Our Silver Anniversary

Canadians have been organizing for twenty-five years!

Gay Archivist, Number 7, June 1989 / Appx 1,700 words


This unsigned article, published on the 20th anniversary of New York's Stonewall riots, harked back to even earlier activism in Canada. Featured here are Vancouver's Association for Social Knowledge (ASK), Canada's first homophile group, and two Toronto publications, Gay (later Gay International) and Two -- all born in 1964.

Additional information has been provided in footnotes. Numbers highlighted in the text link to the notes.

Rick Bébout, April 1997


Although the Stonewall riots of 1969 marked the symbolic founding of the modern gay liberation movement, several events in 1964 herald the emergence of gays and lesbians as an organized force in Canada.

For example, in April of that year there appeared in Vancouver the first issue of ASK Newsletter, the voice of the Association for Social Knowledge. ASK, which had already been operating for some months, was formed "to help society to understand and accept variations from the sexual norm." [1]

The social agenda advocated in the first issue of ASK Newsletter a quarter-century ago is yet to be realized in many parts of this country:

"Some say that we do not live in the Dark Ages ... but what of the homosexual who is dismissed from his job ... simply because it is rumoured that he or she is homosexual? Could you afford, right now, to go to your employer and safely say, 'I am a homosexual'? ASK hopes that in not too many years the sexual variant will be able to do so without fear or recrimination or repercussion."
A serious journal of opinion and news, the first issue of ASK Newsletter was published almost simultaneously with the premiere issue of the first gay magazine in Toronto. This was Gay (later renamed Gay International), the earliest periodical anywhere to use the "g" word in its title.

Its approach was rather different, for it was the product of a commercial venture, the Gay Publishing Company; the first [non-commercial] gay organization did not appear in Toronto until 1969. Gay ran its share of "serious" articles, but it also contained letters to the editor, a "diary," gossip columns and "Gabrial Club," a personals column that was the height of discretion. It was also illustrated, usually with photographs of drag queens.

Later in 1964, the first issue of Two was launched by the Gayboy (later Kamp) Publishing Company of 457 Church Street, Toronto. The editorial address also just happened to be the location of the Melody Room, an after-hours bar which had opened two years earlier. [2]

Two, which adopted the style of One magazine of Los Angeles [produced by the Mattachine Society, beginning in 1953], published short stories and "novels" as well as serious articles. It also had a lighter side -- a gossip column and articles about drag queens who performed at the Melody Room, the Music Room on Yonge Street, and (gasp!) the Canadian National Exhibition.

These articles were complemented by appropriate photographs, and a popular "Physique Section" containing a liberal sprinkling of images of men taken from the physique magazines of the day. [3]

ASK Newsletter lasted the longest; it ceased publication in 1968 when the parent Association folded. [4] Though short- lived, both the Association for Social Knowledge and these few publications performed a valuable service by providing a Canadian forum for discussion and debate on gay and lesbian issues, a perspective missing from the periodicals that could be obtained from the United States.

The emergence of ASK also encouraged the formation of other pioneering organizations, such as the Committee on Social Hygiene, established in Ottawa in 1965 [actually in Stittsville, Ontario in 1963; see footnote 1]. Although the Committee soon disbanded, it was succeeded by the Canadian Council on Religion and the Homosexual. This group, too, soon folded [5], even as the issues championed by these early organizations became increasingly prominent in the press and in legal circles.

The social upheavals of the 1960s, combined with the ramifications of the Wolfenden Report in Britain and, especially, the Klippert case in the Northwest Territories in 1967, led to a demand for the decriminalization of homosexual acts between consenting adults in private. [6]

Pierre Trudeau, as Minister of Justice, introduced the first version of the sexual offences reform bill in December of 1967. These reforms were included in the 1969 omnibus criminal reform bill, C-150, which was passed on May 14. [7]

Six weeks later, on the night of June 27, the New York Police Department launched a routine raid on a Greenwich Village after-hours bar called the Stonewall Inn, with the most unforeseen consequences. [8] North of the border, the new amendments to the Canadian Criminal Code quietly came into effect in August, and on October 24, Canada's first overtly gay organization, the University of Toronto Homophile Association, was formed.

The rest, as they say, is history.


Footnotes

Much of the information in these notes comes from Don McLeod's Lesbian and Gay Liberation in Canada: A Selected Annotated Chronology, 1964 - 1975. Another comprehensive source for the period (as well as earlier and later) is Gary Kinsman's The Regulation of Desire: Homo and Hetero Sexualities (Black Rose Books, second edition 1996; the 1987 edition had been subtitled Sexuality in Canada. See a review online).
(McLeod (publication & order info): http://www.clga.ca/About/publish/mcleod.htm)
(Review of Kinsman: http://www.clga.ca/Material/Books/docs/regdes.htm)

Nineteen sixty four was also the year that saw, as Don McLeod says, what are "believed to be the first full-scale articles in a mainstream Canadian publication to take a generally positive view of homosexuality" -- Sidney Katz's "The Homosexual Next Door" and "The Harsh Facts of Life in the 'Gay' World", in Maclean's, Feb 22 and Mar 7.

  1. For references to more information on ASK, see Don McLeod's chronology entry for Apr 1964. Lawyer Douglas Sanders, with ASK in 1964, continued his activism into the 1990s, with the International Lesbian and Gay Association.

    While ASK was the first formally organized homophile group in Canada -- involving a number people, both men and women -- there were earlier activists (most notably James Egan, whose work went back to 1949) and even one-person organizations. The Committee on Social Hygiene had been formed by Garfield D. Nichol (pseudonym of Gary Nichols) in Stittsville, Ontario in 1963, "to quietly lobby," as Don McLeod says, "for reforms to the Canadian Criminal Code."

    For more, see the Archives' vertical file on the Committee on Social Hygiene, and its extensive material on James Egan. Online, see an article on James Egan in Lesbian and Gay Archivist, Number 12. ASK Newsletter is on file in the lesbian and gay periodical collection of the Archives -- as are Gay and Two.
    (Egan article: http://www.clga.ca/About/LGArchivist/v12/egan.htm)
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  2. Kamp was also publisher of Gay Giggle (ca. 1964) and The Male Nude (ca. 1964 - 1968). From 1965 to the early 1970s it also operated K.K. (or K & K) Books, at 292 Yonge Street, which at the time had the largest collection of gay-oriented stock in Canada.

    The Melody Room, and the Music Room (from 1962; opened as the Maison de Lys in 1961) at 575 Yonge Street, were the creation of Sara Ellen Dunlop and co-owner Richard Kerr. Kerr also ran K.K. Books. Dunlop, a force in women's music and later founder of the original Mama Quilla band, died of cancer in 1978. See John Forbes's memory of her, and of the Music Room, in The Body Politic, # 41, Mar 1978, p 16.

    Katz, in Maclean's in 1964, noted that "The Club" on Yonge Street (the Music Room, though he did not name it) had 700 members, and another 700 regular guests. Both clubs closed in 1966, though from the mid-1970s 457 Church Street went through many later lesbian and / or gay incarnations -- as Together, Tanks, The 457, The Bulldog, and The Black Eagle. See a July 1997 photo of the site in "Some random shots", linked from Church & Wellesley: Photos.
    (Photos intro page: http://www.clga.ca/Material/Records/docs/toronto/cwpix.htm)
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  3. Don McLeod (see 1964, p 1) notes that many of these images were produced by Toronto physique photographers and studios, among them Frank Borck, Can- Art, Castillo, Jon Foto, C.K., and Harold Wells. A number of physique magazines were also being produced at the time by Mark-One in Lachine, Quebec.
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  4. Gay published 11 issues from Mar 1964, changed its name to Gay International with issue 12, Jan 1965, and ceased publication by the middle of the same year. Two's last issue was its 11th, dated Jul - Aug 1966.
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  5. The Canadian Council on Religion and the Homosexual was active from May 1965 to the autumn of 1966.
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  6. The Wolfenden Report, based on investigations commissioned by the U.K. government in 1954 and conducted under the chairmanship of Sir John Wolfenden, was published in 1957. Its recommended decriminalization of homosexual acts -- between two persons 21 or older and in private -- became law in England and Wales in 1967 (though not in Scotland or Northern Ireland until the 1980s).

    On Aug 24, 1965, Everett George Klippert, of Pine Point, N.W.T., had been sentenced to three years in prison for "gross indecency", based on self-confessed, non-violent sexual acts with four adult men in private. On Mar 9, 1966 he was declared a "dangerous sexual offender" subject to incarceration indefinitely.

    Klippert's appeal of this decision was rejected by the Supreme Court of Canada Nov 7, 1967, but the case had generated considerable media commentary critical of laws making homosexual acts a crime (see the Archives' vertical file on the case). Klippert was not paroled until Jul 20, 1971 -- nearly two years after Criminal Code revisions that made homosexual acts (per se; see below) not a crime.
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  7. Bill C-150, like the U.K.'s Sexual Offences Act of 1967, did not "legalize" homosexuality but rather declared "gross indecency" and "buggery" not to be crimes if committed in private by two consenting persons 21 years of age or older. The presence of any more than two people made such acts "public" and therefore still illegal. Gay people, particularly men, still faced charges of "gross indecency" (never clearly defined) in many situations, and many other discriminatory laws remained on the books.

    Bill C-150 came into effect Aug 26, 1969 -- a date marked by Canada's first public gay demonstration, on Parliament Hill Aug 28, 1971 (see We Demand for info and photos), and from 1972 through 1974 by Gay Pride Week, regularly held in August (as it continues to be in some Canadian cities). Pride celebrations in Toronto moved to late June -- in synch with the anniversary of Stonewall -- only in 1981.
    (We Demand: http://www.clga.ca/Material/Records/docs/wedemand.htm)
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  8. For various personal accounts, see Martin Duberman's Stonewall (Plume, Penguin Books, 1993).
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[McLeod: Lesbian and Gay Liberation in Canada]

[Review of Kinsman's Regulation of Desire] [James Egan article]

[Church & Wellesley: Photos] [We Demand]

[Lesbian and Gay Archivist] [Lesbian & Gay periodicals: Related documents]

[List of online documents] [Victories & defeats chronology / 1964-1971 page]