Tag Archives: MCC

The Golden Age of Gay Bars in YYC

Calgary was booming in the 70s. The city’s population increased about 50% in those 10 years. Club Carousel, the only gay club at the beginning of the decade saw its popularity wane as commercial gay bars opened in the city. The owners and operators had more capital to invest in their emerging discotheques, and the growing gay community flocked to them.

The Parkside Continental ran from 1973-1986 and was located at the corner of 13th Avenue and 4th Street SW (where Shelf Life Books is currently). The Parkside was named after a famous gay tavern in Toronto. Vance Campbell, a businessman and gay bar owner from Vancouver moved to Calgary to start the Parkside with local partners.

In the early years, there were provincial regulations about food being served with alcohol at bars. Rudy Labuhn, who was initially a DJ at the club and then manager, remembered that when the Parkside began they served 50 cent burgers to all drinkers.  He explained that the Province also limited the amount of recorded music that could be played. Fortunately, a straight bar called Lucifer challenged those rules successfully ushering in the age of disco to Calgary. Interestingly, the bar would end most nights with a song that was decidedly more downtempo: Broadway singer Maureen McGovern’s song, “The Continental.”

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A grainy image of Vance Campbell in front of the Parkside Continental from the Body Politic, Sept. 1980.

The Parkside expanded upstairs creating a second bar called The Green Room. The Imperial Sovereign Court of the Chinook Arch in April 1976 was founded there; their first coronation followed in January 1977 at the Holiday Inn Downtown. Drag legend, Sandy St. Peters who grew up in Calgary and lived and performed across Canada, entertained occasionally at the Parkside. After a big Saturday night at the bar, she would run across the street to campily welcome churchgoers arriving Sunday morning for early service at the First Baptist Church. In addition to drag performances, Eartha Kitt famously did a highly regarded concert one night in the Green Room.

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Sandy St. Peters (1953-2001). Image Source: YouTube

Vance Campbell proved to be a divisive figure at times publicly opposing the local gay activist community, which revolved around Gay Information & Resources Calgary (GIRC), headquartered only one block away. He was described by the Body Politic in 1980 as one of the power brokers in the gay community “confident enough of his position to write to the mayor and counter GIRC’s claim that Calgary could face a gay rights march.”

Another reason perhaps why Campbell felt powerful was he was an owner of Calgary’s other gay bar of note: Myrt’s.  Opened in 1976, the sign on the building said Myrt’s Beauty Parlour and was located at 808 9 Ave. SW (now a parking lot). This gay lounge and disco were initially open Friday and Saturday nights for men only. As its popularity grew, it operated six nights/week and became a mixed club, reportedly played the best music in the city.

Parkside Discotheques

Advertisement in GIRC’s 1977 publication, “Gay Moods”

A hallway off the dance floor led to a 150-seat theatre known as the “Backlot” which also served as an after-hours bar. The gay community was encouraged to use it as much as possible; it was the venue for emerging theatre artists, Imperial Court drag shows, Mr Butch Calgary “Slave Auctions” and, on Sunday mornings, Metropolitan Community Church services. Myrts’ final song every night was Kermit the Frog’s “Rainbow Connection.”

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Butch Bucks from a Calgary Slave Auction in 1978.

The bar closed on New Year’s Eve 1981/1982 as the building fell victim to boomtown redevelopment. Myrt’s and the Backlot briefly moved to 17th avenue before it closed again. One former patron broke into the site and retrieved the neon “Backlot” sign. The preserved sign now hangs over the door of the contemporary Backlot bar on 10th Ave. SW.

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Gays & The United Church Part 1

In preparation for a presentation at Knox United Church in May, the Calgary Gay History Project dove into learning about the struggles the United Church of Canada had in coming to terms with sexual orientation. The United Church through its history has been a leader in a number of progressive issues, where other Christian denominations have remained resistant to social change. Grappling with homosexuality proved a difficult and divisive challenge for the United Church, and there were several twists and turns in their journey.

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Knox United Church in Calgary Celebrated 10 Years as an Affirming Congregation in May 2017.

One of the first stirrings of the issue happened in 1965 with Pierre Berton’s publication of The Comfortable Pew: A Critical Look at Christianity and the Religious Establishment on the New Age. He brought up the issue of homosexuality and the church, noting the omission of homosexuality from clergy conversation and sermons. He described the homosexual then, as the modern equivalent of the leper. In Calgary, this idea made news when an Anglican Minister, inspired by the book, called for an embrace of homosexuals in his congregation.

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It also generated an article that year in the United Church Observer, the Church’s monthly magazine, which stated that homosexuals should be warmly welcomed by congregations and that some same-sex relationships be given a church blessing. The article generated a significant amount of alarm amongst the clergy.

This issue at the United Church simmered in the background for a decade. In the meantime, Canadian society was changing rapidly.  Decriminalization of homosexuality passed in Parliament in 1969. The gay-centred Metropolitan Community Church movement had begun and by 1977 there were congregations in six Canadian cities, including Calgary.

In the late 70s, a United Church task force on human sexuality was commissioned, headed by a Calgarian: Reverend Jim Hillson. Their finding was that “sexual expression is appropriate when it occurs in the context of a loving and committed relationship – for both heterosexuals and homosexuals.” A United Church Observer editorial shot down the finding and promised contention at the General Council – the Church’s highest court. And it was true.

In 1980, the 28th General Council convened in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The report debated at the meeting, In God’s Image… Male and Female was two years in the making. The 103-page document recommended considering the ordination of homosexuals.  It also suggested that sex outside the institution of marriage could be acceptable under certain circumstances.  One delegate called it: “the most dangerous and misleading document to come before the church in my lifetime.” Church headquarters also received hundreds of letters overwhelmingly opposed to the report, yet the majority of the General Council approved it – but only as a study document.

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The issue began to polarize the United Church and preoccupy the next few General Councils. Two internal lobbying groups organized: AFFIRM, a newly formed 200-member organization of homosexual congregants and clergy; and the Renewal Fellowship, a 3,000 member grouping of the Church’s conservative wing, founded in 1965, who vociferously argued against the ordination of homosexuals. An informal survey conducted by the Renewal Fellowship in British Columbia showed that 45% of church administrators would leave their church if a homosexual minister was assigned there.

A passionate debate was heard on the issue at the 30th General Council in 1984 held in Morden, Manitoba. There, the recommendation to allow the ordination of “self-declared” homosexuals was overwhelmingly rejected. Ironically, the Church suspected that 10% of its clergy were already homosexual whether or not they were out about it. Consequently, the Council also resolved to begin an extensive 4-year study on “the nature of sexual orientation and practice.”

Interestingly, the homosexual ordination vote failed to satisfy either lobby group. Reverend Morley Clarke, of the Renewal Fellowship, argued that the Council failed to ban homosexual ordination outright, allowing for non-declared homosexuals to serve. He explained: “There is going to be a lot of anger about this issue.  The church at the grassroots has spoken unequivocally on this issue. They have done everything in their power to say ‘no.'” Meanwhile, Reverend Eilert Frerichs, spokesman for AFFIRM and disappointed in the decision, called it a stalemate rather than a setback.  He said: “The decision closed the door to any potential witchhunts, and we were terrified that might happen.”

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Eilert Frerichs of AFFIRM from Maclean’s Magazine, May 28, 1984. Photo: Brian Willer

In Part 2, next week, we will explore what happened in 1988, when the 4-year study was concluded: arguably the most explosive year for the United Church in its history.

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Before the Net: Calgary’s 70s Gay Press

The history of gay publishing in Calgary goes back virtually 50 years. In a time before the internet existed, local gay publications served as an essential medium for bringing the community together. They served as the connective tissue to Calgary’s LGBT body politic: allowing for reflection, celebration, and debate. They also were the main advertising vehicle for promoting gay businesses and services.

Some publications were decidedly modest affairs and others more professional. The Calgary Gay History Project presents this stroll through our community’s past press – part one….

Carousel Capers: The newsletter of Club Carousel – this monthly publication which ran from 1969 to at least 1975, was a hand typed and drawn, mimeographed affair. It grew to 24+ pages in its heyday with columns such as Chatter Box, and Cecil’s secrets. Club business, including attendance figures, budgets and meeting minutes were presented – keeping the Club leaders accountable to their membership.

Gay Information and Resources Calgary (GIRC), founded in 1975, was Calgary’s first peer support centre and community hub. It had a series of publications changing format, name, and page length – with the occasional hiatus – as budgets and volunteers waxed and waned. GIRC’s first newsletter published in late 1976 became “Gay Moods” in 1977. In January 1978, the publication changed to newsprint and a tabloid design, called “Gay Calgary.” As GIRC helped spearhead the formation of the Alberta Lesbian and Gay Rights Association in 1979, Gay Calgary became provincial. They published the first issue of “Gay Horizons” in December 1979 with expanded distribution to Red Deer, Edmonton, and later, Medicine Hat.

Gender Review: Canada’s first national transgender publication was started in Calgary in 1978 under the leadership of Nicholas Ghosh (now Rupert Raj). In the 70s, a handful of local doctors created a leading gender dysphoria clinic based out of the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Medicine. Providing both counselling and surgical services, the Sexuality Clinic attracted trans individuals from across the country, like Ghosh, who later moved back to Toronto in 1979. Note: transgender replaced transsexual as a more expansive umbrella term for the trans community in the 1990s.

New Wine: a publication “printed for the ‘glory of God’ by members of a Christian fellowship” reads an early editorial. The monthly newsletter of Calgary’s Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), offered the meditations of a gay-positive church, as well as news, a community calendar and church happenings from MCC congregations across the country.

Dignity Alberta: was a combined newsletter for Dignity Calgary and Dignity Edmonton. Dignity chapters represented gay Catholics across the country and the 1978 issue reported a circulation of 100.

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The Calgary Gay History Project has an incomplete collection for many of these early publications. If you have any in storage and would like to donate them to the archives (we do not mind having multiple copies), please contact us – we can even pick them up.

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