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Manitoba Gay and Lesbian Archives: Meeting Places

Meeting Places

View from East Portage Avenue bus terminal

The earliest records of a homosexual community in Winnipeg date back to the inter-war period of the 1920s, as told through oral histories by those who experienced it. Prominent meeting spaces like the beer parlour of the Marlborough Hotel to cruising sites like the Canadian National rail yards at the forks of the Assiniboine and Red Rivers and the docks on Alexander Street feature in the stories recorded in the Manitoba Gay/Lesbian Archives' Oral History Project (1990) .
Beer parlour culture created a male-only social atmosphere for a gentleman class which allowed for an intertwining of boundaries between heteronormative space and homosocial space. Private intimate conversation between men subverted the parlour’s heteronormative atmosphere. Into the 1940s, other undercover gay bars and meeting places existed including The Royal Alexandra Hotel, the Canadian Pacific Station, the Starland Theatre, the Moon Café and the McIntyre Building.

"The Hill"

The most popular cruising site for gay men in Winnipeg changed from the rail yards near the Fort Garry Hotel to an area known as ‘The Hill’ on the banks of the Assiniboine River behind the Manitoba Legislative Building in the early 1950s. The Hill has remained prominent to this day.

Around the same time, the first identifiable lesbian meeting space was The Mount Royal Hotel at 186 Higgins Avenue. The Mount Royal remained a mixed bar with lesbians, drag queens, and leather scene clientele into the 1970s. Another popular site for gay socializing occurred at the nude beach in Beaconia, Winnipeg Beach and Grand Beach on Lake Winnipeg. A passenger train operated between Winnipeg and Grand Beach, making the resort town an easily accessible location for weekend leisure where private cottages could be rented (Barbour, Dale Winnipeg Beach: Leisure and Courtship in a Resort Town, 1900-1967, University of Manitoba Press, 2011, p.80). In 1957, Child’s Restaurant opened after renovations and became the first non-beer parlour bar in Winnipeg, providing a popular spot for gay theatre enthusiasts. Shortly after, Club Morocco at 673 Portage Avenue and the Mardi Gras Café followed suit and became regular hot spots for gay men and lesbians in the early 1960s. On October 31, 1968 Winnipeg held its first drag ball at the Sildor Ballroom on Sherbrook Street. In late 1970, the first gay club was established at 654 Erin Street called Club 654. The club was run by volunteers and operated as a members only after-hours club with no liquor license.

View images related to gay bars

By the early 1970’s, members of the gay community began to organize into openly gay clubs and social committees. The majority of the material held in the Manitoba Gay and Lesbian Archives was accumulated and produced by these organizations.

Campus Gay Club Bulletin Board

Parallel to the Campus Gay Club, a group of gay men and lesbians began meeting to form a social club that no longer relied on the Mardi Gras and Mount Royal. This organization was named The Mutual Friendship Society and held its founding meeting on May 16th, 1971 to discuss future social events for gay men and lesbians. The Mutual Friendship Society met monthly and began planning social events at various temporary locations such as the Ebony Hall on Logan, the Scandinavian Hall on Young Street, Immaculate Conception Church Hall on Austin, St. Nicholas Hall on McGregor and the St. James Hall on Portage. The Mutual Friendship Society acquired a liquor license and later became known as Happenings Social Club. Their multiple applications for a private club charter were rejected by the government because the provincial Attorney General A.H. Mackling did not recognize homosexuals as a minority group deserving the same rights as specified minorities existing in the Human Rights Code. Eventually in June 1973, Happenings Social Club was granted a charter along with one other private gay organization, with a club membership of 109 individuals. Their permanent premises were located at 242 Manitoba Avenue and Happenings was styled as a club strictly for lesbian and gay social gatherings.