Monday, October 04, 2010

Queer Ottawa #3 - The Middle Years and Conclusions 1979-1995

In this series finale following the Sept 12, 20 and 26 posts on tracing the Gays of Ottawa GO Centre (a catalyst for other gay commercial and service spaces/organizations in the city between 1971 and 1995) we shall look at the last two spaces that the centre occupied in Ottawa centretown. The centre would indeed move twice between 1979-1995, however the moves would actually be on the same street, Lisgar.

175 Lisgar St. - 1979-1985:

Moving to this space in November of 1979 required extensive renovations but it officially opened in May of 1980. Following further renovations and a long process to obtain licenses and parking variances form the city the first GO Bar found its home here when it opened as a key facet to the centre in September of 1981. The GO Bar functioned as an alternative space to the more "oppressive" (in the words of GO Info) burgeoning LGBT commercial scene. Between 1980 and 1985 there were about 6 other commercial establishments that catered to an LGBT market other than the GO Centre. In 1984 the landlord of 175 Lisgar refused to renew the lease. This was possibly due to the gentrifying of the northern end of Elgin St. in the mid and late 1980's which, I don't believe, Gays of Ottawa was a contributor to but rather a victim of. To the left is the May 1980 issues of GO Info announcing the grand opening of the Go Centre at 175 Lisgar. To the bottom left is a photograph of the GO Bar at 175 Lisgar, to the bottom right is a photograph of the entrance to the GO Centre in 1984 along with an article on the closing. Further below, centred, is the building which the GO Centre was  housed in its current state; on the opposite side of where the GO Centre was now houses Genji, a Japanese restaurant (and quite a good one actually!). The entrance was the right side door and the space was upstairs I believe. The building is just around the corner from Elgin St.


318 Lisgar St. - 1985-1995:

Though also in need of much renovation, licensing and parking variances a new space was found in April of 1985 on the upper floor of 318 Lisgar St., just around the corner from Bank St.. Officially opening in November of 1986 it would the groups last home before folding in 1995. The move and renovations sorely hurt the groups finances and as such the GO Bar didn't open again until February of 1987. This was a double-edged sword as the GO Bar was the centres main source of revenue. The GO Centre occupied the upper floor with a laundromat beneath. I'm not sure which door was the entrance to the Centre and which to the laundry space. Though I'm not sure what is upstairs now, the building's ground floor is currently occupied by Venus Envy.

This map roughly traces the route that Gays of Ottawa and the GO Centre took between 1971 and 1995. With the changes in the gay rights movement, commercial competition and the establishment other service organizations in the city for the LGBT community I believe the folding of Gays of Ottawa (with a changed named by this point) in 1995 was due to being squeezed out of existence after it had very much served its purposes in creating a visible LGBT community and identity in the Ottawa area.

There ends the series on the first prominent and openly visible LGBT commercial and social space in the Ottawa area. Hull had open and visible LGBT socio-commercial spaces before Ottawa but my research didn't include the Quebec side of the Ottawa River. Whether one thinks the very public face of the early gay rights movement was foolish or ingenious one must admit the unbelievable courage and will that it took for some LGBT individuals to establish and promote a public identity and space that went much against the general grain of Canadian society in the 1970's and 1980's. I do wish I still had the photograph, but alas it's in the ethereal world of lost digital data. It comes from a front cover of GO Info in the early 1970's and pictures two men kissing in front of Confederation Park directly across the street from the Lord Elgin (pictured in the background). The Lord Elgin basement bar was the space of an early tolerated gay space in the city but eventually began to find fault with its gay clientele and began a subtle program of discrimination (according to GO Info) to stop LGBT individuals from being patrons. Thus, the photograph is a defiant act against the hotel but the fact that two gay men shared a kiss in a very public place in the early 1970's (in conservative Ottawa of all places!) is an act of tremendous conviction and courage in itself. It very much captures the spirit of the early Gay Liberation Movement. I should note, I certainly don't intend to slander or condemn the Lord Elgin Hotel over my comments, these issues are in the past.

I had a wonderful time writing this series, I do hope you enjoyed it. Any comments, questions, suggestions or requests for more information can be sent to Chris Moore or as comments on my own blog.

Jordan Kerr
Follow @CmedMoore