Vintage Toronto Ads: A Tale of Two Prides

Originally published on Torontoist on June 25, 2015.


Xtra, June 21, 1991.

An indication of how much Toronto’s Pride celebrations grew during the 1990s: crowd estimates for the 1991 parade ranged from 25,000 (police, mainstream media) to 60,000 (Lesbian and Gay Pride Day Committee). By 1999, that figure rose to over 750,000.


Globe and Mail, June 28, 1991.

The 1991 parade was the first to be officially proclaimed by the city. Over the ongoing objections of Mayor Art Eggleton, city council voted the previous fall to recognize the growing event. Its approval aligned with a growing sense that the LGBT movement was going mainstream. In a pre-parade profile of activists across the country, the Globe and Mail noted a joke making the rounds that provided a new definition for S&M: “Scarborough and Mississauga.”

Shortly before the parade, the Metro Toronto Police Services Board announced that it would recognize gays and lesbians as a community entitled to policing that was sensitive to its needs, a turnaround from treating such people as sources of drug abuse, sex work, and perversion. “It’s an important step,” declared board chair Susan Eng. “We have come of age and are starting to do what we should have been doing for a long time.”


Xtra, June 21, 1991.

Eng was among the civic officials and politicians on hand when the proclamation was read prior to the start of the parade on June 30, 1991. Since Eggleton refused to read the document, the duty was performed by councillor Jack Layton. The parade was nearly derailed when it was discovered the permit indicated a 1 p.m. launch instead of 3 p.m. as scheduled. Police reportedly insisted on moving the time to 2 p.m. as a compromise, or else the event would be shut down. While the procession was only supposed to shut down the northbound lanes of Yonge Street, the crowd spilled onto the southbound lanes, effectively closing the entire road. Elsewhere, gay-centric businesses offered entertainment and free meals, and Ryerson’s CKLN debuted live radio coverage of events.


eye, June 3, 1999.

Flash forward to 1999. Having exploded in size, the parade was now front page news. The Star depicted Mayor Mel Lastman, who’d expressed reservations about attending the year before, gleefully joining councillor Pam McConnell in super-soaking council colleague Kyle Rae. Even the Sun covered the festivities with a limited degree of respect, calling no-show Fred Phelps (who had threatened to disrupt Pride) “a hate-filled nutbar.” As eye put it, the party atmosphere surrounding Pride led to attendees “tripping on a two-day, non-stop, feel-good sensory overload” regardless of their sexual orientation. “If you’re not doing drugs, your face hurts on Monday from the perma-grin.”

Eye also published a suburbanite’s guide to the celebrations, offering advice such as “Woody’s is not a Cheers-themed bar owned by Woody Harrelson.” Some of those coming in from outside the core may have been teenagers drawn by the debut of youth-centric events, such as Fruit Loopz held at Buddies in Bad Times. Seeing teens march along didn’t impress some standing along the sidelines—the Star reported a 50-year-old parent from Peterborough who, when she saw 16-year-old Tina Mollison wander by, told the paper “Just look at that innocent child. What does she know about love and sex, about lesbianism? The parade glamourizes it.” The paper caught up with Mollison. “Parents should give us respect,” she noted. “We know what we want and we know how to go out and get it.”


eye, June 17, 1999.

Not everything was rosy. A few weeks before Pride, police twice raided the Bijou “porn bar” at Gerrard and Church, leading to charges against 12 patrons. The arrests, along with undercover checks of bar operations, were a reminder that the attitudes which had fostered the bathhouse raids of 1981 were not dead. There were also complaints by some veteran activists that Pride had gone too corporate, diluting its political messages in the name of vendors and corporate sponsorships that offered mainstream respectability.

Additional material from the June 17, 1999 and June 24, 1999 editions of eye; the June 29, 1991 and July 1, 1991 editions of the Globe and Mail; the June 29, 1991 and June 28, 1999 editions of the Toronto Star; the June 27, 1999 edition of the Toronto Sun; and the July 12, 1991 and June 25, 1999 editions of Xtra.


eye 1999-06-24 suburbanite's guide to pride

eye, June 24, 1999. Click on image for larger version.

sun 1999-06-27 editorial

Toronto Sun, June 27, 1999. On one hand, it called Fred Phelps a nutbar. On the other, it defended Mike Harris’s decision not to attend the Pride Parade. I’d expect something even shriller if the incoming premier decides not to attend the 2018 edition.

The Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives, 40 Years Later

Originally published on Torontoist on November 27, 2013.


Some archival institutions begin with a philanthropic endowment; others arise from legal necessity. In the case of the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (CLGA), a notice at the bottom of the editorial page of a 1973 edition of the pioneering LGBT journal The Body Politic provided the starting point:

The task of reconstructing the history of gay people is painstaking work—often yielding little more than speculative sketches of what has been. History can be a tool of both oppression and liberation. It has all too often reflected the world view of the status quo, projecting the historian’s own political, moral, and psychological biases onto reality, rarely providing an objective and neutral account of the real people and forces involved. These straight historians and other “guardians of morality” have been conscientious in their near obliteration of gay history. One way to encourage accurate historical research is to gather, and make available, resource material relevant to all aspects of gay history. To this end, The Body Politic has founded the Canadian GLM [Gay Liberation Movement] Archives.

From a filing cabinet in the paper’s office, the CLGA, now celebrating its 40th anniversary, has grown into a collection whose range of artifacts runs from bar matchbooks to softball uniforms. Though some materials, including the world’s largest collection of LGBT periodicals, reside in an office at the corner of Church and Wellesley streets, most holdings have been stored in a mid-19th-century home at 34 Isabella Street since 2009.


Researchers working in the ground-floor reading room will notice the stained glass memorial window. According to a note from artist Lynette Richards, the piece depicts the “pages of history being lifted and shuffled in the winds of change.” The window is designed to be viewed with reflected light, to symbolize the reflection undertaken by the room’s users. Its patchwork design is intended as a reference to the the AIDS Memorial Quilt. Upstairs, exhibition space provides a forum for artistic and historical displays. Throughout the building, the National Portrait Collection honours notable contributors to the Canadian LGBT community.

The CLGA operates with a base of around 70 volunteers. Their commitments range from occasionally helping at functions to cataloguing the collection. Some have assisted the archives from its earliest days, motivating younger volunteers like archivist Kate Zieman. “It’s really inspiring to see people devote that much time to something with so little glory or public acknowledgement,” she told Torontoist in a recent interview. “We all do it because we love the material and feel like it’s worthwhile.”

Zieman began volunteering at CLGA while studying at the University of Toronto seven years ago. She started by cataloguing the rare book collection, then assisted the archives’ community outreach program, which includes school visits, tours, and the promotion of exhibits being held at outside venues like the Yorkville Public Library. One of her current CLGA projects is writing historical vignettes and biographical sketches for Proud FM.


Asked about her favourite items in the collection, Zieman points to clippings and full issues from Toronto’s gutter press. “Anyone who thinks Toronto in the 1950s was a really dull place needs to spend some time with the tabloids,” she laughs. Publications like Flash and Hush ran sensationalistic tales of arrests and bar raids, ruining the lives of those it named. Zieman feels these papers give a sense of what postwar gay life was like in the city, even if it’s all filtered through a homophobic lens.

As a counterpoint, she points to the CLGA’s photo collection, originally built from the files of The Body Politic. The holdings include pictures of lesbians during the Second World War enjoying each other’s company. They provide a positive view of gay life, especially compared to the miseries compiled by the tabloids.


Because the CLGA lacks a steady source of government funding, it relies on the generosity of donors for its operations and collection building. One unexpected source of money has been eBay. The archive sells donated books that don’t fit its current collection criteria. (At the moment, the CLGA is primarily looking to fill in gaps in materials relating to bisexuals, lesbians, and trans people.)

Overall, Zieman finds the CLGA serves as a community builder, open to everyone regardless of their sexual orientation. “We provide a nice place to come and witness the struggles of people who came before us, and celebrate the gains and focus on what we still need to do.”

Additional material from The Body Politic #10, 1973.

Catholic Schools: Separate But Equal Funding

Originally published on Torontoist on September 16, 2011.


St. Paul Catholic School, No. 409 Queen Street East at Power Street, January 24, 1919. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 1017.

At the upcoming rally in Queen’s Park this Sunday to support gay-straight alliances in Roman Catholic schools across Ontario, we easily imagine students holding up signs proclaiming “Equality or Bust.” Forty years ago, placards with that message were also held up by pupils, but at a mass rally at Maple Leaf Gardens to urge the provincial government to fully fund separate secondary schools beyond grade 10. The current debate about the appropriateness of providing public money for religious education is the latest manifestation of an issue that has bedevilled Ontario educators and politicians since the days of the Family Compact.

There was a time when education in Ontario was headed down a non-denominational path. Back in the 1840s when, depending on the day, the province was known as Upper Canada or Canada West, Egerton Ryerson championed a “common school” system for all students regardless of their faith. While Ryerson envisioned a system free of church influences, politics scuttled his plans. Since the Protestant minority in Lower Canada/Canada East had obtained the right to their own schools, the Catholic minority felt they merited the same treatment. By giving the minorities funding, the religious majorities in both Canadas could be satisfied for a few minutes before their next squabble.

Despite his reservations, Ryerson agreed to clauses in a series of acts beginning in 1841 that established separate schools in the colony’s educational system (Toronto’s first, St. Paul, opened within a year). Though opposition was fierce—Protestant papers imagined “popish plots” galore—the establishment of a separate school system seemed secure following the passage of the Scott Act in 1863. Even then, there was a provision that later proved annoying for rural Catholics: “no person shall be deemed a supporter of any Separate School unless he resides within three miles (in a direct line) of the Site of the School House.” Those who lived four miles away were out of luck until a Canadian Supreme Court ruling nearly a century later.

Yet few supporters of full funding quote the Commons Schools Act or Scott Act. Instead, they point to the document that created modern Canada, the British North America Act of 1867. Section 93 covered the separate school situations in Ontario and Quebec by guaranteeing the rights of those that already existed. By the 20th century, the consensus was that the laws on the books covered funding for separate schools up to grade 10. Beyond that, students either entered the public system for free or coughed up tuition fees for private schools that covered the remaining secondary school grades.


William Davis with group from Canadian Council of Christians and Jews, 1970s. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 5385.

Of the attempts prior to the 1980s to secure full funding, one that came close was the Provincial Education Program campaign of the late 1960s, where the Catholic Church used leaflets, letters, public meetings, and sermons to rally the cause. While they succeeded in gaining support from the provincial Liberals and NDP, the campaign caused a backlash among many non-Catholics. While pro-funding supporters argued out of claims of fairness, opponents ranged from old-fashioned bigots to newspaper editorials similar to one in the Star which believed a fully separate school system would not promote “a tolerant and harmonious society.” Internal divisions were also apparent among Catholics: there was surprise when future cardinal Emmett Carter initially backed a proposal to move operations of London’s Catholic Central secondary school to the city’s public school board.

At a rally sponsored by a Catholic high school student association that drew an overflow crowd to Maple Leaf Gardens on October 25, 1970, Minister of Education William Davis told the audience not to “hold out any false hopes” that funding would be extended. He was as good as his word: nearly a year later, on the eve of the 1971 election campaign, Davis, now Premier, rejected the idea on grounds that it opened up the doors to a fragmented education system. He believed full funding could be “tantamount to the abandonment of the secondary and post-secondary educational system as it exists today, in which the education of the student, while it reflects the ethical and spiritual values of the community, and while teaching respect and tolerance for all religions and creeds, remains, nonetheless, non-denominational and non-sectarian in character.” Though the Liberals and NDP campaigned in support of full funding, Davis’s Progressive Conservatives won the election. Case closed.

Or was it?


Globe and Mail, June 13, 1984.

Flash forward to the end of Davis’s tenure. On June 12, 1984, he shocked Queen’s Park by announcing that as of September 1985, starting with one grade per year, full funding would be extended to separate secondary schools. Indicating that he hoped the move would heal “a long and heartfelt controversy,” Davis received a standing ovation from all parties in the legislature. Families would no longer have to pay up to $1,100 a year in tuition to send their kids to high schools that would no longer be private, while officials in cities like Toronto looked forward to easing their overcrowded conditions with new facilities. Some concessions were forced onto separate school boards: they would have to accept any students and, over the next 10 years, had to agree to hire any non-Catholic teachers laid off from the public system due to shifting enrolments.

There was backlash among traditional Protestant Tory supporters, who couldn’t believe what Davis had dropped on them. This betrayal was among the factors that helped sink the Big Blue Machine in the wake of the 1985 election, which saw several anti–full funding candidates run for office. New Premier Frank Miller indicated he would delay the implementation of funding, but his fatally small minority government had no chance to act. Under David Peterson’s Liberals, full funding rolled out as intended and sparked turmoil in some communities as public schools were closed or threatened with closure.


Globe and Mail, June 12, 1985.

Yet Ontario’s publicly funded separate school system was beginning to seem out of step with actions elsewhere. Denominational schools went by the wayside in Newfoundland and Quebec in the late 1990s. The United Nations human rights committee declared full funding discriminatory in 1999. There was also the question of why, beyond historical and political reasons, Catholics merited a school system while other faiths didn’t. The status quo rolled along until the provincial election campaign of 2007, when Progressive Conservative leader John Tory proposed extending funds to other religions. The success of Tory’s proposal among the public is one of the reasons we’re covering Tim Hudak during the current election.

Where does the full funding issue go from here? The refusal of bodies like the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board to heed provincial guidelines on equity and inclusivity in relation to gay students may satisfy staunch adherents of the faith, but such demonstrations of bullying damages their public image—and much more seriously, their credibility in the eyes of many Ontarians. Apart from the Greens, who back one secular system, the major parties contesting the current election are barely rocking the boat in terms of suggesting changes to the funding formula or addressing how to confront Catholic boards on their discriminatory actions. All that’s certain is that the debate over public funding has hardly been settled by the legislation that was supposed to do just that.

Additional material from History of Separate Schools of Ontario and Minority Report 1950 by E.F Henderson, Arthur Kelly, J.M. Pigott, Henri Saint-Jacques (Toronto: English Catholic Education Association of Ontario, 1950), Catholic Education and Politics in Upper Canada by Franklin A. Walker (Toronto: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1955), Catholic Education and Politics in Ontario Volume III by Franklin A. Walker (Toronto: Catholic Education Foundation of Ontario, 1986), and the following newspapers: the June 13, 1984 edition of the Globe and Mail; the February 10, 1968, October 26, 1970, September 1, 1971, June 13, 1984, and June 3, 1985 editions of the Toronto Star;and the October 26, 1970 edition of the Telegram.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Take Me Out to the Ball Game

Originally published on Torontoist on June 28, 2011.


The Body Politic, September 1981.

If you were a baseball fan in Toronto during the summer of 1981, the best place to catch a game was a neighbourhood diamond. The Blue Jays played so poorly during the first half of the season that when major league players went on strike in mid-June, it was a relief to long-suffering fans (the team lost 11 straight games before the walkout). While the Blue Jays didn’t make it to the World Series, Toronto was home to championship baseball action that October thanks to the effort of the Cabbagetown Group Softball League (CGSL) to bring the fifth edition of the Gay Softball World Series (GSWS) to the city’s east side.


The Body Politic, September 1981.

The CGSL grew out of regular pickup games played Sunday afternoons beginning in 1975. As the Body Politic noted in a September 1981 profile, the evolution from drop-in games to full-fledged league was “shaped by two distinct but connected concerns: how to improve standards of play with without slamming the door on inexperienced players and how public to be as a gay organization.” The league took shape over the winter of 1977–78: four teams were formed, regulations were drawn up, and a diamond was reserved at Riverdale Park. By the time the league hosted the GSWS, 170 players took the field for teams with colourful names like the Zyppers and Mes Petits Choux. For players like social worker/Raw Talent left fielder Morris Berchard, the league gave him “the opportunity to meet gay people with similar interests outside bars. It has given me an appreciation of my gayness.”

Over 300 players from 11 cities participated in the GSWS. Mayor Art Eggleton turned down an invitation to throw the first pitch, sending only a letter wishing tournament organizers “every success.” The local entrant in the GSWS, East Side Story, finished near the bottom of the tournament. Wet weather forced the championship game to be moved to the Logan/Lakeshore diamond. Surprise cheerleading was provided by the local branch of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. “We expected to deal with a lot of fear of effeminacy on the part on some players and fans,” noted Sister Liturgia, “but our appearance produced very little nunophobia.” More than 500 spectators showed up to watch the Los Angeles Griffins defeat the Milwaukee Wreckroom 4-0. At the banquet that followed at the Holiday Inn on Chestnut Street (now U of T’s 89 Chestnut residence), the attendees depleted the hotel’s champagne supply.

Additional material from the September 1981 and October 1981 editions of the Body Politic.

Vintage Toronto Ads: And So The People Came

Originally published on Torontoist on June 23, 2009.


Toronto Tonight!, February 9–23, 1989.

You’re flipping through the entertainment options for a night on the town in 1980s Toronto. Let’s see…a cabaret musical about sex that employs a double-entendre for its title…and it has nudity…and it features tunes like “Fellatio 101” and “I’m Gay”…and it hasn’t been shut down by the morality squad yet.

Nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more?

Let My People Come was unveiled in New York in January 1974. Shows at its Off-Broadway venue quickly sold out, and soon there was a cast album, touring productions, and interest from film producers…yet the show never officially opened, as local theatre critics were never invited to the production. As Mel Gussow of the New York Times noted after he snuck into a performance, it had “all the earmarks of success except for blurbs in ads.”

The Toronto production sold out during its opening night at the Basin Street Cabaret at 180 Queen Street West on February 16, 1981. Local critics weren’t dripping with praise. Wilder Penfield III of the Sun seemed most engaged with the show, finding it more sweet than scandalous (he recommended that “connoisseurs of extravagant bodies and fantastic fantasies should head back towards Yonge Street”). He noted that “only the masochists, the deaf-and-blind, and the criminally stupid among us could have possibly been shocked by what followed,” and that the cast “take off their clothes with the innocent exuberance of skinny-dippers, and when they play at being wicked, you don’t believe them for a moment.” The Star’s Bruce Blackadar found it “totally unerotic, sometimes juvenile, faintly musical, and right out of the Sixties’ ethos. It was like going to watch a bunch of high-schoolers—although reasonably talented ones—take off their clothes while singing The Pirates of Penzance.” Ray Conlogue of the Globe was the least impressed—”While Hair had counter-culture optimism, and Oh! Calcutta! had Kenneth Tynan’s acerbic wit,” he noted, “Let My People Come had only the odour of opportunistic insincerity…supposedly celebrating the joys of sex, its songs are imbued with a penetrating joylessness.”

LMPC cover
Front cover of 1974 soundtrack recording (not from the Toronto production).

Another unimpressed observer was Ann Stirling Hall, president of the Canadian Association of Burlesque Entertainers. Her main beef was that the actors appeared to be able to get away with nudity while the city’s erotic dancers risked arrest if they removed their g-strings. “Do you know what would happen to me,” she told the Sun, “if I walked on stage, took my clothes off and said ‘this is my costume?’ I’d be laughed out of court. I’m not jealous. I think the entire idea behind the play is fantastic. But I just don’t understand Toronto. There are these tons and tons of regulations, and some people seem to feel the weight of the rules more than others.” Hall registered complaints about the production with the Ontario Human Rights Commission, who dismissed her discrimination case, and the Metropolitan Toronto Police morality squad.

Several members of the morality squad showed up for the February 19 show and issued a warning to the cast and producers that if they didn’t cover up they could face charges for violating the public-nudity section of the Criminal Code. The cast responded by wearing ballet slippers during the next performance. In preparation of any legal hassles, the producers had set aside ten thousand dollars for a lawyer. A spokesperson for the venue noted that earlier Toronto productions with actors in the buff (Equus, Hair, Oh! Calcutta!) had not faced problems and there had been few complaints so far. Attempts to shut the show down failed and it ran at several venues around the city over the rest of the decade. The show bared all for the last time in July 1989 at the venue shown above, now the location of the Drake Hotel.

Curious to hear what all the fuss was about? WFMU’s Beware of the Blog has the full Off-Broadway soundtrack for your listening pleasure.

Additional material from the February 19, 1981 edition of the Globe and Mail, the May 7, 1974 edition of the New York Times, the February 19, 1981 edition of the Toronto Star, and the February 18, 1981 and February 19, 1981 editions of the Toronto Sun.