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!

Boxing Day

For any American or European readers not familiar with some of Canada’s holidays, we celebrate Boxing Day in our country.

Boxing Day is a federal statutory holiday which always falls on the day after Christmas. All banks, government agencies, etc. are closed on this day. Boxing Day originated in the UK and is celebrated in the countries that, at one time, were part ofBoxing2 the British Empire (Canada remains one of the Commonwealth nations of Britain).

It seems no one is absolutely certain about the origins of Boxing Day. The popular theory is that the tradition originated in Britain in the early 19th century. The day after Christmas was set aside for those in service occupations (postmen, errand boys, servants) who would receive a “Christmas Box” for their good service throughout the year. According to Wikipedia, this custom is linked to an even older British tradition: since servants had to wait on their wealthy masters on Christmas Day, the servants were allowed the next day to visit their families. The employers would give each servant a box to take home containing gifts, bonuses, and sometimes leftover food. These days, if you don’t see your friends and family on Christmas, then Boxing Day is the time to get together.

In a retail/shopping sense, Boxing Day to Canadians is what Black Friday is to Americans. Boxing day concept background, realistic styleOn Boxing Day (these days expanded to “Boxing Week”), one can find the best deals of the year on almost anything, but the really deep discounts are usually on electronics such as TVs, mobile phones, stereos, etc. Many retailers open very early (5:00AM or earlier) and offer door-crasher deals to draw people to their stores. Long lines form early in the morning of December 26, hours before the opening of shops holding the big sales; this especially holds true for the big-box electronic stores (Best Buy et al). Shoppers’ behaviour can become very “un-Canadian” in the stores during the retail madness of Boxing Day, as it can be “kill or be killed” in some retail outlets. Many stores have their most profitable day of the year on Boxing Day.

Personally, I love Boxing Day – it’s another chance to eat Christmas leftovers!

Boxing3

Christmas Windows

I’d been meaning to capture The Bay’s Christmas window displays at night for quite a while now so I took a little spin down to Yonge and Queen last night to see this year’s offerings.

The windows are quite good this year but, sadly, not nearly as extensive as they were prior to the merger of Saks Fifth Avenue in the same building. Prior to Saks, the Christmas windows continued all along Queen Street East and rounded the corner on to Yonge Street. Nevertheless, it was fun to shoot these charming displays:

Rick’s 65th Birthday

The Sunshine Boy Turns 65!!

Yes, it was Rick’s big day, and a number of people got together to throw him a party for the occasion. We had a lot of fun with the “photo booth”, in which people were photographed holding signs of some of Rick’s famous (and infamous) sayings. It was a great party! 🙂

June 9, 2018

Today Is World AIDS Day

Created in 1988, World AIDS Day takes place on December 1st of each year. The Day is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, to show support for people living with HIV, and to commemorate those who have died from an AIDS-related illness.

World AIDS Day is important because it reminds the public and government that HIV has not gone away – there is still a vital need to raise money, increase awareness, fight prejudice and improve education.

Never Forget

Today is Remembrance Day, and I’d like to pay tribute to my uncle George Quartly (my mother’s brother), killed in World War II. I never knew my uncle George as he died many years before I was born, but I had heard a lot about him over the years. I understand he was quite young when he was sent overseas to fight in the war.

George Quartly photo in uniform
George Clifford Quartly

George was in Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI), R.C.I.C., Company C. He was killed near Monte Cassino, Italy (probably in the valley of the Liri River) on May 23, 1944, during the Battle of Monte Cassino. Uncle George had been carrying a Bangalore Torpedo up to the front line wire entanglement where he was to throw it at the Germans. The Germans opened fire and he lost his life at the age of 21.

George Clifford Quartly gravestone in Cassino War Cemetary
George Quartly is buried in Cassino War Cemetery, Cassino, Italy, Plot 9, A20.

Growing up, I remember being told that my grandmother never got over losing one of her young sons to the war; she mourned George for the rest of her life.

Uncle George was one of the thousands of great heroes who gave their lives so we could be free.