‘I’m des­per­ate to pre­serve it’

His­to­rian tries to save frag­ments of Cal­gary’s LGBTQ past from be­ing for­got­ten or de­stroyed

StarMetro Calgary - - NEWS - MADE­LINE SMITH

Per­haps the most im­por­tant stag­ing ground in Cal­gary’s LGBTQ his­tory is hid­den down the stairs of a restau­rant, in the base­ment.

In 1970, a group of five men and women led the charge to cre­ate a mem­bers-only space where the city’s gay com­mu­nity could gather. They painted the walls red and yel­low, like a cir­cus tent to match the name — Club Carousel — and thwarted po­lice at­tempts to shut it down.

To­day, there’s no out­side trace of the build­ing’s his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance. Club Carousel moved from its orig­i­nal lo­ca­tion at 1207 1st St. S.W. in 1972, be­fore clos­ing in 1978. But Kevin Allen, who has been re­search­ing Cal­gary’s LGBTQ his­tory since 2012, says pieces of the space are still there.

“The own­ers have let me go down to the base­ment, and one of the walls ... is still painted. It’s al­most 50 years old,” he said.

“I’m des­per­ate to pre­serve it. That’s amaz­ing ... It’s kind of the dawn of the or­ga­nized gay com­mu­nity in Cal­gary.”

Allen is cur­rently the Cal­gary Pub­lic Li­brary’s his­to­rian in res­i­dence, and his new book, Our Past Mat­ters: Sto­ries of Gay Cal­gary, is the cul­mi­na­tion of a years-long deep dive into the peo­ple and places that formed the foun­da­tion of the city’s LGBTQ com­mu­nity. He hopes his work will shield these oft-for­got­ten sto­ries from the pas­sage of time.

His book high­lights key peo­ple and mo­ments, from Treaty 7 ne­go­ti­a­tions in 1887 to the 1998 Supreme Court case in which Del­win Vriend suc­cess­fully chal­lenged the Al­berta Hu­man Rights Act af­ter he was fired from an Ed­mon­ton col­lege for be­ing gay.

Allen said Club Carousel was one of the most essen­tial de­vel­op­ments in that his­tory for Cal­gary — the first time the city’s gay com­mu­nity boldly es­tab­lished its own space.

Un­til 1969, it was a crim­i­nal of­fence in Canada to have sex with some­one of the same gen­der. Be­fore that, spa­ces where gay peo­ple could meet were known only in whis­pers.

Allen un­cov­ered one of those places by ac­ci­dent, when a con­ver­sa­tion with his par­ents about where gay peo­ple used to hang out in Cal­gary re­vealed a ru­mour about the Kings Arms Tav­ern at the Pal­liser Ho­tel.

“(My dad), as a straight man, just some­how knew that if you don’t want to be po­ten­tially thought of as gay, he knew not to drink there,” Allen said.

Like Club Carousel, there’s now al­most no sign of that im­por­tant land­mark for the city’s LGBTQ his­tory. It’s been re­placed by a Star­bucks.

Since then, Allen said, learn­ing about the city’s LGBTQ his­tory has taken over his life. He quit his arts ad­min­is­tra­tion job in 2014 to de­vote more time to it, launch­ing a Kick­starter cam­paign that led to the book.

“I’ll prob­a­bly be en­gaged with queer his­tory for the rest of my life,” he said.

Other im­por­tant pieces of the past in­clude ac­tivism by the Of

Colour Col­lec­tive, which chal­lenged white dom­i­nance in queer spa­ces dur­ing the 1990s, as well as the found­ing of the first gen­der clinic at Cal­gary’s Foothills Hos­pi­tal, where trans­gen­der peo­ple could ac­cess care.

A Cal­gary bus driver was at the cen­tre of the case that de­crim­i­nal­ized ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity in Canada, but be­fore Allen be­gan re­search­ing the book, he’d never heard his name.

Everett Klip­pert is rec­og­nized as the last per­son in Canada to go to prison just for be­ing gay, but “his story had com­pletely dis­ap­peared,”

Allen said.

“Our his­tory was not well recorded by in­sti­tu­tions,” he says. “Be­fore the ’50s, there’s al­most no first-per­son ac­counts.”

Allen con­tin­ues to in­ter­view LGBTQ peo­ple in their 70s, 80s and 90s to en­sure their sto­ries aren’t lost.

“Cal­gary’s his­tory nar­ra­tive is dom­i­nated by the Stam­pede, by en­ergy and oil ex­plo­ration, kind of the mav­er­icks,” he said. “And those are all im­por­tant sto­ries, but there’s a lot of other sto­ries and a lot of other his­to­ries in Cal­gary.”


Kevin Allen in front of Cal­gary’s Lougheed House, on 13 Ave. S.W., known as the city’s gay pros­ti­tu­tion stroll dur­ing the 1980s — at the time called “the Fruit Loop.”

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