A Life in The Bar, 1969-2000
Going in

Glitter Central
(Not so's you'd notice)

The Manatee

The Manatee:
11A St Joseph, opened in 1970 by lovers Derek Stenhouse & René Fortier. Photo: Joan Anderson, 1979 (CLGA). In 2003 the site went to condos.

"The atmosphere is strongly reminiscent of a straight counterculture club of the late '60s with a piss elegant gay context.

"To the Body Politic vendor standing in the foyer, inhaling the odour of sweating bodies filtered through broadcloth shirts, deodorant, aftershave colognes, the most frequent response is: I'm liberated, I don't need your paper.

"'Liberated' is a modern, fashionable word, you see, & anyone who is sufficiently trendy to patronize the Manatee must necessarily be 'liberated.'"

Hugh Brewster
on hawking liberation, 1972.

None other than the
Gate of (homo) Heaven

Holy Trinity sign

Holy Trinity nave

Holy Trinity west face

The Church of the Holy Trinity
(1847), still consecrated site of the Community Homophile Association of Toronto's fabled dances of the early '70s.

The sign on its east face (top) was then all one could see from Yonge St, down a narrow lane, the church hemmed in by Eaton's warehouses. Those went to a huge fire in 1977, also damaging the church; that lane before, to the Eaton Centre. Holy Trinity is now got to from the west (bottom), a park around it more open but still framed on all sides by big new buildings.

There are banners in the nave, one reading "Social Action Now." Some congregants march as a contingent in Toronto's Gay Pride parade.

"To me all of gay life is summed up there... all the stories, all the emotions, the mundane, the grand, the petty, the opportune ... every uncertain move, every yearning, the sex, the beer, the hope, the disappointment, the smoke, the heat, the music, the cruising, the hustling, the dirty little apartments, the drive from the suburbs, the mortgages, the poppers, the welfare cheques, the hurt, the escape from confinement to exist for a moment as gay people in our own world, it goes on & on, & around me & through me.

"And most of all & finally, I feel this is the one place on earth I have a right to be, this is mine, it is ours, & we share it, & who does that bitch think she is anyways."

Peter Zorzi
on dances at Holy Trinity
(& beyond), in
Queer Catharsis, 1992.

For more on Peter Zorzi, CHAT, David Newcome, Paul Pearce, & Hugh Brewster, see notes below.

Ghetto blasters

Beep #2

"The Alternative"
To "the gay ghetto." The CHAT Centre, 58 Cecil St, featured in The Body Politic # 2, Jan / Feb 1972.


The Community Homophile Association of Toronto was an "umbrella group" of the sort classic in the gay movement's early days, doing everything from lobbying to social work to public education -- to running dances. The model survived for years in smaller centres, but in bigger cities such groups usually fractured in the face of diverse politics & commercial competition.

CHAT "spun off" a separatist lesbian group, & the mostly male Toronto Gay Action -- founders of The Body Politic.

CHAT's 1st office was at 6 Charles St E, the former Postal Station F at Yonge, then with Cinecity downstairs (where little Billy & I picked up Joe Hill in 1970). It lost 58 Cecil St by late 1972, took offices at 406 Jarvis, held dances at a Unitarian church at 175 St Clair Ave W & later at 14 Hagerman St, behind city hall.

In Jun 1973 it regrouped at 201 Church St, holding weekend dances there, licensed for booze. But the long, low, 2nd fl space never regained the magic of Holy Trinity. In the face of glitzier clubs (The Carriage House new that year) 201 Church seemed to some a haven for "the walking wounded."

The place declined & by 1977 was $8,000 in debt. CHAT gave it up, taking an office on St Joseph St. Volunteers drifted off; the phone counselling service faded & soon CHAT did too. The group's records are in the CLGA.

George Hislop

President for life:
Well, the life of CHAT. George Hislop did not fade (if going from chestnut to ash blond to grey), as you'll see in this tale. Photo: Gerald Hannon; likely late '70s (ash phase).

Peter Zorzi

A veteran activist in the early '70s, Peter & his lover Charlie Dobie were among the founders of The Body Politic, later working with other local groups. They remain together still, rural radical faeries in the Ottawa Valley.

Peter's Queer Catharsis is one of two "anecdotal guides" to his & Charlie's papers in the CLGA. It was my main source for the early history of TBP & the people who created it.
See: On the Origin of The Body Politic.

Paul Pearce &
David Newcome

You'll see much more of Paul & David. Both were active in CHAT; David, also with Toronto Gay Action, was among the founders of The Body Politic. Paul, with Sandra Dick, hosted CHAT's "Coming Out," Canada's first regularly scheduled gay TV show, its 13 episodes launched Sept 11, 1972 on Metro Cable Channel 10.


I was kept very busy this year, with our whiteface film early on, my job and the book on Union Station much longer. But I still found time to go out. So, more tales of The Parkside and a few beyond. (In 1994 I'd see a play called Tales from The Parkside. Long gone, the place had become mythic.)

Sunday, January 16, 1972, 2:50 pm:

Oh gawd! We've been too terribly insane this weekend. But what can you do! [I'd been infected, through a recording a friend had, by the style of that ancient monologist Ruth Draper.]

I got to bed at 8 am, that is, about seven hours ago. And the day before it was 7 am after a night and morning at The Parkside, The Manatee, a Toyota, Dirty Louie's and Hugh's apartment on Spadina with Hugh, Cecil, Peter, some funny kids whose names I didn't know, and Joey Shulman, whom I dug -- little, tight, dark, smooth, glowing.

The Parkside, you will recall, started with me and Flav and John, and Bill Rowe decked out like a Christmas tree. It came to involve Fernando (briefly), Cecil, Peter, Dale, Alvyn, Kelvin, Ricardo, Pascal (Bill hated her), a person I see every day at the university and like seeing and whom I gave a beer as we left, and the person who had once before been wearing a "Frog Power" button over which we had done a smiley visual thing then, and with whom I did another visual thing this time -- and gave him a kiss goodnight.

I don't now remember all those people, but a few have stayed in my mind. Hugh, from Winnipeg, had a chubby pretty face perfect for drag; he performed with a troupe called "Les Girls." The Toyota was his.

Joey Shulman I would come to know well, invited to parties at his place in The Maitlands (on Maitland since 1911). He was an effusive host, later opening a guest house near Bancroft, Ontario. Dale had been host of that September party / political debate; I never much got to know him. Kelvin Pearcey I knew only briefly, in bed once and a bit beyond; he was the person who first gave me the address of the Committee to Save Union Station.

Pascal was a performer and pre-op transsexual. Still male, she was allowed in the men's tap room of The Parkside, but even in jeans and a T shirt she was "she," her persona clearly female. In time Pascal gave up the effort and became, as he had begun, Stuart Murray, cousin of a more famous performing Murray, Anne.

The man with the "Frog Power" button was, I think, Jean Claude, a compact, slightly ratty man -- quite sexy for all that -- who once took me home and with no ceremony whatsoever flipped me over and fucked me hard. I was a bit taken aback but not unhappy: his little bod backed an amply effective dick.

Dirty Louie's (the adjective applied by all but Louie) was a grimy spot at Church and Isabella, open all night.

The Manatee, at 11A St Joseph Street since 1970, was the hottest dance spot in town, named for a boat, its hacked off prow hung up inside as the DJ's booth.

There were dance clubs over The Parkside and The St Charles, but The Manatee was unlicensed, free to stay open late and harbour boys still deep in their teens. It was in a warehouse built around the turn of the century for the Rawlinson moving and storage company, one of a few filling the block south of St Joseph.

The Manatee would be the anchor for a series of scenes later filling the block, the earliest Club David just south at 16 Phipps. David was not the club's owner but its chief feature: Michelangelo's David, if rather squat and painted gold, presiding over the dance floor. Later it would become Le Mystique, branch plant of a place in Montreal.

Monday, January 17, 1972, 10:30 pm:

When I saw Alvyn at The Parkside on Friday night he invited me to dinner on Sunday and I went, with Bill Rowe and John. Also there was Rycke and his lover Bill, Peter, Kelvin, and Billy (whom I first met at Olivier's). We had a good evening. I helped with the dishes, danced (bumped) with Peter, and talked a lot with Alvyn and a bit with Rycke, and stayed with Alvyn, Peter and Kelvin to watch Garbo in Camille.

Peter said we've had enough of superstars, and that I was going to be a starlet ("Squeak!"). I have been acting awfully starlet lately. I'll have to start wearing my old blue shirt more, instead of those turtleneck body sweaters. Some mornings when I step out with my pants tucked into my high boots and the collar of my Navy pea jacket up, framing my flowing locks, I feel like super faggot.

If I was a starlet (and I wasn't really, more dowdy than super fag), Rycke could seem the last of the hippies. He was a few years older than the rest of us, his great bush of black hair making him look like Carlos Santana, and heavily into dope.

He took me home from The Parkside one night and toked me up, the first and perhaps only time I enjoyed the feeling. But then, I could be confusing it with the feeling of Rycke in bed.

I hadn't known him before. The next morning I was amused to find the names and numbers of a few people I did know taped to his fridge door. "It's not a small Toronto," Joey Shulman once said, "it's a small gay Toronto."

Monday, January 24, 1972, 12:35 pm:

Friday night took us to The Parkside and later to the CHAT dance. I saw a lot of people I felt comfortable with -- Fernando, Alvyn, Bill, many others. I especially liked the joyous clowning I did with Alvyn, one slow dance with Bill H, and just being there. Phil said he felt a little flipped out about being in a church.

Phil Bailey was from Cleveland. On his way into town the day before he had picked up a hitchhiker on the Queen Elizabeth Way: Flav. Phil stayed with me for a few (chaste) days, looking for a job in social work. He got one; later he'd take the apartment two floors above mine on Grange.

Phil wasn't the only person flipped out to be dancing in a church. It was the Church of the Holy Trinity, built in 1847 and long since surrounded by Eaton's mail order warehouses.

This was not unfitting: Holy Trinity had been built on a bequest from a then anonymous woman in England, one of her conditions that the church never charge pew rent, as the more upscale High Anglican St James' Cathedral long had. Holy Trinity was to be open to the poor; its congregation has been famous for its social activism ever since.

CHAT was the Community Homophile Association of Toronto, a spin off from the city's first gay group, UTHA, the University of Toronto Homophile Association, formed in October 1969. CHAT began 14 months later, George Hislop key among its founders; he'd be president for its entire life.

CHAT's first public meeting came in February 1971 -- at Holy Trinity. The church (and I) saw the first CHAT dance there on April 16, 1971. It was a marvel: hundreds of happy homos bopping away before the altar, all the hard wooden pews moved back and the DJ set up not far from the pulpit.

A high arch over the altar later carried an inscription: "This is none other than the House of GOD; This is none other than the Gate of Heaven." It wasn't there in 1971, dating from renovations made in 1977 after the church was badly damaged in a fire that took out all those Eaton's warehouses.

I wish it had been there then, "Gate of Heaven" quite apt. You could dance there just how you wanted: alone, with one person or many, in circles doing high kicks. Alvyn once made a grand entrance in a big blue kaftan, perfectly timed to the Edwin Hawkins Singers' "Blowing in the Wind," a great gospel chorale.

None of this could you see in any of the gay dance clubs in town -- not even, then, people dancing alone. But eventually crowds came even from those clubs, as I'd put it, "a lot of the 'sparkle gang,' the ones on the dope / clothes / jewels trip who usually go to The Manatee." Joel said they made the atmosphere "more furtive."

If more glittery. Glitter was big then, inspired by a heavenly host of glam rockers, most notably David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust phase. So were THC, MDA, Valium, and Qualudes.

I first saw Paul Pearce and David Newcome at CHAT dances, Paul usually behind the coat check, David running around organizing everything. They had met each other there, too, David selling Paul the first issue of The Body Politic. "Twenty five cents each," Paul later recalled. "Five for a dollar. He was so handsome I bought five."

David was handsome, his beauty saved from mere banality by a strong aquiline nose. Paul was small, dark haired, sharp and ebullient. Like The Body Politic, they would eventually become part of my life -- though we didn't start well. Paul thought my crowd silly and pretentious and didn't at all like me gazing at David as he swept the floor at the end of the night, once with a rip in the seat of his jeans.

CHAT would occupy another church, built in 1880 as Methodist, later Orthodox Jewish, Chinese Catholic, changing as its neighbourhood changed around it. The building, at last unconsecrated, was at 58 Cecil Street, near College and Spadina. It wasn't as grand as Holy Trinity but grand enough, with balconies, a high dome and a great brass chandelier. It became the CHAT Centre, housing all the group's operations, from its lobbying efforts and its newsletter to distress line and drop in.

The Centre would have been great for dances, but the city said it didn't have enough parking (as if most of us had cars). The second issue of The Body Politic featured it on the cover and in a big centrespread as "The Alternative" -- to the commercial gay scene. What little there was of it: the venues I've shown you were pretty much it. In the same issue was an article titled "The Gay Ghetto," by Paul Pearce and David Newcome.

The people who control the clubs, bars, and baths realize that gay people are forced to go to only a few places, and they are there, ready, willing and able to rip us off.

If we had other places to go to, if we could go to any entertainment facility as gays without having to fear discrimination or harassment, would we continue to fill the pockets of a few persons who really don't give a shit about their patrons, except, of course, their money? Of course not!

For those involved in gay liberation, the final aim must surely be the destruction of the gay ghetto.

The final aim turned out not the destruction of the ghetto, but its takeover by gay people themselves. In 1972, though, all that was a long way off.

Our funny little film had its birth at the CHAT Centre, 18 of us, two crew, the rest potential performers, meeting there in late January before it was officially open. We were to get acquainted: some people involved, friends of Stanley and Paul's, a few women among them, most of us had never met.

And get acquainted we did. Michael Mitchell led us through "trust exercises" -- falling backwards eyes closed in the hope someone will catch you; being carried over the collective heads of the whole gang; that sort of thing. (It was that sort of time, though I doubt the term "mosh pit" had yet been coined.)

I didn't mind, having no trouble falling into the arms of director Michael or the equally gorgeous cameraman, Bob Holmes. We then did up, not all in white: one boy painted his face black and gold, split down the middle; another was all silver. Too bad we were shooting in black and white.

We trekked into the streets like that to get used to reactions, both the public's and our own, Bob filming both along the way. A security guard kicked us off the plaza at the Toronto Dominion Centre, the bank closed, as if in such loony get ups we might inconspicuously pull off a heist.

We also got turfed from Union Station by a CN cop. That might have worried me more -- but for the realization that no one there would ever see me again in quite the guise I wore that day.

The film was to be only 15 minutes, but shooting went more than two months, mostly on weekends. I was made "script girl," in charge of continuity, keeping people out of frame -- and out in the cold, their greasepaint getting stiff -- for scenes they weren't yet supposed to be in. We did photo booth shots of everyone to keep their makeup consistent from week to week. To week....

Final shooting, on the eve of April Fool's Day, was more relaxed: just me and Michael and Bob at Nathan Phillips Square in front of city hall. The finale was to be the occupation of that symbolic space by the whole crew, dancing. But that had already been filmed. I was there to do reaction shots -- finding it hard to call up giddy responses to a crazy gang in fact not there at all.

Ah, the film biz, such fun. I got to see some of Bob's rushes but never the final cut. I'm not sure Michael ever finished it. But it didn't matter. It was fun. I got out of it Michael and his wonderful wife Annick Kastner (maybe not his wife, I was never sure); we became good friends. And I got Bob, his girlfriend Penny -- and through her a fortuitous connection.

I was talking to her one day about the book on Union Station. "You should go see my father," she said. "He'd be interested in something like that." Daddie just happened to be Pierre Berton, the country's best known writer, journalist and TV personality.

I did go see him, Penny paving the way. I spent 20 minutes in his office and his god like presence at Columbia Pictures Television Canada. I came away with his agreement to write something for the book if I would do the research. I did, delivering a fat wad of paper six weeks later. In half that time I had his chapter in hand: "A Feeling, An Echo..." -- his reminiscences interspersed with a lot a material I knew very well by then. I gather that's the way he works. But who's to quibble? It was Pierre Berton! Peter Martin, who had never published a word by him, was thrilled.

Peter was less thrilled a few months later. Photographer Freeman Patterson had seen John's shots of the station, some beautifully subtle in tone. He said: "Ernie Herzig has to print this book."

Herzig Somerville Ltd was one of the city's best printers. And most expensive. John and I did go see Ernie and he liked the idea. But it was a publisher's job to hire a printer, not a kid editor's. Peter and Carol called me on the carpet and made that sternly clear.

Well, I was learning. And in the end Herzig Somerville did print the book. On excellent stock, too, all John's subtlety shining through. No wonder the thing never cleared a profit.

I went to another CHAT dance on March 17, and found Robbie: pretty, smart, a cellist with a doctorate in music, teaching at the Royal Conservatory; all of 22 years old. I had met him the night before, with Alvyn.

Rob was so chummy at the dance it seemed a cinch we'd go home together. I wasn't sure I wanted us to, but we did. His manner, and his place, seemed a little too rarefied for me, "too upper middle" as I later called both. Sex wasn't a great success. But as a friend Robbie very much would be.

He was upper middle honestly come by, raised in Manhattan, summers at Lake Placid, his father high up at General Motors. His mother was clearly a grand lady. Rob could be grand too -- in wonderful self parody. He often introduced dinners at his place as "just a little something I threw together; Carlotta's off tonight." There was no Carlotta; Rob was an excellent cook.

He was also a great waiter. At Noodles, then the best bistro in town, he poured water with pointed glee for those who didn't want wine: "Chateau Neuf de Tap, 1972!" He got big tips. Later he'd make his living as a chef. That was after he ran a flower shop. The boy could do anything.

I would see much more of him the next year, he and Alvyn sharing separate but conjoined spaces in a house at Sussex Avenue and Ulster Street, a few blocks northwest of College and Spadina. Alvyn's place was usually a mess, Rob's immaculate. We'd sit there drinking Kir, having a silly time.

Rob once said to me: "Have lovers, never live with them." He later would and did well enough, if always fiercely independent. In 1974 Rob and I would fly off to Los Angeles to visit Alvyn's brother Norman, teaching at UCLA. I was wary at the prospect of that trip, not sure I could come up to Rob's standards. But we had a fine time together.

One night at The Parkside, Rob said he found me intimidating: "You're, well -- formidable." That was a take on me that I'd never had myself, perhaps a useful one if I didn't let it go to my head. I didn't (much). But I've remembered that moment ever since.


On the night of May 6 the CHAT Centre was torched. John spotted the fire, called 911, told Flav; he called me. I rushed up. The blaze was soon over, in time our fear, too.

"Life can't be based on paranoia. We aren't in the habit of covering up; a big & positive part of us would die if we did."

In a way we were all formidable, not that we thought of ourselves that way. But sometimes we had to be.

On the night of May 4, a big public forum on homosexuality was invaded by a right wing group, the Western Guard (formerly the Edmund Burke Society). They began with a string of ridiculous questions: "Who's paying for this?" (Mao Tse Tung, of course); "Are you a faggot?" (George Hislop camped back, "Oh, I didn't know my mother was here.") When their heckling got them nowhere they pulled out cans of Protect U, the civilian's Mace, and started gassing the crowd. More than a hundred people ran out gagging; one had to be taken to hospital. The culprits got away.

That same night a gasoline bomb landed in front of a house just two doors from its obvious target, the CHAT Centre. It bounced off and burned out on the lawn. Had it not, it would likely have killed anyone inside.

John Taylor was in an emergency room the next night with a migraine so painful he couldn't sleep. He was given Valium: we joked he was now an honourary member of the sparkle gang -- "with every six Valiums, a free rhinestone!" But his stoned yet sleepless state would have a different sort of reward.

Sunday, May 7, 1972, 10:30 am:

The next night [May 6] two kerosene bombs were thrown through the windows of the [CHAT] Centre. Had John Taylor not been out taking a walk at 2:30 am, the building would probably be gone.

He saw a glow in the windows, thought maybe somebody was working in there by candlelight, and went to take a look. A spot only a few feet square was burning, and a few of the pews had started to catch. Stoned on his Valium John walked calmly back to the apartment and called the fire department. He woke up Flav, who called the CHAT emergency number to tell them. He then called me. I tried to go back to sleep, couldn't, then threw on my clothes and went up to the Centre.

Flav and John were there, along with George Hislop and his lover Ron Shearer, Danny Gerard, Pat Murphy and Linda Jain, all CHAT stalwarts. We were not, though we had attended a few events there. But any distinction between gay activists and less well tutored homosexuals dissolved in that moment. Under attack, we were together.

The fire had not taken long to put out. A black patch on the floor remained a reminder for those who later took to guarding the Centre overnight, baseball bats at the ready. Nothing like that ever happened there again. But it became an odd lesson for me.

I gained from it a very stiff shoulder (from cold and nerves) and a sense of paranoia which had never before seemed a necessary element of being gay. Luckily it seems to be fairly transitory. Life can't be based on paranoia, especially for us. We aren't in the habit of covering up much of anything, and I think a big and positive part of us would die if we did.

It also solidified my view of homosexuality in a social context. Yes, it's a social problem -- for uptight straights. It's up to them to figure out why gayness scares them so much.


Camp kids

Camp kids

Two (of 86):
Detail of a photo by John Taylor, stickered by Bill Rowe & sent to me as a postcard in 1973.

Nice looking kid, naked but for his briefs. "You can control the whole room," I said to him, "can't you?" He smiled slightly. "Yeah."

"And you're going to do it the way I want you to, right?" A pause. "Yeah."

"Then fuck off & do it." He scooted out wrapped around my finger -- & I around his.

In May I got to reverse my summer camp role as a 12 year old. This time I was a counsellor but, at 22, still enthralled by young men. Quite young: a bunch of kids in their early teens. They were all from a Catholic school in Niagara Falls, their teacher a friend of ours, and of a priest we knew (she a woman, he of course not, though he liked doing drag -- as the Pope.)

The kids were said to be a rough lot. Bad reputations must come easy to kids. I'd met three of them the year before, on a visit here. They were smart, engaging, one so luscious I could have lived in his grin -- not to mention his precociously packed 13 year old crotch. But I was a Good Boy and in any case he wasn't to be on this trip.

I was -- with 13 other counsellors and 86 kids. The camp was near Georgian Bay, not far from Ste Marie Among the Hurons, a reconstruction of the mission where Jesuits brought The Word to The Wendat, meeting their martyrdom in 1649 at the hands of invading Iroquois. The kids were duly packed off to church there. They also said grace at every meal. When in less devout moods they spiked the milk jugs with salt and called each other "faggot."

One boy in particular we were told to keep an eye on. There were cliques among these kids, the girls especially, but this boy Rick seemed to have no particular friends. He had come up with Peter, another counsellor, in his car, not on one of the crowded busses. I was in charge of a room, meant to get a dozen rowdy boys settled for the night, Rick one of them.

On the first night he sauntered in with a hatchet. He pointed it at the bottom bunk nearest the door: "I want that bed." Another boy already had it. Peter rescued me: he came in, took a look at Rick and his weapon and calmly said, "That's rude. Give me that." Rick did. But with a willing shuffle on the part of the other kids, he got the bunk he wanted.

The next night he was in the bathroom, roaring away long after the crew was supposed to be asleep. He had locked the door. I stood with my hand on the knob, waiting him out. One of the kids said, "That Rick, he's a faggot." "If he is," I said, "it's his business." The room went silent for a full five seconds.

Then the lock popped. I pushed the door open and Rick back in, my hand to his chest, slamming the door behind me. He was surprised but gathered himself quickly, stood firm, if in nothing but his briefs. A nice looking boy, really: smaller than I'd noticed before, his face on its way to handsome under his wavy blond hair -- the only hair, I sensed, on his entire body. Maybe that's why he had so much to prove. I turned on the taps to cover what I had to say (it fooled no one).

"You can control that whole room, can't you?" He looked at me, smiled slightly. "Yeah." "And you're going to do it exactly the way I want you to, right?" A brief pause, his smile just a bit bigger. Then, more quietly: "Yeah."

I ruffled his hair and said, "Then fuck off and do it."

I liked him and he knew it, scooting out wrapped around my little finger -- and I around his. Later when he'd start to get rowdy he'd shoot me a glance, a little grin, then stop. His bunk near the door turned out a bonus: leaving the room each night he'd be the last kid I'd see. A glance between us was all it took; he did indeed control the room.

The next night one of the boys asked, "Is Peter a mo?" "A mo?" "Yeah, a faggot." He was (many of us were), if not advertising it but for being hot in a Speedo. Kids don't miss a thing.

"I want to talk to you guys about that." "About what?" "About mo. About fairies, faggots, queers, homosexuals." And I did, to more success than I might have imagined. They all chimed in, one kid asking about VD. Another asked: "What's VD?"

All but one, that is. Through the whole thing Rick lay in his bunk with his back to the room, saying not a word. That boy is around 40 now, I suppose. I hope so anyway; I have no idea. Sometimes I wish I did.

My eight page tale of the weeks with those kids was one of the last entries in the spiral bound notebooks that had been my journal since 1968. In March I had at last replaced my little baby blue typewriter with its white clip on cover, the one I'd carted up on from Boston in September 1969, bought in high school for $35. The new one was still a manual, but much better. I was at it endlessly, mostly with work on the Union Station book.

My life from then on would be keyboards of variously advancing technologies, my handwriting shot. In time I took to typing what earlier I'd written in those notebooks. But the recollections got fewer and farther between. I was too busy.

The book on the station was sometimes dead in the water for weeks as I courted potential writers and then waited for their copy. I had a wonderful chat on the phone with Jane Jacobs, author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities. She had moved to Toronto in the late 1960s, more lionized here than ever in her native land. She loved the idea of the book but was too busy to write for it.

Alderman William Kilbourn promised to do an inspirational conclusion. He did. It took ages but was worth the wait. A noted reporter dawdled endlessly over his exposé of the politics that had kept the station disconnected from its intended tracks until 1927. When I got it I concluded I could write better than he did. The traction buff doing the city's railway history (a bit of a nut, trains sets in the basement) delivered 10,000 words when I'd asked for half that. I did a lot of hacking.

Douglas Richardson, who taught fine art at the university, also took some editing. A bit intimidating that: a college dropout chopping away at professorial prose. He used architectural terms that, looking back, I'm embarrassed not to have known. But he proved a godsend, his chapter on the station's architecture and its historical antecedents the finest in the book.

One night at Peter Martin Associates he and I tore up and redesigned his chapter, making important pictures bigger, the look more coherent. More chutzpah, but the real designer forgave us: she liked our version better. Alvyn and I would later audit Douglas's classes on Toronto's built history. In 1975 we would be involved together again in trying to save another part of it.

My best encounters were with poets. Dennis Lee, from whose Civil Elegies I'd chosen an epilogue, wondered if it might work better in prologue. Later, seeing the book, he wrote to say my choice had been apt; he hoped we'd meet some time. We never did.

I did get to meet John Robert Colombo, creator of that "found poem." When the book appeared he sent me a letter, saying he'd suspected at first that it never would. "I never for a moment thought it would be such an attractive, handsome and professional publication," he wrote, "right down to the colour and grain of the endpapers." At the beginning, I never thought it would be either.

I had a wonderful moment on that visit with Colombo. Lying on his floor was a volume I recognized, including poems by Frank O'Hara. I mentioned it. "Oh yes, I did a reading with him once. In fact, you remind me a bit of him." I nearly fell off my chair.


156 Huron

The door at the top:
North face of 156 Huron, balconies of 160 ("The Epitome Apartments") across the lane; a shot from 1999. In 1972 Flav, John & Bill lived right up under the roof, genial gay neighbours on view from that high dormer door & more just down the lane too.

The biggest room was draped in floral fabric; a mannequin stood in the corner, her outfit refit from time to time. When my family came up we visited 156, so they could see the place, & Bill there working away.

Of all the sights they saw here, they liked Bill Rowe the best.

In mid June Flav, John and a lovely young man named Tom headed off to British Columbia. They would be gone until late August, John to take pictures of abandoned mining camps (and, as it turned out, of Tom); Flav to explore. And to shop.
Postcard from Flav, June 27, 1972:

dear richard and bill
[He and everyone I knew through him called me Richard]

2 large framed prints, a little porcelain angel made in 1904, a huge gold gilt monstrance, you know [he did a tiny drawing of it], a hand- stitched greek catholic tapestry, a 4' carrara marble pillar, 3 rolls of lace all hand gold embroidered, also many watered silk and satin pieces of cloth, many embroidered, 2 statues, one brass incensor on chain, with incense, 3 large pieces of wrought iron railing, and two ball tops of newel posts. Also silver bells. So far. And one smiling rock.

All this would fit right in at their place in Toronto, a new one. They'd moved from 167 Huron a while before -- but just across the street and to digs fully as odd, up in the mansard roof of a small building at 156. The ceilings were as low as that cellar's: take a hop and you'd hit your head. Once during dinner a huge raccoon laboured though a window, entirely unimpressed with us, the kitchen garbage or our attempts at eviction. After a few hisses it lumbered back out.

The biggest room was decorated as you might imagine from that list of finds in BC. The walls were draped in floral fabric; a mannequin stood in the corner, her outfit refit from time to time. I have a shot of us there, done up for a CHAT dance: Flav in a kaftan; John modest with a small bijou. I'm in one of those tight body sweaters and a necklace of braided link brass; Bill in white suit and fedora.

Behind him the mannequin wears a pith helmet, dark glasses and a long paisley scarf. But she didn't go to CHAT dances.

That photograph (you can see it at the end of this page) was up in my apartment when my parents and four youngest siblings, then ages seven to 16, came up for a visit that June.

I'd pondered taking it down, otherwise "degaying" the place, that routine common among homosexuals about to host The Family. I'd also considered sitting them down and doing The Big Talk. I did neither. Instead I simply showed them my life. They met Alvyn, jewellers Terry and Bill -- and Bill Rowe, amidst the wild decor at 156, where he'd moved in.

On the way home my mother -- she'd tell me years later -- had gone on about how much fun they'd been. My father said, "Well you know, Ellie, they were all... homosexuals." "I don't care," my mother said. "They do such interesting things."

Of all the sights they saw in Toronto, they liked Bill Rowe the best. He in turn was quite taken with my 16 year old brother Gary. Bill later visited my family, mostly to see Gary. He'd had the sharpest wit in the family since the age of five. (He still does.) He would come out to my mother in 1975, after she found a flyer he'd brought home from a big gay party in Boston. "So, is this where you spent the weekend?"

It was not traumatic: my example was in front of them already, if not a big coming out speech.


Original Art Deco Designs

Crazy Bill

Willyum's work & Willyum:
Bill Rowe's first book for Dover, full of liftable art (I'd later lift some myself). Bottom: a photo- booth shot stuck to Bill's 1973 letter of acceptance as a permanent resident of Canada.

Hugh Brewster with Gerald Hannon

Too camp for comfort:
Hugh Brewster (left) with fellow TBP collectivist Gerald Hannon, 1972. Photo: Jearld Moldenhauer (CLGA).

Hugh Brewster

On The Body Politic collective in 1972, Hugh offered a style rare in TBP's pages -- nervous making for sober leftists. Ed Jackson (usually not one) later said: "Hugh just had too much of a sense of irony. You could be playful behind the scenes, but the fear of irony in print we learned early."

Hugh (& fellow ironist John Forbes) left TBP by early 1973. He moved to New York but later returned, becoming a very successful publisher.

Jearld Moldenhauer
& Glad Day Bookshop

Glad Day was born in 1970, out of a backpack of books Jearld carted around to sell at meetings. Its first outlets were in his homes, 4 Kensington Ave (1972 - 73), & 139 Seaton St (both also shared with The Body Politic until early 1974). Its first real store opened at 4 Collier St (at Yonge north of Bloor), 2nd fl, in 1976.

Glad Day moved to 648A Yonge (at Irwin) in 1978; in '84 to 598A (just south, where it remains), both still 2nd floors.

Jearld opened a store in Boston in 1979; that same year Glad Day alumnus (& 139 Seaton resident) Norman Laurila launched his US chain, A Different Light, in Los Angeles, later San Francisco & New York.

Jearld owned Boston's Glad Day until 2000, when, facing a costly move, he closed it. In 1991 he sold Toronto's to his long time housemate (& early '70s TBP collective member) John Scythes. The deal was in part a swap for a share in John's house at 32 Beatty Ave in west end Parkdale, a 19th century mansion beautifully restored by John. Such a butch little guy: you'll meet him here again as renovator to the community.

Jearld also played earlier founding roles; for those see On the Origin of The Body Politic.

I visited Bill Rowe often that summer, much of the time occupying myself as he sat hunched over his work table, his Rapidograph pen going tap tap tap as he endlessly filled in tiny points of colour on endless art boards.

They would become Original Art Deco Designs, later published by Dover in New York. It was part of a series full of liftable art; he would do many more. To Flav, in return for his cards and letters, I'd send news of progress (or lack of it) on the book -- and happier tales of Bill.

August 3, 1972:

Bill and I had a very busy weekend. On Friday night we went to Bill Mitchell's for supper. We all went out to the PS [The Parkside] after that, mainly to sell The Body Politic. Actually we went to the Embassy first, now that I think of it. Bill (R) was in his famous jacket, and the Moroccan robe, and the yellow green frizz wig. The Embassy was full of little old ladies and gents all singing songs together. Bill was a hit, needless to say.

It was from there we went to the PS, from there to The Quest for about three minutes to sell more papers, then back to the PS. Willyum left shortly, so Bill Mitchell and I wandered into the back (we had been in the front) and found Alvyn with some friends. They were with Hugh Brewster and company, and since the bar was closing we all went over to Brewster's.

We called out for a pizza and a Bill Rowe. Both arrived, one because we were willing to pay for it, and the other because Bill Mitchell was there. Brewster played terrible Ralph Vaughan Williams, which I said was camp and he got offended.

Aaaanyway, Anthony [a friend of Alvyn's] fell asleep, Alvyn and I did pantomime to Cabaret, Brewster ego tripped and eventually Bill Mitchell carried Willyum off into the night -- literally, carrying him out over the threshold. We all went home around four.

Bill Mitchell was very striking, with a strong face and big, nearly hyperthyroid eyes. He was the one selling The Body Politic, Bill Rowe and I just along for some fun. He would eventually move to New York, become an actor, and change his name to Max.

I was often at Hugh Brewster's place, a big ground floor apartment at 31 Winchester that he shared with two actors and, until he moved across the lane, his friend David Johnson, a wonderful painter.

I had first met Hugh in late November 1971, invited up by Alan Falconer (his apartment the one later occupied by Phil Bailey) for a consciousness raising session. CR was big in the early gay movement, lifted from feminist practice. Paul Macdonald was there, as was Jearld Moldenhauer -- the pioneering force behind The Body Politic and Glad Day Bookshop -- and a few others as well. Most of them at the time were caught up in producing the paper's second issue.

But I didn't know that then. All I knew was that this one called Hugh was cute. Someone put on a record by Laura Huxley, wife of Aldous, meant to lull us all into meditation. "You are now sitting inside your faaaavourite flower...." Hugh and I giggled. No one else did. We went out to play in the snow, then back to my place, and to bed.

Hugh knew camp. In TBP he'd done "Counternotes on Camp," looking back at Susan Sontag's famous essay of 1966. He even tried a bit himself, with John Forbes ("Twilight Rose," her task "to bring tastefullness to the revolution") doing an annual honours parody, "The Golden Goodie Awards," winners noted turkeys. But Vaughan Williams was sacred, Henry Purcell too. Hugh was scathing about my taste for Mahler: "Romantic mush."

In June I'd been to a party at his place, many movement types there, an orgy going on in one bedroom -- "a very hilarious, organized, CHAT sort of one," I called it. In another room I found a boy clearly too shy for an orgy. I asked him to dance; he said he didn't like to dance. Odd in retrospect: he would become a noted community disc jockey.

Don Bell was pug faced handsome, wonderfully sweet. Friends I also knew, Richard Kelly and Tim Bond, an actor and a director, had brought him. They'd first seen him at the Women's College Hospital VD clinic, finding him again through an ad in Guerilla. We talked; he left -- I followed, walking him home. He asked me in.

Don was snuggly, playful; in bed he liked to laugh (as did I: it's amazing how many people stop and say, "What's wrong?"). I stayed until the next afternoon. On his old upright piano he played Chopin, Rachmaninoff, finally "As Time Goes By." I'd see him every so often over the next year. Each time we'd end up in bed as if we'd just left it the night before, no matter how much time had gone by. Once in early 1973 I dropped by his place on Church, over DeGroot's butchers:

It was an odd hour, around 4:30, but I figured it would be nice to say hello if he was in. He was, about to take a bath -- postponed just long enough for us to spend about 10 minutes in bed. I really didn't think when I dropped in that I'd be out the door again in less than half an hour, having been laid in between.

I can still see Don in that moment: his rich body suddenly up off the bed, his cock standing out stiff as he bent over a drawer, looking for lube. (He found it.) If the term "fuck buddy" hadn't been coined (I doubt it yet was), we might have invented it.

By September the menage at 156 Huron was breaking up. Or rather, realigning: John and Bill had grown attached, leaving Flav bereft. (He would later do artwork signed "Bea Bereaved.") In time the lovebirds found their own roost over a laundromat at Queen and Sherbourne, a terra cotta Lamb of God beneath their third floor window.

Alvyn's household was splitting up, too. He and Flav found a place together at 450 Spadina Avenue. It was at the front of the second floor; at the back was Aunt Bea's Nashville Room. Going to visit on weekends I'd squeeze past a crowd on the stairs, east coast guys 'n' gals eager to get in and party down.

There really was an Aunt Bea. She used the apartment to entertain entertainers (all on the up and up, of course): in a closet was a hidden door leading to the dance hall. When it was empty we'd sometimes go in, grab a microphone and do a few numbers ourselves.

But it was a sad time, Flav deeply depressed, sometimes not getting out of bed for days. He once took 10 Valiums. He called John, John called me and I went up. I had to slap him to get him up and dressed and off to the hospital in a cab.

He went to stay with friends in Montreal for a while, and from there wrote me a poem, thanking me "for being the kind / of friend who knows how to save a life / and has taken the responsibility to do so." He ended it, "I hope I can repay you some day." He had nothing to repay: in many ways he had saved my life.


Union Station

Still here:
Toronto's Union Station, 1999:
"Become seized of its distinction as an engine of public service."

For a Save Union Station campaign 30 years later (not from demolition, but effective privatization), see the postscript of Dreams of grandeur in One street, many stories: Queen.

The book on Union Station came out in early December, with a double dedication: to the head of the Union Station Committee, Douglas Richardson's idea; and mine, to Flav: "for the gift of vision." We called it The Open Gate. I'd got that from The Toronto World, November 16, 1919, just after the station was finished.
"Before you inspect the new Union Station as a convenience in private transportation, become seized of its distinction as an engine of public service. It can give to every movement of every passenger thru its gates something of the quality of a civil right.

"The monarchical style can be altered to "George, King of Great Britain and Ireland and the Dominions Beyond the Seas; Postman, Porter and Provendor Purveyor in the Union Station of Toronto, City of the Open Gates."

Kingly indeed, even the king at your service. But by then I was glad to put past my long service to the place. I do still, quite often, walk between its huge pillars and into that vast hall, look up to its four storey arched windows at each end, to the names of Canadian cities carved into its frieze all around the room, finally up 88 feet to the curve of its Guastavino tile ceiling.

It's a marvel. I say to myself: "It's still here."

Keep scrolling for the 156 Huron Glitter Gang!

Go on to Part Two: 1973-1976  Times between

Go back to: Contents page / My Home Page
This page:
December 1999 / Last revised: June 18, 2003 / Minor corrections: May 14, 2007
Rick Bébout © 1999-2003 /

Glitter gang The 156 Glitter Gang:

If hardly glittery as things went at the time. Bill (Ms Mannequin behind), Flav, myself, & John (he took the photo using a long shutter cord). I'm told this shot ended up in some book on gay life in the '70s, but I never saw it.