Well, here we are. One year later and still no physical Pride events, here or elsewhere for that matter, thanks to COVID-19 and the state of the world these days <boo, hiss….>.

Regardless, I’ve been thinking about how I could mark this year’s non-event. I could pout and rage (which I feel like doing), but it would be more productive and positive to put together some little tribute to Pride and celebrate in my own way. (By the way, if you’d like to see my Pride retrospective from last year, you can check it out here.)

Rainbow Flag Raising at City Hall

On June 1st this year, the City of Toronto proclaimed Pride Month and raised the Rainbow and Transgender flags at City Hall. Due to current COVID-19 restrictions, this year’s ceremony was pre-recorded and held virtually. In the video below, Mayor John Tory is joined by Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam (Toronto Centre), Grant Gonzales and Yuri Hernandez from Pride Toronto’s Board of Directors, and Pride Toronto Executive Director Sherwin Modeste. They share messages of solidarity and reflect on milestones being marked this year by Toronto’s 2SLGBTQ+ community, including the 40th anniversary of Pride Toronto and the 30th anniversary of the City proclaiming Pride Day.

YouTube Livestream Virtual Parade

On Sunday, June 27, 2021 from 2:00-3:00PM, there will a live “Virtual Pride Parade”. Personally, I can’t imagine it, but if interested, it can be found here. Myself, I’m waiting for the real thing next year.

Toronto Pride: Looking Back Once More

So after touching on a couple of things from our current, grotesquely hobbled Pride (and no, I won’t go off on my usual rant), I’ll go back in time as I’m wont to do, to Toronto Pride weekends of the past. Specifically, I thought I’d reminisce a bit about those wonderful GCDC (Gay Community Dance Committee) dances at The Masonic Temple, aka The Concert Hall, at 888 Yonge Street (corner of Yonge and Davenport).

Those dances were great. From roughly 1981 until 1992, they went from 9:00 PM to 5:00AM; there weren’t that many after-hours gay clubs at the time, so it felt slightly radical to be able to dance almost until dawn. There was a major GCDC dance event (and they truly were Events with a capital E) at least a couple of times a year, and the Toronto Pride GCDC dances, especially, were the highlight of the year. The GCDC dances eventually attracted up to 2,000 party-minded people, raking in up to $10,000 each time. As I understand it, the money was split among community groups who gave back to the gay community.

The Masonic Temple in its remodelled form. I took this shot during Toronto’s Doors Open event, May 2015. Sadly, the former Temple/Hall has been converted into office spaces for trendoid companies.

Gay Liberation on the Dance Floor

Our gay community was quite different at the time; it wasn’t the diverse cultural melting pot we see on Church Street today. Even so, the dances were incredible as they brought together so many segments of our community at the same time. Those dance parties were galvanizing, unifying and liberating: they consisted of gay men and lesbians who simply wanted – and loved – to come together to dance.

The dances were apolitical and simply all about fun, dancing and good times, yet they also helped shape Toronto’s gay and lesbian community into what we enjoy today. At the Masonic Hall/Temple, men had the main floor of the Hall, which was massive (I well remember the towering speakers, pulsing lights and lasers), and the lesbians had their own DJs, bar and party in the lower level. There was, and still is, a second floor balcony where you could climb up to get out of the mass of people, and just observe the goings-on on the dance floor below:

A small segment of the upper balcony in the Masonic Temple, May 2015. Massively remodelled for the current office tenants.

The music at those GCDC dances was great. Personally I’ll never forget sweating to Jimmy Somerville’s cover of Never Can Say Goodbye at more than a couple of the events. Here’s a sound sampler on Mixcloud from the November 1, 1986 GCDC Dance at the Masonic Temple, themed I Never Touched The Witch:

As an aside, Mixcloud is a great site if you want to hear what was actually being played in Toronto’s gay clubs at the time. On the Mixcloud page above, there’s two October 14, 1995 sets by DJ Allan Kaufman at Club Colby’s (formerly Katrina’s), and a June 1983 set by DJ Greg Howlett at Club Mystique (after-hours club behind the Manatee on Phipps Street). Oh, I do remember dancing in those clubs back in the day <heaves heavy sigh>… but I digress…

I still remember so well, sadly, when the GCDC dances came to an end once and for all. Appropriately themed The Last Dance, the Masonic Hall played host one last time to the very last GCDC dance at Pride, June 1992. And, of course, I shouldn’t have to tell you what the very last song on the setlist was that night: queue Miss Donna and Last Dance:

GCDC’s Last Dance souvenir T-Shirt

I’ll never forget walking back home at 4:30 in the morning after The Last Dance, up Park Road to our place on Huntley Street, my mind and body still electrified and energized by 6 hours of 130 beats per minute. I remember having a bittersweet mixture of afterglow from the great party combined with the knowledge that a GCDC dance would never happen again.

This weekend I have again proudly hung my Rainbow Flags on the balcony, and will try to get in to the spirit of things. I can’t help looking ahead to next year, though, when things should get back to relative normality. If that’s the case, we’ll have a Pride unlike any other… it will be a hell of a party. Until then, I remain waiting in anticipation… 🙂

Happy Pride, Toronto!!

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