Sunday, September 12, 2010

Queering Ottawa's History

Hello Everyone,

This past August the Ottawa LGBT community held Capital Pride week with a historic theme in celebration of the 25th anniversary of Pride events in the nations capital. Coincidentally, last term I took an urban history course and ended up researching LGBT spaces in Ottawa. From this research came a tracing of LGBT spaces in the city from 1971 to 1995. With photographs and information largely gleaned from GO Info, a longstanding community newsletter/paper published by Gays of Ottawa (this name would change several times over its existence), I plan on highlighting some of these spaces over a series of posts.

In what was really my first serious archival experience, tracing historical spaces in the city which I live has given me a new perspective on sights and spaces that normally blend into the background of everyday life. I'm sure many of you have had similar experiences. I call it a 'historical gaze', the attempt to picture and formulate past actions in a particular historical geography, and while it may be based on research, I know it is rooted to a certain extent in nostalgia and idealistic misunderstood perceptions of the past and its historical geography. I found that when you actually study spaces and engage with its historical characters (moreso than just visiting explicitly historical spaces ie. forts) their present everyday meaning and image changes permanently. By uncovering (perhaps positioning is a better history is always full of the historian's perceptions) a space's human legacy the space itself seems to become more intimately human than in its present form. Perhaps call it a form of historical fiction. Ooops, sorry for ranting!

To start off the series check out this clip of the first LGBT demonstration on Parliament Hill in 1971. For those who know the name, that's Charles Hill giving the speech. The Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives provides a contextual article that accompanies the clip.

For those interested in readings, Never Going Back: A History of Queer Activism in Canada (Tom Warner, U of T Press, 2002) is an excellent, though unapologetically biased account,  history of the gay rights movements in Canada. Warner makes several references to Ottawa. A portion of the book is available via Google Books. Also, Gary Kinsman and Patrizia Gentile recently published The Canadian War on Queers: National Security as Sexual Regulation (U BC Press, 2010) that I haven't read but I'm told there is a section on Ottawa. Though not concerned with Ottawa I couldn't forgive myself if I didn't mention a personal favourite article by David S. Churchill, "Mother Goose's Map: Tabloid Geographies and Gay Male Experience in 1950s Toronto" (Churchill, David S. "MOTHER GOOSE'S MAP." Journal of Urban History 30.6 (September 2004): 826-852.) See here for the abstract to the article.

Keep watching for the upcoming posts and I promise they won't all be this long! Perhaps those of you who live in Ottawa will recognize some of the spaces!

Jordan Kerr

Update: I just glanced through my photographs of GO Info from my research and found that I'm missing about 9 years of the newspaper.... (sarcastic) awesome. They were backed up but I think they're gone due to a computer glitch that wrecked havoc on some of my school files. For those who have are ever lost precious research files I know you share my pain!

Update, September 16: Reader Douglas Copp responds:
Saw your post about Ottawa's Queer History, and was glad to read that you had compiled a fair bit of info.

I suggest you contact the Canadian Gay and Lesbian Archives in Toronto if you haven't already. You may find that they can fill in some of the gaps in your research AND they would probably be happy to incorporate everything you have found into their records.

Thanks for your contribution to telling our stories.
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