When Kevin Allen realized little was known about the history of Calgary’s LGBTQ community, it led him on a personal mission to uncover stories that had been buried for decades and to bring them to the surface.
Allen is the founder of the Calgary Gay History Project, a venture that tells hidden stories from his city’s past.
“It started in 2012, and it came out of curiosity,” Allen said. “I’m a fourth-generation Calgary resident, and one day I was asking my parents, where did gay
people hang out and what did they do
back in the 1970s?”
“My dad said he knew gay men used to hang out and drink at the Palliser Hotel in an underground club in the basement and that got me really curious and led me down this rabbit hole that all led to the project.”
Homosexual acts were criminalized in Canada until the passing of Bill C-150 in 1969, which meant that many older members of Calgary’s gay community had stories that had never been shared, Allen said.
“The initial inspiration was to recover the stories and to preserve them. These stories are buried, and that’s the case across the country, because we were a criminalized minority. So the stakes were very high.”
The stories he has uncovered appear on the Calgary Gay History Project website (calgarygayhistory.ca), which features articles on everything from Calgary’s first pride parade to the story of two lesbian softball teams in the city that competed in the 1960s.
In 2019 Allen published a book on the subject, Our Past Matters: Stories of Gay Calgary, and the same year the Calgary Gay History Project made the 2019 short list for the Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Community Programming.
Allen says the history project has brought happiness and, in many cases, relief, to members of Calgary’s gay community.
“These stories finally coming out has been a source of great joy,” Allen said. “The project gets a lot of love from the elderly community, and it has really filled a niche, because it was something that for so long was missing.”