Toronto Pride: A Look Back

Virtual Pride: June 26-28, 2020… say what???!!!

As we all know, COVID-19 has squatted over Toronto Pride this summer of 2020 and taken a huge dump. When it was announced that all large events – or any event for that matter – in the City of Toronto would be cancelled this year, including my beloved Pride, I was crushed beyond measure. Toronto Pride will be celebrated this year with “Virtual Pride” which, to me anyway, defies logic. Virtual Pride?? How exactly does one do a Virtual Pride, for God’s sake? No thanks… I want the real thing.

Pride week in Toronto has always meant so much to me and, as a gay man, is an essential experience in my life. In my world, Pride is more important than Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving all rolled into one. No other event brings such happiness, energy, enthusiasm, celebration, vitality and warmth than those few days in late June every year. Even though time and tide have scaled back my activities considerably from Pride weekends past, I still celebrate the occasion and feel joy in my own way on that special weekend.

I Remember…

I believe my first “Pride Day” (as it was then called) was 1985. I have wonderful memories of those early Pride events when they were just a half-day long (always on a Sunday afternoon) and held in Cawthra Park (now the Barbara Hall Park, which has become a haven for junkies, crackheads, crime, muggings and harassment from street trash who have overtaken the place… but I digress…).

Those days, Pride was held within the boundaries of Cawthra Park, if you can imagine. In the late 80s/very early 90s the event spilled into a small section of Church Street above Wellesley, with the epicentre being the 519 Church Street Community Centre. Across from the 519 was the only stage, set up in the parking lot of The Beer Store. At about 9:00 PM that night (at the latest), the police would reopen Church Street to traffic, and cars would resume their usual pace down Church Street as if nothing had happened that day.

I remember those Pride Days as being pretty much a white, male, middle-class event, long before global inclusion and the alphabet soup that now describes our community (LGBTIQA+ or whatever the hell it currently is). From those early Pride Days, I have memories of local gay hero Harold Desmarais singing a personally-penned protest song to Art Eggleton, the then-mayor of Toronto who had refused to proclaim, or even acknowledge, Pride Day (as it was then called). Harold served as the Master of Ceremonies for Pride Day festivities from 1986 through 1989. I also have memories of Jack Layton acting as auctioneer, auctioning local goods and services from a little makeshift stage behind the 519.

As for some of the Pride Day music I remember, local alternative band The Nancy Sinatras played a set for a couple of years at Pride, where they belted out some wonderfully tacky, kitschy and downright rude songs from the stage set up for the day in the Church Street Beer Store parking lot. The Nancy Sinatras were about as “Queen Street West” as you could get in the late ’80s; they were awesome.

In those days, the AIDS Memorial behind the 519 Church Street Community Centre did not exist. I remember the temporary AIDS memorial that would go up for Pride Day each year before the permanent one became a reality. This was a terrible time in our gay history, with AIDS claiming so many men in those early days.

For this post I had desperately hoped to find some photos I had taken of those early Pride events that took place on Church Street and in Cawthra Park. I slowly perused my carefully curated photo albums (physical pictures… remember those?), but alas could not find any shots of Toronto Pride street scenes from the 1980s, at least none that were of any interest. I do, though, have extensive shots of almost every Pride Parade from 1986 to 2006.

Sooooooo, as to not totally lose the Pride spirit this year, in lieu of a physical Toronto Pride 2020, I offer some good bits from years past to put us in the mood and lift our spirits.

I now present to you Toronto Pride, warts and all. Let’s go back…


On Church Street…

Familiar Faces…

I Love A Parade…

The Music…

Simone Denny, Pride 2016
Melissa Etheridge, World Pride 2014 Opening Ceremony
Purple Disco Machine, Pride 2017
Miss Thelma Houston (Goddess, Diva, Patron Saint of Gay Boys Everywhere), Pride 2008
Boney M., Pride 2017
DJ Kitty Glitter, Drag Ball 2019
Corey Hart, Pride 2012
The Parachute Club, Pride 2008
DJ, Pride 2019

Onstage…

Ah, the memories…


This year I’ll skip “Virtual Pride” but will still proudly fly my rainbow flags from the balcony, trying my best to resurrect the spirit of Pride.

I’d like to end this post with a positive, feel-good message from our Ward 13 City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam; I couldn’t have said it better myself:

When the pandemic is behind us, we will come together again. We will fill the streets, the restaurants, the bars, the civic spaces, the dance floors. And when we do it will be the loudest, most colourful, most fabulous Pride celebration in this city’s history. I look forward to joining you on that day.

AMEN KRISTYN!!!

We will rise again!!

See you at Pride next year!

When Insults Had Class

This is an oldie which has been travelling around the Internet for a while, but is worth preserving here. These glorious insults are from an era that valued cleverness with words; an era when the leaders of society didn’t need to use profanity or the middle finger to make their point.

He had delusions of adequacy

-Walter Kerr


He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire

-Winston Churchill


He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.

-William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway)


I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.

-Mark Twain


He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends.

-Oscar Wilde


I feel so miserable without you; it’s almost like having you here.

-Stephen Bishop


He is a self-made man and worships his creator.

-John Bright


I’ve just learned about his illness. Let’s hope it’s nothing trivial.

-Irvin S. Cobb


He is not only dull himself; he is the cause of dullness in others.

-Samuel Johnson


He is simply a shiver looking for a spine to run up.

-Paul Keating


In order to avoid being called a flirt, she always yielded easily.

-Charles, Count Talleyrand


He loves nature in spite of what it did to him.

-Forrest Tucker


Why do you sit there looking like an envelope without any address on it?

-Mark Twain


His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork.

-Mae West


Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.

-Oscar Wilde


He has Van Gogh’s ear for music.

-Billy Wilder


I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But I’m afraid this wasn’t it.

-Groucho Marx

70s Canadian Rock

The other day I was doing a little food shopping at Rabba. The store had its sound system tuned to Toronto’s retro station Boom 97.3, and they were playing Spaceship Superstar by Prism. Prism!!… whoa…. the memories started flooding back. Ahh… Canadian rock in the early 70s… it was great.

If you were a teen in the 1970s growing up in Canada, AM radio’s pop and rock music was most likely your lifeblood; I know it certainly was mine. There were so very many awesome artists whose music I totally identified with, and that music was (and still is) integral to my life’s soundtrack.

Interestingly, the music from the 70s that matters to me most was from Canadian artists. CanCon (Canadian Content) played a huge role in the Canadian radio airwaves of the 70s and, for once, CRTC actually did a good thing. Thanks to CanCon, so much good Canadian music got a huge boost on our airwaves.

The Bands

I had to sit down and think about the artists and songs from this special era: who meant the most to me? who influenced me? whose music did I relate to? what songs and groups still grab my attention when I hear them at some random location (as in said food store mentioned above)?

To address these burning questions, I’ve come up with the following:

Michel Pagliaro
Best cuts: Lovin’ You Ain’t Easy (1971), Some Sing, Some Dance (1972)

Prism
Best cuts: Take Me Away (1978), See Forever Eyes (1978), You Walked Away Again (1980)

Trooper
Best cuts: Round, Round We Go (1978), The Moment That It Takes (1979), Two For The Show (1976)

April Wine
Best cuts: Oowatanite (1975), Drop Your Guns (1972), You Could Have Been A Lady (1972), Weeping Widow (1973)

Chilliwack
Best cuts: Lonesome Mary (1973)

Streetheart
Best cuts: Action (1978), One More Time (1982), Tin Soldier (1981), What Kind of Love is This? (1982)

Five Man Electrical Band
Best cuts: Coming of Age (1971), Hello Melinda, Goodbye (1970), Absolutely Right (1971), Find the One (1971), Country Girl (1971)

The Guess Who
Best cuts: Sour Suite (1971), These Eyes (1969), Laughing (1969), No Time (1969), Sona Sona (1974), Hand Me Down World (1970), American Woman (1970), Rain Dance (1971)

The Stampeders
Best cuts: Minstrel Gypsy (1973), Oh My Lady (1973), Carryin’ On (1971), Carry Me (1971)

Lighthouse
Best cuts: Pretty Lady (1973), Little Kind Words (1971), 1849 (1971)

Edward Bear
Best cuts: Last Song (1971), You Me & Mexico (1970), Close Your Eyes (1973), Masquerade (1972)

BTO
Best cuts: Takin’ Care of Business (1974), Blue Collar (1973)

Steppenwolf
Best cuts: Snowblind Friend (1970), Sparkle Eyes (1971), In Hopes of a Garden (1971), Magic Carpet Ride (1968), Born To Be Wild (1969)

And then there were one-off little gems like Mashmakhan‘s As The Years Go By (1970) and A Foot In Cold Water‘s beautiful (Make Me Do) Anything You Want (1972), later covered in 1984 by Helix, a Canadian hard rock/metal band.

Honourable Mention

There were so many other Canadian bands and artists I wasn’t in to, per se, but were prevalent on the airwaves and in our collective Canadian music conscience. Groups such as:

  • Rush
  • Max Webster
  • Triumph
  • Harlequin
  • Crowbar
  • Ken Tobias
  • Valdy
  • Ian Thomas
  • The Bells
  • The Poppy Family
  • … And a lesser known group called Painter, from Calgary, who had a hit in 1973 with West Coast Woman
The Era In Media

There is a really great CBC documentary which closely examines this wonderful period of Canadian music. It’s called This Beat Goes On: Canadian Pop Music in the 1970s, and it’s narrated by Jian Ghomeshi before his big, and very public, fall from grace.

There is also a 4-CD box set entitled Oh What A Feeling: A Vital Collection of Canadian Music which includes cuts from many artists of this musical era. I bought the CD (remember those?) when it came out back in 1996, but I don’t know if it’s still available.

Thank you, Canada, for some of the best music of my life 🙂