in the afternoon and the gay crowd in the evening. Described as an old fashioned beer parlor, it was one of the last pubs in Calgary which kept women out.  Then, on July 2nd 1970, it reopened after renovations including new carpet and a new name: Kings Arms.  Ringing in the end of the men-only pub era in Calgary, the Kings Arms first female employees set fire to the Men Only Door signs with a little pomp and circumstance.

Calgary Herald Photo at Kings Arms, July 3 1970

Calgary Herald Photo at Kings Arms, July 3 1970.

Throughout the 70s, the organized gay community grew in Calgary and the Kings Arms developed a gayer reputation.  It was a popular pre-clubbing drink venue, and Club Carousel which was at the apex of its popularity in the early 70s, was just a few blocks south on 1st Street.

By the late 70s, after a bar management change, the Kings Arms started to be uncomfortable with its reputation and started behaving badly.  A popular rumour was that the establishment was trying to oust its gay customers by closing earlier.  Suspected gay patrons were denied service due to clothing regulations, same sex kissing or sitting too close together.  In December 1978, the harassment had built to the point that tensions erupted between gay patrons and the tavern manager.  After a heated verbal exchange there was a dramatic eviction of 20 customers from the bar, facilitated by six police officers and four paddy wagons.

The Kings Arms Tavern closed its doors on July 31, 1982.  A large crowd of patrons, many from the gay community, came out for its final night.  Many thought that the Tavern was being closed because the Palliser did not like the reputation of having a gay bar at its hotel.  Earl Olsen, the public relations spokesman for the CP Hotel chain denied the allegation, saying the tavern was making way for a much needed coffee shop.  Sentimentality reigned on that final evening, with many patrons taking a piece of the tavern with them.  By the end of the night, all of the plaques and coats of arms that had adorned the tavern walls, were gone.

One of the gay patrons lamented, “they should never close down an institution.  [The Kings Arms] is not really a cruisy bar.  It’s just a nice place to sit and meet people and not be hassled.”

{KA}