CLGA Blog

Nick Matte
Friday, Jan 16, 2015

The Oral History and Digital Archives Collaboratory research project is back at work, meeting regularly on Fridays at the CLGA.  This week Cait McKinney led an excellent workshop on audio digitization for Al, Nick, and Rebecka.  While digitization may seem intimidating to some, it took only a few hours to learn to operate the hardware and software.  Cait has developed a wonderful training manual and put together all of the hardware and equipment.  This means that Al can proceed to digitize some of the audio cassettes we're planning to eventually make available online.  First on our agenda are some casette tapes from the Rupert Raj Collection, which will not only be more accessible for CLGA users, but can also be contributed to K.J. Rawson's Digital Transgender Archives, one of the key Collaborators in our research project.  We're off to a great start; stay tuned for more news on digitizing audio collections!

Michael Holmes
Monday, Nov 10, 2014

by Michael Holmes / 11 November 2014

During the First World War, Canadian soldiers on the front lines endured not only the horrors and hardships of trench warfare but also periods of homesickness and boredom. To entertain the men and boost morale, soldiers in Canadian army divisions organized performance troupes known as “concert parties."

The most famous of these was the Dumbells, the Canadian Army Third Division Concert Party, founded and led by Captain Merton Plunkett. The Dumbells first performed for Canadian troops in France in the summer of 1917. Their shows incorporated various songs and dances, comedy skits, and female impersonations. The Dumbells went on to gain popularity across Canada and internationally after the war, touring North America as a vaudeville act until 1932. They were the first Canadian show to have a hit on Broadway.

Left: Sheet music for the "Dumbell Rag", with a photograph of the composer, Jack Ayre. 
Right: Captain Mert Plunkett, with Marjorie (Ross Hamilton), and Marie (A.G. Murray), of the Dumbells show. 
 
 
Ross Hamilton, an army private and ambulance driver from Pugwash, Nova Scotia, performed with the Dumbells in drag as an opera diva named Marjorie. Marjorie sang in a beautiful falsetto soprano and immediately became an audience favourite.
 
 
Left: Ross Hamilton. 
Right: Ross Hamilton as Marjorie.
 
 
Ross Hamilton returned to the army in the Second World War as an entertainment organizer for new recruits. A performance of Hamilton singing as Marjorie was recorded in 1940 in the training film, Letter From Camp Borden. Watch here - Marjorie makes her entrance at the 7:55 mark.
 
In August 1941, Hamilton was quietly discharged from the army “for reasons other than medical,” allegedly for homosexual behaviour with some of the recruits. He retired to Nova Scotia where he died in 1965.
 
Library and Archives Canada has much more information on the Dumbells here, including biographies of the soldiers/performers.
 
A Dumbells skit: "Big Beauty Chorus."
 
All images courtesy of Library and Archives Canada and are in the public domain.
 
 
Nick Matte
Monday, Oct 20, 2014
by Nick Matte / 20 October 2014
 
If you’ve been around the CLGA lately, you may have spotted Elspeth Brown, Rebecka Sheffield, Nick Matte, Alice Stanton-Hagan or Haley O’Shaughnessy working away in the reading room on the first floor or perhaps tucked away upstairs going through boxes.  They’re working on an exciting new initiative that brings together historians, archivists, and community members throughout Canada, the United States and Britain.  The project will make some of the wonderful LGBTQ archival materials and oral histories that have been collected and preserved more broadly accessible. 
 
The Collaboratory, as it’s called for shorthand, is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRCC) and involves multiple projects under the leadership of Collaborators Elspeth Brown (University of Toronto), KJ Rawson (College of the Holy Cross), Elise Chenier (Simon Fraser University), Sara Davidmann (University of the Arts London), Aaron Devor (University of Victoria) and Karen Stanworth (York University).  CLGA is one of several archival partners, which also include the Archives of Lesbian Oral Testimony, the Transgender Archives at the University of Victoria, and the Digital Transgender Archive. 
 
The Collaboratory is the  largest oral history project in North America, bringing together 200 interviews and connecting life stories with new methodologies in digital history, collaborative research, and archival practice.  The Collaboratory will raise the profile of the CLGA, support digitization efforts, and make CLGA’s trans content more widely accessible in conjunction with the Digital Trans Archives project.  For more information, or if you want to get involved, contact Primary Investigator elspeth.brown@utoronto.ca or Project Manager nicholas.matte@utoronto.ca.  You can also follow us on facebook, instagram or twitter @lgbtqhistory
 
 
archivalobjects
Saturday, Oct 18, 2014
by Rebecka Sheffield / 18 October 2014
 
A drag queen and friend use the back alley entrance to avoid Halloween bats
A drag queen and friend use the back alley entrance to the St. Charles Tavern on Halloween night, 1978. Credit: Gerald Hannon.
 
Every October 31st, costumed revelers descend on Church Street for an annual Halloween block party that can last well into the next morning. Music fills the air as Toronto’s gay village explodes with excitement. In recent years, even the wee ones have come out to play as queer families mingle with decadently frocked drag queens and show their Halloween spirit. The glamorous and gory festivities are one of city’s most popular events and attract thousands of visitors from all over the world. My, how times have changed!
 
Crowds gather along Yonge Street, hoping to catch a drag queen entering the St. Charles Tavern. Credit: Gerald Hannon.
 
From the late 1950s into the 1980s, Toronto’s gay community gathered at the St. Charles Tavern, a gay bar located under the beacon of the clock tower still standing at 488 Yonge Street. Beginning in the 1960s, the bar began hosting an annual Halloween drag show that drew increasingly larger crowds. Despite amendments to the Criminal Code that effectively decriminalized homosexuality in 1969, queer people nevertheless remained targets for homophobic violence. As the drag shows became more public, they also attracted vicious assailants who would attack any drag queen or patron spotted coming into or leaving the bar. Some threw eggs or rotten tomatoes; others offered up taunts or jeers filled with vitriolic language. There were also reports of gay-bashing. Although organizers and activists repeatedly called police to come disperse the angry mobs that formed outside of the bar, officers rarely intervened, claiming that they had no power to stop people from using public streets. The media also downplayed the violence, often referring to the annual event as a “good-natured carnival.”
 
Masked assailants driving up Yonge Street to hurl eggs and obscenities at St. Charles Tavern patrons. Credit: Gerald Hannon.
 
By 1979, however, activists with Gay Alliance Toward Equality (GATE) and the Metropolitan Community Church, together with the support of progressive politicians and gay business owners, succeeded in pressuring the police to increase their presence at the event. Community members also developed their own strategies to ensure the safety of the drag queens and patrons. Performers were escorted to and from the bar, and any and all incidents of violence and harassment were immediately reported to the police. In 1981, Mayor John Sewell finally conceded to erect barricades to prevent crowds from forming outside of the bar. The tradition of the Halloween ‘freak show’ soon faded and has now been reborn as a celebration of difference.
 
So, this year, when you put on your best costume and head down to Church Street, don’t forget to take a few minutes to acknowledge the courage of those who fought so that you could have the freedom to party!
 
Crowds gather to catch a glimpse of a drag queen entering the St. Charles Tavern. Credit: Gerald Hannon.
 
The CBC Digital Archives have posted a video from 1973 about the Halloween drag shows and angry mobs. Watch below.
 
 
The above photographs are part of the CLGA's photograph collection. They were originally published in the December 1978 issue of The Body Politic. Photographs by Gerald Hannon. Accession #1986-032-187. They form part of the Pink Triangle Press / Body Politic fonds.
 
 
 
Michael Holmes
Thursday, Aug 14, 2014

In 2006, a documentary film was produced to showcase the work and influence of the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives. Keeping Our Stories Alive features interviews with our volunteers and many activists and artists who have relied on the archives, including Lynne Fernie, Kyle Scanlon, Kristyn Wong-Tam, Douglas Stewart, Rick Bébout, Kyle Rae, Shyam Selvadurai, Billy Merasty, Marie Roberston, Patty Barclay, Suhail Abualsammeed, Dionne A. Falconer, Svend Robinson, and more. Watch the full film below and learn why the CLGA is so important to so many people.

 

Keeping Our Stories Alive (2006) 
Dir. James Allan and Charles Zhang. 
Prod. Lawrence Bennett and Harold Wu.
Hosted by Harold Desmarais

 

Elspeth Brown
Sunday, Jun 15, 2014

I've been processing Rupert Raj's papers at CLGA for the past year, working weekly stints of about 2-3 hours. Raj has been an important trans* activist over the course of his life time, and his papers, scrapbooks, magazines, books, photographs and correspondence document trans* activist history in the 1970s and 1980s, in particular. Nick Matte, a PhD candidate in the University of Toronto's History Department, worked with Rupert to get his materials to CLGA in 2006, but they have yet to be fully processed. I'm doing the work of sorting the material into files and writing a finding aid for the collection, which I hope to complete in July 2014.

Rupert  is a Eurasian (East Indian and Polish) pansexual trans man who came out in 1971 in the queer community of Ottawa as a bi-sexual and as trans; he went on testosterone in 1971, and had his first surgery (double masectomy) in 1972.  He founded several trans organizations, including: 1) Foundation for the Advancement of Canadian Transsexuals (FACT);  2) the Metamorphosis Medical Research Foundation (MMRF Dec. 1981-May 1988); and 3) Gender Worker (1987, which changed its name in 1989 to Gender Consultants, with his wife Michelle Raj-Gauthier as partner; closed in 1990). He also founded three transsexual publications: 1) Gender Review: the Factual Journal (1978-81, Calgary/Toronto); 2) Metamorphosis Newsletter/Metamorphosis Magazine 1982-88, Toronto); and 3) Gender Networker (2 issues, Toronto, 1988, directed towards helping professionals and resource providers). In June 1999 he co-founded a peer-support group for transsexual men and transsexual women at the 519 Community Centre in Toronto.

As part of my volunteer work, I have also interviewed Rupert five times about his history and his collection, and will be donating the recordings and the transcripts to CLGA when I've finished processing the collection.
 

 

Michael Holmes
Monday, May 26, 2014
cover of Body Politic no. 8, 1973
 
by Michael C. Holmes
 
Poetry has been part of the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives since 1973, when the archives was established out of the files of The Body Politic. From the pages of that gay liberation magazine came poems, book reviews, interviews, and other writing by and about lesbian and gay poets.   
 
Two short poems written under the name Iris appeared in The Body Politic’s first issue in 1971. More followed over the magazine’s fifteen-year run, including poems by Ian Young (BP 4) and Paul Goodman (BP 5), a "long-suppressed" erotic poem by Paul Verlaine (BP 8), articles in remembrance of W.H. Auden (BP 10 & 102), translated poems by Russian poet Mikhail Kuzmin (BP 12), an interview about Gertrude Stein (BP 59), a profile on Toronto street poet Don Garner (BP 67), poems by Dennis Cooper, George Stanley, and Gavin Dillard (BP 80), and excerpts from poet Elsa Gidlow’s autobiography (BP 83 & 111), to name a few.
 
Beyond the complete back catalogue of The Body Politic, the CLGA has accumulated a large collection of poetry books and chapbooks, now stored in our James Fraser Library for reference use.
 
Among these books is a copy of Edward A. Lacey’s The Forms of Loss, a slim staple-bound collection of 26 poems. Published in 1965, it is often credited as the first poetry book published in Canada with explicit references to homosexuality. 
 
The last time - a pick-up
I said "Wanna get sucked off?" he said
(it was down at Union Station)
"Yeah yeah sure! Where d'we go? You got a room?"
Boy he was eager! Just fifteen . . .
Queerer than I am . . .
Sometimes they'll kiss you.
He had faded blue jeans, tight, light yellow hair
The ways he moved in bed . . .
You never know tho with rough trade
 
(from “Oneirnomancy”)
 
In his introduction to Seminal: The Anthology of Canada's Gay Male Poets, John Barton points out that, according to Ian Young, Lacey's book was published privately with the financial aid of fellow poets Dennis Lee and Margaret Atwood.
 
Other poets emerged from the sexual revolution and counterculture of the 1960s to write openly about their experiences and break from traditional poetic forms. One of the most experimental of these artists is poet and painter bill bissett, who began publishing out of Vancouver through his influential blewointment press. 
 
Playing on the page with irregular typography and phonetic spellings, and incorporating chants and music into readings, bissett’s poems are sensual, funny, erotic, insightful, and resistant to convention. 
 
Not everyone has appreciated bissett’s work. In the late 1970s his poems were attacked by several Members of Parliament who tried (unsuccessfully) to cut arts funding for what they deemed “pornography” and “a degradation to the printed word in Canada.”
 
Despite the controversy, bissett has gone on to publish many more poems that “have not / bin kleerd by th ministree / uv korrect thots” and continues to give readings.
 
The CLGA holds several of bissett’s books, including Nobody owns th earth (1971), Polar bear hunt (1972),  Stardust (1975), Pomes for Yoshi (1977), and Medicine My Mouth’s On Firea book of poems published in 1974 with a 33⅓ rpm vinyl recording.
 
Language and desire are also explored in the writing of Montreal-born Nicole Brossard, whose work has had a strong influence on poetry and feminist theory in Quebec, as well as English-speaking Canada and internationally through numerous translations. In addition to writing over thirty books, she co-founded the literary magazine La Barre du jour in 1965 and founded a feminist newspaper, Les Têtes de pioche, in 1976. Brossard has earned major honours for her work, twice winning the Governor General’s Award for poetry and receiving the National Order of Quebec.
 
somewhere always a statement, skin concentrated
system inverted
attentive to the phases of love, this text
under the eye: June aroused my audacity
precise lips or this allurement of clitoris
its unrecorded thought giving the body back intelligence
because each shiver aims at the emergence
June the fever the end of couples
their prolongation like the most unexpected of
silences: lesbian lovhers
 
the texture of identities
 
(from “(4): LOVHERS/WRITE” translated by Barbara Godard)
 
Books by Nicole Brossard held at the CLGA include Lovhers (1986, transl. by Barbara Godard), The Aerial Letters (1988, transl. by Marlene Wildeman), and Notebook of Roses and Civilization (2007, transl. by Robert Majzels and Erin Mouré). A portrait of Brossard was inducted into the CLGA's National Portrait Collection in 2000.
 
Perhaps more influential as an activist than a poet, Michael Lynch helped to establish many important organizations, such as the Toronto Centre for Lesbian and Gay Studies, Gay Fathers, AIDS Action Now!, and the AIDS Committee of Toronto.  It was also his idea to build the Toronto AIDS Memorial. 
 
Lynch pursued an interest in poetry at the University of Toronto, working as an English professor for many years. In 1980, he collaborated with the archives to co-sponsor a conference on the centennial of Walt Whitman's 1880 visit to Ontario. A related article on Whitman by Lynch was published in the October 1980 issue of The Body Politic, where Lynch was a regular contributor.
 
In 1989, Lynch released his only book of poems, These Waves of Dying Friends. Published during the rising AIDS crisis and two years prior to his own AIDS-related death, These Waves of Dying Friends is a powerful, personal account of loss and resilience in the midst of a devastating epidemic.

but when X is a man you often saw 
if seldom spoke with, one whose eyes 
threw sparks like a welding rod, 
equanimity caves in like a lung: 
if he, you say to 
the nearest chair, if he then I. 
Fear blows into your lung
 
so you have a lung again 
alive with fear. 
You look for analogies 
all of which Herb rejects. Analogies 
he says are far too weak to cope 
with this hedging of our lives 
but strong enough to weaken its uniqueness.
 
(from “Conspirators”)
 
The CLGA holds a copy of this out of print volume in our rare books collection, as well as a postcard advertising the book’s launch on 3 March 1989 in Toronto. Another poem from the book, “Cry,” can be read on a plaque at the Toronto AIDS Memorial in Cawthra Square Park.
 
Advocacy and poetry also intersect in the work of counsellor, psychotherapist, and trans activist, Rupert Raj.  A large collection of Raj's documents from decades of work were donated to the archives in 2006, including an anthology of poetry edited by Raj, titled Of Souls and Roles, Of Sex and Gender. Compiled during the 1980s, this unpublished collection includes over 400 poems by Raj and other poets from around the world who identify as transsexual, transgender, or crossdressers.
 
A copy of the manuscript was displayed during The Practice of Everyday Freedom, last year's exhibition at the CLGA celebrating Rupert Raj and Richard Hudler’s induction into our National Portrait Collection.
 
An anthology on trans activism in Canadathe first book of its kindwas co-edited by Rupert Raj and Dan Irving and will be published next month. Join us at the CLGA on May 30, 2014, for the launch of Trans Activism in Canada: A Reader.
 
 
 
Posted Monday, May 26, 2014
 
 

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