2SLGBTQIA+ History in Waterloo Region

Post by Ellie, Information Services Staff.

It’s Pride Month! And what better way to celebrate how far we’ve come by looking at where we’ve been. Remembering our shared history is a great way to strengthen the 2SLGBTQIA+ community in Waterloo Region, so I was delighted when I discovered a box in the archival room at Kitchener Public Library containing documents, ephemera and so many fabulous memories from our region’s Queer past. It was almost as if a rainbow beamed out of it!

In this post I’ll share a glimmer of these archives, some of which I remember fondly from my own experience growing up and coming out in Kitchener-Waterloo. I also searched further, finding many photos and memories from community members who generously shared with me.

We’re deeply indebted to those who paved the way for us to have a vibrant queer community in Waterloo Region, and those who have donated items to our archives. And our community owes so much to local 2SLGBTQIA+ Historian, Librarian, Activist and Organizer, Jim Parrott who since 2011 has collected, documented, and digitized so much more of our history than we could fit in this post at the Grand River Rainbow Historical Project. If you are interested in local 2SLGBTQIA+ history, we encourage you to look through the this wonderful site, and to learn more about Jim’s incredible career, check out this recent article from the Community Edition.

Bars, Dances & Nightclubs

  • A photo of the Bridgeport Community Centre in Kitchener, where same sex dances were held starting in 1974.
  • A poster for a 2018 event that recreated the legendary Bridgeport Dances. The title is "A 1970s Bridgeport Dance" and there is a black and white drawing of David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust at the top.
  • A photo of the location of The Robin's Nest when it first opened in 1977. The photo shows a doorway with the words "Galt Masonic Temple" engraved above it.
  • A photo of a building with a large sign reading "The Robin's Nest". Beside the sign there is a door with a sign that reads "open".
  • A photo of the owners of The Robin's Nest, Annie and Duffy.
  • Photo of community member Cait Glasson outside the former location of gay bars Half and Half and The Pink Zone. These clubs operated secretly in the nineteen eighties and nineties off of Gaukel Street and were surveilled by the RCMP for homosexual activity.
  • A photo of the entrance of Club Renaissance. Taken from the parking lot, a green sign has yellow writing on it reading Club Renaissance, and has an image of a martini with bubbles rising up from it.
  • A photo collage of many drag performers who worked at Club Renaissance.
  • A photo of the inside of Club Renaissance during a drag pageant. Many drag queens and kings are standing beside the stage and runway wearing crowns. Miss Drew presides over the ceremonies with a microphone.
  • A photo of the stage and runway at Club Renaissance. A drag king in all black with a long coat and a goatee reaches out his hand to the audience. Behind him a pride flag hangs with the name Jay and Sydney. There are decorations hanging from the ceiling and beside the flag there is a banner that reads Happy Birthday and the name Monro.
  • A photo from the inside of Club Renaissance. Thirteen drag performers stand on and around the stage in costume as Miss Drew, in Black leather, speaks into a microphone on centre stage.
  • A photo of the ceiling around the bar at Club Renaissance. Surrounding the bar are balloons arranged by colour into a rainbow and from the ceiling hang multi-coloured paper decorations.
  • A photo from inside Club Renaissance. A crowd is gathered around the dance floor as a drag queen performs in the middle of the stage. Only string lights and one spotlight on the queen light the scene.
  • A photo of the inside of Club Renaissance. Drag queen Victoria Parks performs in a robe trimmed with a huge amount of pink feathers, a sparkly patterned dress and a fluffy white wig. Behind her at the back of the stage are banners that read Happy Birthday Victoria.
  • Late drag queen Robin Derring performs on stage in a gorgeous white gown, diamond jewelry, and a sky high blonde updo. Beside her is a drag kind in an all white tux and tails wearing a crown. Multiple drag performers stand behind them clapping.
  • A flyer from the 2009 Miss Club Renaissance Pageant from November 2009.
  • A flyer for the last show at Club Ren in 2013, including a photo of Fran, Miss Drew, Cheryl and others.
  • A photo inside of Club Renaissance after it has closed. Owners Fran and Cheryl pose for a last photo together at Club Renaissance in front of the bar.
  • A photo inside Club Renaissance after it closed for business in 2013. The bar, tables, lounge, DJ booth and dancefloor are visible.
  • A photo of the outside of Club Renaissance after it closed for business in 2013. The Club Renaissance sign has been removed.
  • A photo of the location of The Order on Princess Street in UpTown Waterloo. It was the last LGBTQ+ bar in Waterloo Region.
  • A photo from the outside of Timothy Stephen's Nightclub showing a sign with lights around it above steps entering into the club.

1974 – Dances that came to be known as the Bridgeport Dances began to be held at the Bridgeport Community Centre. They provided regular social interactions in a time when commercial gay clubs were not available.

1977 The Robin’s Nest opened in the old Masonic Temple on Dickson Street in Galt. It was billed as a “Sports and Recreation Club” but was a Queer dance club for those in the know. It moved to The Baker’s Warehouse on Hobson street where it was located for the majority of its existence. “The Nest”, as it was affectionately referred to by regulars, closed its doors for good on New Years Eve of 2010. A local filmmaker is currently creating a documentary about the Robin’s Nest and the community owners Annie and Duffy fostered there, and has created a Facebook Group for folks to share memories and photos.

1981Half & Half, an LGBTQ+ bar, opened in Downtown Kitchener. Customers entered through an alley way off of Gaukel Street and operated Speakeasy style to avoid detection. The bar was later called The Pink Zone, and operated until approximately 1994. The RCMP monitored and kept files on the bar (as well as GLOW) as “organizations of interest” for “homosexual activity” until the early ’90s.

1994Club Renaissance opened at 24 Charles St in Downtown Kitchener in. Owned by Fran Furlong and Cheryl MacDonald, it was the epicenter of gay nightlife in Kitchener for almost twenty years.

2012 – The Order, Waterloo’s first 2SLGBTQIA+ nightclub in UpTown Waterloo on Princess Street opened, then closed its doors in 2017.

Many in our community have expressed the need for a dedicated 2SLGBTQIA+ night club or bar space today. The decline in gay bars may be due to larger acceptance of queer folks at straight establishments, or to the emergence of social or dating apps. You can read more about the importance of night life spaces for the Queer community here.

Tri-Pride

  • A photo taken from above, looking down at a crowd of people standing and sitting at tables at the Kitchener City Hall rotunda. A large rainbow flag hangs from the ceiling.
  • A poster on light pink paper with black writing. The top reads "Celebrating unity in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered communities in Kitchener-Waterloo, Cambridge and Guelph. Below that is a triangle with a large "96" in the middle and the names K/W, Guelph and Cambridge written on each corner surrounded by the words "Triangle Unity". Below it in fun lettering reads "Pride Celebration!" with the location and date below it. In the bottom right hand corner is the logo for a sponsor, Especially Coffee.
  • A photo of the cover of The Voice magazine from 2002. It featured a photo of Pride celebrations in Victoria park, including a crowd of people, a yellow balloon, Miss Drew and trees in the background.
  • A photo of a page from the Voice magazine featuring a collage of photos from the 2001 Pride celebrations. Many photos are of performers, including Miss Drew (and her Mom), Victoria Parks and Sarah Dillon.
  • This is a photo of a spread from The Voice magazine, showing a collage of photos from the celebrations in Victoria Park in 1999.
  • A photo of the cover of Pride Pages magazine, celebrating Pride 2002. The theme for that year was "There's No Place Like Home!" and the cover show a photo of a parent and baby interacting with a drag performer on the gazebo in Victoria Park.
  • A photo of a laminated badge on a lanyard that reads" tri-pride" "Ron" "Volunteer" and "Pride 2003". The lanyard has Canadian flags on it.
  • A photo from inside Club Renaissance. A drag king with a jacket, sunglasses and a fedora dances on stage. Behind him is a rainbow banner, surrounded by rainbow balloons, that reads "Mr and Miss TriPride"
  • A photo from inside Club Renaissance. Miss Drew presides over the Mr and Miss TriPride pageant in a red gown and hairpiece. Seven drag kings and queens post on the stage in front of a large rainbow banner that reads "Mr and Miss TriPride Pageant".
  • A rainbow flyer with the tripride logo in the middle. On the left are photos of the performers including Thelma Houston, Theo Tams and Beyond The Mountain, Connor Gains Band, Stiletto Flats, Brave and Crazy and Baca.
  • A photo taken in front of city hall where a large group of people of all ages watches a performance by Miss Drew who wears a peach coloured gown and a gigantic curly wig.
  • A photo from inside Club Renaissance of a drag queen in a black gown lip syncing powerfully to a song. Behind her at the back of the stage is a large rainbow banner that reads Mr and Miss TriPride.
  • A photo of a drag queen in knee high black leather boots, hot pants, a lacy black shirt, silver jewelry and a short curly wig performs on stage at Club Renaissance during the Mr and Miss TriPride Pageant in 2013.

1995 – Waterloo Region had its first local Pride Celebration in the Rotunda of Kitchener City Hall.

1996 – the Regional Pride Committee was formed to continue holding Pride celebrations that would encompass Kitchener-Waterloo, Cambridge and Guelph. To reflect this, the name of our Pride festival became Tri-Pride.

1997 – celebrations began taking place on Roos Island in Victoria park, where they remained for many years. Community booths, food and beverage vendors and performances were part of the daytime schedule. Tri-Pride parties were held at The Robin’s Nest and Club Renaissance. Mr & Miss Tri Pride pageants were held at Club Renaissance.

2012 – Tri-Pride moved to King Street (which was closed to traffic) and the space in front of City Hall.

2018 – Tri-Pride moved back to Victoria Park, now using the space by old Clock Tower, however many satellite events take place throughout our cities. In 2020 and 2021 Tri-Pride celebrations have moved online due to COVID.

Drag

  • An old photo taken inside The Robin's Nest in the late seventies or early eighties. Two glamorous performers walk the runway as a delighted audience watches.
  • A cover of The Voice magazine, featuring a photo of Miss Drew in a short black leather dress and a black collar. This issue is from November 2002.
  • A photo of the gorgeous drag queen Miss Drew wearing a white lace bustier, red lipstick and a bouncy blonde wig. A woman with short blonde hair and a white dress shirt is dancing with her.
  • A photo of seven gorgeous drag queens posing together in full makeup, hair and outfits.
  • A program from La Cage, a drag show produced by Miss Drew that was held in Kitchener and througout Southern Ontario.
  • A photo of a newspaper open to a page with an article about the Drag Me To The Bomber shows held at the University of Waterloo. The headline reads "Glow makes Friday night sexy with Drag Me To The Bomber" and there is a large photo of a drag queen twirling under a spotlight.
  • A photo of drag performer Troy Boy Parks performing in Victoria park during TriPride. Troy wears a leather vest and gloves and lip syncs dramatically in a grassy field in front of large pride flags.
  • A flyer for a drag show called "Drag Me To The Bomber" from 2013. Featuring photos of the drag performers Miss Drew, Chantal DuValdez, Sheena Beena and Teighlor Davis.
  • A photo taken from inside The Chainsaw. Eleven drag performers pose on stage as Manny Manila speaks into a microphone.
  • A photo from inside Kitchener Public Library showing drag queens Fay and Fluffy performing a song and interactive dance for kids in 2019.
  • A photo from inside the Kitchener Public Library's theatre. Staff members Curtis Williams and Ellie Anglin pose on stage with drag king George Swooney and drag queen Kyne.
  • A photo of drag queen Jimbo posing in front of Jane Bond on Princess Street in Waterloo.

1977- 2010: The Robin’s Nest in Cambridge hosts many drag and dress-up events

1994-2014:  Club Renaissance was a huge venue for drag, weekly shows featuring Queens and Kings and yearly “Miss and Mr Tri-Pride” and “Mr and Miss Ren” pageants. 

1995-presentTri-Pride began. Drag performances are held in the day as well as at bars and clubs at night.

1990s-presentThe Princess Cinema hosts yearly viewings of Rocky Horror Picture Show with staff and attendees in drag. 

2000-presentRainbow Reels (our local queer film festival) has annual “Super Gay Cabaret” events featuring queer performers and drag. In 2020 and 2021 it’s held virtually as “Queerantine” Editions.

2000-presentThe Imperial Court of the Waterfall Empire is a drag house from Hamilton, Niagara and the Waterloo Region. They have hosted multiple drag events, including “La Cage” in the ballroom of the Walper Hotel, at The Crown Hotel in Kitchener and Sunbridge hotel in Cambridge.

2016-present: The UW Drag Club formed, fostering performers like George Swooney, Manny Manila, Velma Bones, The Dicktator and Kyne. This group held performances and events at the university and The Chainsaw in UpTown Waterloo. Throughout the pandemic they’ve provided virtual events, tutorials and other resources online.

2017-present: Kitchener Public Library hosts live drag events for adults (featuring Kyne, George Swooney etc) as well as drag story times for kids (Fay Slift and Fluffy Souffle, Kyne, Miss Drew, Laila).

2019LAILA performs her one-woman shows via Green Light Arts.

2020 – Drag queens Kyne and Jimbo, who both hail from Kitchener Waterloo, are contestants on Drag Race Canada.

Interested in drag history in Canada? Join us on July 17th for QueerKPL: Drag Then & Now where drag scholar Russ Martin and renowned drag king Flare will discuss the complex history of drag in Canada and the integral role that drag kings have played in it.

GLOW Centre for Gender & Sexual Diversity

  • Photo of cover of a pamphlet produced by the Waterloo Universities' Gay Liberation Movement in 1973
  • A photo of LGBTQ+ people demonstrating, two of them hold a yellow and brown banner that reads "Gays of Kitchener Waterloo", from 1982.
  • A newsletter titled "Glow News" from March 1983. A headline reads "Gay Plague" Controversy Reaches Kitchener.
  • A poster for a halloween dance held by GLOW in 1980. The poster features an image of a person dancing in a witch-like costume.
  • An image of a poster for a celebration of the 25th year anniversary of Glow.
  • A photo of University of Waterloo students watching a drag performance in the Student Life Centre. A drag performer holds a microphone while three people dance behind them.

Did you know that the GLOW Centre for Sexual and Gender Diversity is the longest running 2SLGBTQIA+ student organization in Canada? It began in 1971 as Waterloo Universities’ Gay Liberation Movement (WUGLM) and changed to Gay Liberation of Waterloo in 1980. In 1985 it became Gays & Lesbians of Waterloo (GLOW) and has now expanded its title to better reflect our community.

Publications

  • A photo of an colourful array of issues of The Voice magazines. The voice was a free, local LGBTQ+ monthly that was distributed throughout the Tri-Cities as well as Hamilton and Toronto.
  • A photo of the cover of Proud magazine. This LGBTQ+ magazine was published by the KW Record. This was the first issue, from 2010, and featured drag performer Sheena Therrien on the cover.
  • a photo of the magazine qatalyst. This issue, from 2007, featured Miss Drew on the cover.
  • A photograph of The Voice magazine, from August 2002. It is full sized, printed in colour and on glossy paper. This issue celebrates the legalization of same sex marriage in Canada in 2002.
  • A photo of the front page of a newsletter called Glow News. This newsletter was published by GLOW - then known as Gay Liberation of Waterloo. This issue from March 1983 has the headline "Gay Plague" and discusses the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS.
  • A photo of a program for holy communion that is titled "continuing caring conversations: The blessing of same sex couples". This was produced by St Peter's Lutheran church in 2005. April 16 2005.

Organizations

I hope you enjoyed taking this waltz into Queer yesteryear with me. If you are interested in Queer history in general, you should check out The ArQuives or listen to The Butch Femme podcast created by writer Sarah Dillon, who hails from Waterloo Region. I regret that this history is limited to what was readily available to me and represents a predominantly white experience of 2SLGBTQIA+ folks in Waterloo Region. If you are able to fill any of the gaps I’ve missed, please reach out to me at eanglin@kpl.org. I look forward to hearing from you!


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