Sports, and specifically softball, provided an important outlet for the development of lesbian subculture and identity in North America. Sally Munt writes in Heroic Desire: Lesbian Identity and Cultural Space, “any sample of publicly identifiable US lesbians from the period 1960-1968 would have likely been corralled from the local softball team.” Calgary was part of this trend and in the 60s had a couple of women’s teams that were predominantly lesbian in their make-up.
After a game, teammates would go to their favourite watering holes, which for many was the backroom of the Cecil Hotel. Lois Szabo remembers being really excited when she discovered the Cecil. “We stumbled upon it by accident – all these women – it was like finding mecca,” she remembers.
Carolyn Anderson’s 2001 Lesbian Oral History Thesis (available from the University of Calgary: here), contains more conversations about softball. She recounts one story,
“I wanted to be involved with all these women but I didn’t particularly want to play softball. I actually thought it was a pretty boring game so I became the team doctor. It seemed to suit everybody just fine. I would always take something to read like my medical books or whatever lesbian stuff I was getting in the mail and I could just be around all the neat dykes. The coach still remembers me and how she would look up into the stands and there was this woman reading through this whole game. After the games, some of the women tended to frequent the bars.”
The Cecil Hotel had a notorious past as a saloon and boarding house, and was always described as a blue collar bar. Built in 1912, the building became a locus for prostitution, drugs, murder in modern times. The City eventually revoked its business licence in 2009; police were called to the Cecil 1,700 times in its final year of operation.
Jen Gerson, in the National Post quotes Leo Silberman one of the Cecil Hotel’s owners. “When I bought the place [in 1968], the women were worse than the men,” he told the Calgary Herald before he passed away in 2007. “They fight like heck every day. Very, very rough.”
Lois concurs, “I remember that some of the women would get into fights, particularly the butch women if someone looked at their femme in the wrong way.”
However tough, softball and the hotel bar provided much needed gathering places for Calgary’s lesbian community in the 60s. Another quote from the oral history thesis explains, “With the ball teams, you had your north side gang and your south side gang. We were the south side gang and we all went to the Cecil [hotel]. We liked the Cecil because there was a nice private backroom there. It was marked for Ladies and Escorts and we’d laugh because we didn’t know which we were! God, we used to have a lot of fun there. They used to cater to us because we were the best part of their business.”