Au­thor’s new book fea­tures 70 short sto­ries on lo­cal LGBTQ move­ment

Calgary Herald - - YOU - JON ROE twit­­jon­roe [email protected]­

Kevin Allen wasn’t ex­pect­ing gay his­tory to take over as much of his life as it has.

It started with a $5,000 Cal­gary 2012 grant to be the his­to­rian-in­res­i­dence of the Old Y, now known as Com­mu­ni­tyWise Re­source Cen­tre.

“That started me down this path,” he says. “I fell through the rab­bit hole and be­came a Cana­dian his­to­rian.”

The path has led him first to con­duct­ing his­tor­i­cal walks through Cal­gary, then to Gross In­de­cency: The Everett Klip­pert story, a doc­u­men­tary that screened at the Cal­gary In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val which fol­lows Allen’s ex­plo­ration of the fi­nal Cana­dian to be jailed for ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity. Now, it’s brought him to a book, Our Past Mat­ters: Sto­ries of Gay Cal­gary, which tells the story of Cal­gary’s gay his­tory through 70 short sto­ries.

“When I ini­tially wanted to write the book, I wanted to write the de­fin­i­tive his­tory, some kind of tome,” Allen says. “I quickly re­al­ized that I couldn’t do that. His­tory is so com­plex and there’s dif­fer­ent his­to­ries. I’m hop­ing the book, through a bunch of these shorter sto­ries or vi­gnettes, will tell the story of the move­ment nat­u­rally. You’ll see the arc.”

Ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity was il­le­gal up un­til 1969, when Klip­pert’s court case prompted the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment to pass Bill C-160, le­gal­iz­ing ho­mo­sex­ual acts be­tween con­sent­ing adults, then largely un­der­ground due to wide­spread ho­mo­pho­bia. That means its his­tory was also un­der­ground.

“There’s very lit­tle in ar­chives or li­braries,” Allen says. “Oral his­tory work was very im­por­tant, find­ing the el­ders in the LGBTQ com­mu­nity to talk to. They were ini­tially a lit­tle bit sus­pi­cious un­til I met them and they got to un­der­stand what my mo­tives were. Those in­di­vid­u­als in­tro­duced me to other in­di­vid­u­als.”

Through oral his­tory and his own cross-coun­try re­search, he un­cov­ered sto­ries like that of Jean L’Heureux.

“He was a French-Cana­dian set­tler out here in the 1800s,” Allen says. “He was the most flu­ent white speaker of Black­foot and he was gay. Dis­cov­er­ing his story was re­ally in­ter­est­ing be­cause he was there at Treaty 7 and spoke on be­half of all the chiefs. He was their trans­la­tor, he worked for them and not the Crown. The Crown wanted him to, but he didn’t. That was a re­ally in­ter­est­ing story to dis­cover. Even in Cal­gary ’s pro­to­his­tory there was a gay his­tory story.”

As you would ex­pect of the era, “it was a scan­dal,” Allen adds. “He wanted to be a Catholic priest and he kept get­ting kicked out of sem­i­nary col­leges and mis­sions and things like that.”

Our Past Mat­ters launches Nov. 22 with an event at the New Cen­tral Li­brary along with a screen­ing of Gross In­de­cency. Allen worked at the old down­town li­brary in the mag­a­zines and news­pa­pers de­part­ment in the late 1980s and ’90s.

“I have re­ally warm feel­ings about the down­town li­brary and there’s a lot of for­mer co-work­ers, many of them are still there,” he says. “They’ve been com­ing up to my of­fice to say hello. It’s been re­ally lovely.”

It’s also fit­ting that he finds him­self re­peat­ing his­tory: he’s the first his­to­rian-in-res­i­dence for the New Cen­tral Li­brary.

“There’s a cer­tain po­etry there.”

Kevin Allen launches Our Past Mat­ters: Sto­ries of Gay Cal­gary, on Thurs­day.


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