Tag Archives: Beltline

A Woman’s Place Bookstore

Social worker Carolyn Anderson started what became a feminist community hub in Calgary in the early 80s called: A Woman’s Place Bookstore. At that time, alternative feminist and lesbian spaces, shops, and music festivals were cropping up across North America. An informal network between them was forged by women’s publications such as the still widely circulated newsletter Lesbian Connection.

After a trip to California, Carolyn discovered a lesbian bookshop that inspired her. Yet her bookstore evolved almost by accident. As a social worker, her area of expertise was in sexual abuse and its recovery, yet Carolyn found a dearth of books on the topic locally. So at professional conferences, she started buying multiple copies of the books she was interested in. She would then sell them to colleagues and clients out of the trunk of her car.

In fact, she amusingly started calling her car, “A Woman’s Place Bookstore,” but then women started requesting other reading materials and even feminist music. The car’s trunk quickly became too full. She found a business partner in Jacquie Stutt, talking one night over a curling game, and they opened a storefront in 1983.

Located in the Beltline at 1412 Centre Street, one entered a lavender door into feminist bibliophilic bliss. At any time you might be greeted by a fluffy dog, goddess jewelry, friendly staff and other shoppers when you entered: plus lots and lots of books.

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A Woman’s Place Bookstore Owner Jacquie Stutt with Buddy

Carolyn remembers: “The back room was where we had all of the lesbian stuff, all of the lesbian music, so people could go back there and, lots of times, people didn’t even know there was a back room! It looked like, maybe it was a business office or a storage room, but if you were gay you knew what it was, and we would make sure you knew what it was. People didn’t even really get what the gay stuff was if they weren’t gay.”

In the first years of the store, it was well known that Canada Customs officials would seize books with gay or lesbian content. So, Carolyn would have her shipments sent to friends in Montana and then drive down to get them – smuggling the books into Calgary.

Many customers who were too nervous to go into gay bars found a gentler entry point to the community through shopping for books and reading the community bulletin board/information centre. Any activities of interest to women were posted there; you could drop off event posters or call the store and relay event information to staff. For shoppers, the store had non-sexist children’s books, fiction, poetry, self-help tapes and books, calendars, recovery books, jewelry, t-shirts, women’s music, and – if you were still undecided – gift certificates!

By the late 90s, Jacquie had become the sole owner of the bookstore but it began to suffer from the movement of the “b-list” female prostitution stroll into the area (as defined by Calgary Police). Sometimes bookstore staff had to chase away cruising johns and customers began to stay away. The store was sold to a new owner in 2003 and moved to Marda Loop where it existed for a few more years before the business finally closed its doors.

Throughout its existence, the store was an anchor for Calgary’s lesbian community. On multiple occasions, the Calgary Gay History Project has heard from women who told us that this store saved their lives by ending their isolation.

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Gay History Walk on Sunday!

Join the Calgary Gay History Project’s Matthew Gillespie on a walk through the Beltline from 10:30 AM – Noon. We will travel to significant historical gathering spots for the gay community in this inner city neighbourhood, including Calgary’s first gay bar, from 1968, Club Carousel.

Meet: CommunityWise (The Former Old Y) 223 12 Avenue SW

Originally from Montreal, Matt first got a glimpse of Calgary during a summer vacation in 1977 and returned in 1980 to work the summer laying carpet in Esso Plaza downtown. After university, he made the decision to go west for good in 1988. Matt has been active in the community thru Apollo Friends in Sports, Rocky Mountain Singers, Pride Calgary, GLCSA, One Voice Chorus and the Calgary Men’s Chorus.

The Calgary Gay History Project has been involved with Jane’s Walk since 2013 and the May walks have seen a great variety of weather conditions, including snow! Intrepid walkers came out regardless. Here is a photo montage of past walks.

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The Fruit Loop in 1982

Calgary’s Gay Prostitution Stroll for many years was centred around the Lougheed House on 13th Avenue SW between 6th and 7th streets. Colloquially it was known in the gay community as “the Fruit Loop.” Trolling cars would circle the block around the Lougheed House, in a clockwise direction, due to 6th being a one-way street. In 1982 local residents who lived in apartment towers facing the Fruit Loop petitioned Calgary Police to have the stroll removed. The petition received 547 signature from area residents (165 signatures from the Birkenshaw Apartment, 166 from Hull Estates, 68 from Park 300, and 148 from Evergreen Apartments).

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Driving route on the Fruit Loop: Source Google Maps

The apartment building owners alleged they were losing renters due to the distasteful activity and the ensuing noise and traffic that the prostitutes were making. Occasionally the sex workers would even get into the buildings and rest in the apartment lobbies’ overstuffed chairs.

Inspector Bill Brink who was in charge of policing the Beltline noted that male prostitutes had been moving west from Central Memorial Park, due to increased lighting there, as well as stepped-up enforcement. He also claimed that the gay bar, the Parkside Continental at 1302 4th St. SW, was one of the drawing cards for male prostitution in the area.

The Calgary Herald on June 21st, 1982 reported that police had enhanced enforcement efforts at the Fruit Loop. Noting enforcement difficulties, Inspector Frank Mitchell reported that male prostitutes were harder to spot than female prostitutes. He said, “if there are five men walking down the street, two may be homosexual, one may be a homosexual prostitute and two may be going to the library. It’s very difficult to assess.”

Later that week at a Police Commission Meeting, the petitioners brought forth their complaint. Police Chief Brian Sawyer, said the Calgary police force was sympathetic but helpless. He recommended that citizens write to their Members of Parliament, to lobby for laws to help police deal with prostitution.

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Image source: The Calgary Herald: July 21, 1982, page B1.

The Beltline NIMBYers were not happy with that response. One woman invited the Police Chief to spend a night in her apartment to assess for himself the magnitude of the issue. Another man thought that the male prostitutes could be moved as Police had done with the female prostitution stroll. The manager of the Evergreen Estates told the commission: “I don’t think the police’s hands are tied. They can do something about the commotion. We’re talking about commotion, noise, and disturbance.  [These] young guys are howling and hooting at the moon.”

Inspector Bill Brink incidentally was the police representative on the first gay community/police liaison committee (he also notoriously had busted Club Carousel years earlier on liquor charges, and was hostile to the activist side of the gay community).  The gay members of the committee agreed to help the police relocate the Fruit Loop to 10th Avenue SW.  The compliant committee then had cards printed which they hand-delivered to the stroll’s sex workers asking them to relocate. Although it was a polite initiative, it proved ineffective.

Finally, one wonders, is it a coincidence the Fruit Loop was across from the Ranchmen’s Club, one of Calgary’s then last remaining exclusive (men-only) private members clubs?

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