While on holiday this year, I was pinged by Calgary playwright Natalie Meisner about a book that had just come out, about a rural gay couple living in New Brunswick—more than 100 years ago. Meisner, originally from the Maritimes, explained, “I just found this [story] so lovely, uplifting….” That is how Len & Cub: A Queer History ended up on my books-to-read list.
Through an amazing find in the New Brunswick archives, authors Meredith J. Batt and Dusty Green delve into the lives of Leonard Keith and Joseph “Cub” Coates and their long-term relationship in the early 20th century. Len, an amateur photographer, created a photo documentary of his life with Cub. The images show a striking intimacy, and authors Batt and Green start with the refreshing premise that Len and Cub are in a relationship. This queer lens informs the incredible detective work that follows. Through assiduous research, the authors uncover many more details about the men, their families, and their life events. Impressively, Batt and Green are frank about what they cannot know but still weave a tapestry of their subjects’ lived experience in relatively unknown terrain for queer studies.
The book is beautifully designed with archival photos of Len and Cub given pride of place. Batt and Green write intelligently and accessibly about their subjects. The text struggles with the lives of Len and Cub gracefully and avoids presentism—the impulse to judge the past by present-day standards. However, the authors reflect on how this old story connects to contemporary queer life in New Brunswick, including what Len and Cub mean to them personally.
Many queer historians are acutely aware of how sexual and gender identity concepts have changed over time. Len and Cub were secretive about their love, but this was largely divorced from politics. The men would never have had a sense of being part of an equity seeking minority community. For modern-day queers, it’s hard to imagine what that would be like.
I enjoyed this book immensely and was delighted to learn that Batt and Green have also founded the Queer Heritage Initiative of New Brunswick. This archival and educational initiative will collect further queer histories of 2SLGBTQ+ people; I hope that means future books from these authors.
One can find Len & Cub in stock at Pages on Kensington or Shelf Life Books in Calgary. Support local independent books stores!
We’ve returned from a three-month hiatus to celebrate both pride month and ten years since the Calgary Gay History Project was founded. We began as a tiny project for Calgary 2012 and have been growing ever since due to an active and engaged community.
In gratitude, Kevin has reflected on a number of special moments from the decade’s deep dive into local queer history.
Gay History Walks. Ever since 2013, situating queer history in the Calgary landscape on a warm summer night with enthusiastic walkers is a slice of heaven (although we had a snow squall once that added a decidedly different frisson).
Everett Klippert. His life story has been a focus of the Calgary Gay History Project since its inception. However, everything deepened when his family got involved with the Project in 2015. Together we excavated Everett’s very profound role in changing Canadian history in 1969. His story continues to have posthumous impact, most recently with the expungement of his criminal record in 2020.
Club Carousel. Calgary’s original gay bar founded in 1970 was arguably the most formative queer space the city has ever seen. Our first commemorative Club Carousel Cabaret was held in 2014 at the High Performance Rodeo thanks to Third Street Theatre and our impresario Michael Green (RIP). Our second Cabaret was held in 2015 thanks to One Voice Chorus—sold out each time!
Gross Indecency: The Everett Klippert Story (2018). Saying “yes” to filmmaker Laura O’Grady was one of the best decisions we ever made. Not only did this short film garner festival laurels, but through the process Laura became a good friend. We made another great film in 2021, called Undetectable. Laura has our highest esteem.
Our Past Matters. The book had a difficult birth. It took four years to write—not one year, as planned. However, it was embraced in pre-production by a successful Kickstarter campaign and since has gone on to be a local best-seller as well as on the curriculum for some University of Calgary undergraduate classes. We are ever so grateful both for insightful readers as well as independent bookstores.
Legislating Love. Natalie Meisner’s play about the life of Everett Klippert was history turned into sublime art (I wept). Sage Theatre mounted the world premiere in 2018, and the play continues to gather praise, most recently winning an “Oscar” at this year’s Dublin International Gay Theatre Festival.
HiR. Kevin was honoured to be the inaugural Historian in Residence when the New Central Library opened in 2018. It was a high water mark for the Calgary Gay History Project and a terrific experience. The Library graciously hosted the book launch of Our Past Matters—an incredibly special memory now.
No historian is an island. So many people have contributed to the success of the Calgary Gay History Project. In closing, we would like to give a shout out to project volunteers past and present: Nevena, Del, Rosman, Matt, Ayanna, Sheldon, Laura, Jonathan, Nolan, and Tereasa!
As many readers of the Calgary Gay History Project know, a lot of our work has been focussed on the life of Everett Klippert—unjustly incarcerated for most of the 1960s for being gay.
In 2020, the Klippert family applied to the Parole Board of Canada for an expungement of their uncle’s criminal record—a provision that was made available to them through the Expungement of Historically Unjust Convictions Act. This Act was part of the Government of Canada’s formal apology to the LGBTQ2 community in 2017.
The expungement order was granted on November 18, 2020, which means Everett is deemed never to have been a criminal. Although he died almost 25 years ago, his family is deeply satisfied with the outcome.
Interestingly, Ottawa-based lawyer Brian Crane, who defended Everett in the Supreme Court trial of 1967, offered to assist the family with the application, pro bono. It’s remarkable that Mr. Crane’s career has spanned these two ends of Everett’s story.
The Calgary Gay History Project is very grateful to have been part of this journey with the Klippert family. To learn more about Everett’s story, and why it is important to Canadian history, we have included a few links.