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
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.
1981 – Half & 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.
1994 – Club 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.
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.
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-present: Tri-Pride began. Drag performances are held in the day as well as at bars and clubs at night.
1990s-present: The Princess Cinema hosts yearly viewings of Rocky Horror Picture Show with staff and attendees in drag.
2000-present: Rainbow 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-present: The 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).
2019 – LAILA 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
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.
- GLOW Centre for Sexual and Gender Diversity – 1971
- Laurier Rainbow Centre – 1985
- ACKKWA – 1987
- Tri-Pride – 1995
- Friends of Dorothy Bowling League – 1999
- Rainbow Reels – 2000
- OK2BMe – 2005
- Waterloo Region Rainbow Coalition – 2010
- Spectrum – began 2012
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you!
Have questions? Want more recommendations?