Tag Archives: Beltline

Gaybasher Killed in Central Park

Central Memorial Park has a history of being a cruising park for gay men, and there are many related stories of police harassment there, as well as gay bashing incidents in the now gentrified Beltline greenspace.  Yet one night, in 1979, the tables turned and a gay basher became a victim.

On Saturday, September 22nd at around 10 PM, a skirmish broke out in Central Memorial Park. The result was that Beltline resident, Thomas Earl Nash, aged 22, was stabbed in the neck with a broken bottle. A half dozen people surrounded the dying man, lying behind the Memorial Park Library.  One of Nash’s panicked friends managed to hail a cab driving by on 13th avenue, who then raced them to the Holy Cross Hospital.

Nash did not survive the night.  A silver jacket from one of the attackers was abandoned at the scene.  It was also reported that large blood stains on the sidewalk remained the next day.  The police reported that no motive had been established for the killing, but that drugs were not involved.

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Calgary Herald: Monday, September 24, 1979 page B1

The two men accused of the killing fled in a stolen car to Penticton, B.C. and were arrested by RCMP officers the following Tuesday. Brian Christopher Hawkurst, 20, and Greg Paul Spencer, 19, were charged with second-degree murder.

As the investigation proceeded, details emerged that Nash was one of three straight men who had been abusing gay men in the park. It seems that the gang of harassers hassled Hawkurst and Spencer, who then decided to hassle back. A chase ensued whereby Hawkurst and Spencer caught up to Nash at the alley behind the library, and attacked.

The alley, ironically, was well lit by a floodlight which had been installed the previous month at police request, to discourage homosexual activity in the area. Sadly, the cab driver who came to Nash’s aid reported that it was not the first time he had had to take a stabbed man from Central Memorial Park to the hospital.

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Photo: Park in 2011 by Mack Male on WikiCommons

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YYC LGBTQ Legacy Sites

The City of Calgary’s LGBTQ Legacy Committee recently formed: a group spearheaded by Ward 8 City Councillor Evan Woolley, with support from the Calgary Gay History Project. The Committee’s goal is to commemorate our city’s LGBTQ history with a significant and lasting monument. We are at the beginning of the process but look forward to engaging with everyone who is interested in helping to shape what our monument could be.

One of the initial questions for a monument is where? The Beltline and the inner city seem like an obvious choice, as it is where much of our community spaces were clustered in the 20th Century.

Gay Beltline in the 80s

Doug Young personal papers, Glenbow Archives M-8397-1.

Gay activist Doug Young’s personal records are in the Glenbow Archives. His hand drawn map of the Beltline from the mid-80’s illustrates there were more queer spaces at that time, then we have today.

Some ideas for a monument location that we came up with:

  • The Old Y – now called CommunityWise, was the location of the first peer support organizations in Calgary, PLC and GIRC. It later hosted dozens of other queer non-profits and collectives and became the de facto hub for the LGBTQ community. Currently, CommunityWise is home to Calgary Outlink and Fairy Tales.
  • Central Memorial Park – a gay cruising park in the 70s, it was also the site of frequent police harassment of queers. Law student Henry Berg fought back in 1981. He took the police to task and won. Later in 1990, the Boer War Memorial at the centre of the park was the site of the first Pride Rally in 1990 – the origin of Calgary Pride.
  • McHugh House – Calgary’s 6th oldest building was moved recently into Humpty Hollow Park, in a corner of the Beltline that saw a lot of gay action, with nearby bars Myrts (later the Republik), Off Centre and later MoneyPennies in the Centre 15 building. Centre 15 also housed AIDS Calgary for a number of years.
  • Tomkins Park – the block-long green space nestled on the south edge of the Beltline, was the site of a number of Pride Festivals in the 1990s when the Pride Parade’s route went down 17th Avenue.
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    Sept 1978 Ad in Gay Calgary – a GIRC Newspaper

    It was also close to Books N’ Books, an independent bookstore which proudly sold LGBTQ books, newspapers and magazines (now Big Cheese Poutinerie).

  • Greenline 12th ave station – this new LRT station opening in 2024 might pop out at 12th avenue and 1st street SW (or be an underground station): super close to the original Club Carousel as well as the Old Y.
  • Connaught Park – this West-Central Beltline Park is surrounded by lots of hi-rise apartment buildings and walk-ups. Nearby City View Manor was rumoured to have been designed to house gay men exclusively, with walk-in closets and wrap around balconies.
  • Barb Scott Park – is close to current gay bar Twisted Element and the former Warehouse and Underground Pub (which earlier was a short-lived gay bathhouse).
  • Haultain Park – is close to Central Memorial Park, Old Y, and Club Carousel. Also not too far from A Woman’s Place Bookstore, another community hub in the 80s and 90s.
  • East Village – outside of the Beltline this is one of the oldest parts of Calgary. There was a historic bath house, somewhere east of City Hall in the early 20th century that had gay undertones. Later in the 70s, there was a gay steam bath named Dan Dominique’s on 3rd St. East between 7th and 8th Avenue, reportedly not recommended for the squeamish.

Where would you like to see a memorial? Write to calgarygayhistory@gmail.com – share your thoughts.

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Gay-Bashing in YYC. We remember.

As we approach May 17th, the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, we thought it might be a good time to reflect on troubling moments from our city’s past.

IDAHOT

The 1980s and 90s in Calgary were a particularly bad time for gay-bashing. Attacks were concentrated in the Beltline: one had to stay alert when walking there for thugs with baseball bats and a grudge to work out. As AIDS deaths mounted in Calgary – they hit their crescendo in 1994 – society at large had a lot of anxiety about the now visible gay community in their midst. Many bashings went unreported. Some people lost their lives.

In 1990, one Calgarian named Jeff Harris, recounted to a Calgary Herald reporter his nightmare which had occurred three years prior. Harris, then a 38-year old nurse, was on his way to meet some friends at a club, strolling there on a warm Friday evening in June. Then, near the intersection of 13th Avenue and 1 St SW, a baseball bat swung out from behind a garbage dumpster and connected with his face.

The first blow unhinged his jaw and knocked out some teeth. Several repeated blows sent even more teeth scattering down the sidewalk, and pulverized facial bones. His assailants then proceeded to kick the downed man for several minutes.

Finally, two men who had seen Harris’ three attackers from a nearby apartment gave chase to the assailants. Other samaritans came to Harris’ aid and called police and paramedics. Harris was just able to write his name on a cigarette package before he blacked out.

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Source: Calgary Herald Sunday Magazine, January 7, 1990

By coincidence, the ambulance delivered Harris to the same emergency room where he worked; his co-workers did not recognize him through the damage. Nine doctors, attended the beaten man, trying to preserve his tenuous hold on life. They estimated that he had lost more than six pints of blood and had severe brain swelling.

When the swelling was brought under control, it took more than 6 hours and 280 stitches to close Harris’s wounds and wire together his 27 facial fractures, including 11 breaks in his jaw.

Nine weeks of recovery in hospital, left Harris whole, but substantially changed and forever haunted.

The three assailants were found through a tip from a gay neighbour who lived in the same apartment complex as the thugs. The baseball bat, with Harris’ dried blood still clinging to it, was found in their apartment. Not only were the three charged in the Harris attack, they were also tied to other gay-bashings in the neighbourhood. The three roommates, who had formerly worked as bouncers at a local bar, pled guilty, and expressed surprise that Harris lived.  The oldest attacker was 22.

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