Seeking the 620 crowd!

Before Club Carousel in the late 1960’s there was a bar called the 620 club at 620 8th Avenue SW near the site of the old Uptown Theatre.  Frequented by both gay men and lesbians, you accessed this underground bar by stairs in the back alley between 5th and 6th streets.

620 8 Avenue SW

620 8th Avenue SW Calgary today: image Google Earth

It opened in 1967 or 1968, and was owned by a man described as short and swarthy, with a big nose and a limp.  The 620 was just a number on the door, and there was no alcohol served – there was only popcorn and pop machines. The room was not very big, and was decorated by a lot of christmas tree lights with a central light bulb (red?) hanging from the ceiling.

Former producing director of Alberta Theatre Projects, Michael Dobbin, remembers: “It was a time when if you saw someone you recognized at the club [from one’s day-to-day life] it made you feel kind of queazy and you left.  It was only open on the weekends.  Getting there, you would sneak down the laneway, look both ways and then quickly go down the stairs.”

“One night I remember that it was really crowded and there were these three guys in suits – one of whom I found quite attractive – so I went up to him and asked him to dance and he responded gruffly, “No!’   When I went back to my friends, they asked me what I had done, and they said to me, ‘they are the police stupid, the light is flashing!'”

Before homosexuality was decriminalized in 1969 any same-sex couple dancing together was potentially subject to arrest under the charge of gross indecency.  The 620 Club used the flashing light to alert its clientele to suspected police presence, and dancing would either cease or gay men and lesbians would switch partners and grab each other to dance.

Lois Szabo in a 1973 edition of Carousel Capers wrote that: “In the past, many gay clubs have been set up and these businesses were primarily concerned with earning a fast buck!”  Her editorial point being that Club Carousel was the first gay club owned and operated by the community.

To date, that is all we know about the 620 club whose existence is still a bit of a mystery to the Calgary Gay History Project.  If you, or anyone you know has a recollection of the 620 club, we would be grateful if you would contact Kevin Allen at calgarygayhistory@gmail.com.

{KA}

Getting Ready for Pride

I just got back from Victoria and Vancouver and had excellent interviews with half a dozen former Calgarians, about our community’s history.  Thank you everyone who participated and gave their time to the project.

The Calgary Gay History Project met recently with Pride Calgary to talk about what history offerings will be happening for this year’s Pride Festival: August 28th – September 7th.  We are considering a public panel discussion honouring Pride Calgary’s 25th anniversary in 2015.

We are going to be offering the Gay History Walk again, however, with a re-jig.  This year it is going to be a free ticketed event – and we will lead more than one – just to keep the participant numbers reasonable and make for a better history walk experience. Last year’s turnout was phenomenal but a little overwhelming.  Stay tuned to our website, facebook and twitter, for future ticket announcements.

Larger than a Calgary Pride Parade in the 90s perhaps?

Calgary Gay History Walk 2014 (100+ participants)

Finally, we will have a table at the Pride Festival on September 6th for everyone to come up, ask questions and learn more about our community’s history.

{KA}

Downcast Gays in YYC?

With Downcast Gays

Last week I read the gay liberation manifesto, With Downcast Gays: Aspects of Homosexual Self-Oppression, by Andrew Hodges and David Hutter, and was inspired.  You can read it online: here.

The slim 1974 treatise, first published in London, England, was reprinted multiple times in many countries.  Pink Triangle Press, publisher of the Canada’s gay liberation newspaper, The Body Politic, produced the first North American edition in 1977, selling out its 6000 copies in less than two years.  A second edition was printed in 1979.

With Downcast Gays is a clearly articulated call to action to gays everywhere: you must fight for your pride and self-respect.  Self-disclosure (coming out), the authors explain, is essential in overcoming self-oppression.  This message found an eager audience in its readers and paved the way for the outing movement and debate over its practice in the 1980s.

The authors make an example of the famous novelist and social commentator, E. M. Forster, whose gay novel Maurice (written in 1914) was only published posthumously in 1971.   They write:

The novel which could have helped us find courage and self-esteem he only allowed to be published after his death, thereby confirming belief in the secret and disgraceful nature of homosexuality.  What other minority is so sunk in shame and self-oppression as to be proud of a traitor?

At times angry and at times thoughtful, With Downcast Gays, has relevance in today’s world still.  Despite a large queer community in Calgary, with very public equal rights, some people still self-censor their identity for the sake of psychological comfort.

Hodges and Hutter conclude:

No homosexual is an island.  When gays say that they have to be ‘discreet’, they support the idea that homosexuality – our homosexuality – is offensive; when they describe themselves as “a typical case”, they label us as ‘cases’.  Oppression is as much the creature of self-oppression as the converse.  External oppression we can only fight against; self-oppression we can tear out and destroy.

{KA}

Postscript: In 1992, Author Andrew Hodges wrote another book, about Alan Turing, that became the basis for the 2015 Academy Award winning film: The Imitation Game.