Len & Cub

A Queer History

Reviewed by Nelle Oosterom

Posted September 15, 2022

As this book reminds us many times, queer history is not well documented. So it’s surprising to discover photographs from the early twentieth century that portray two young men in an intimate relationship — in rural New Brunswick yet. How likely is that?

The pictures were acquired by the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick in 2011. The donor described the young couple in the photos — Leonard (Len) Keith and Joseph (Cub) Coates — as “boyfriends.” The images are the result of Keith’s passion for amateur photography and show the pair with arms draped around each other, engaged in activities like camping, drinking, driving, skating, boating, and lounging around on hammocks, beds, and blankets on the ground.

They did everything together, including military service during the First World War. But, aside from the photos, information about them is sketchy. All we know is that their relationship probably ended in the late 1920s: Keith was driven out of Havelock (formerly Butternut Ridge), New Brunswick, in 1931 after being outed, and Coates eventually married a woman.

Faced with scant information, the authors engage in some guesswork. For instance, they describe both men as “kind” but offer little evidence for that. They are on firmer ground when describing the context in which the men lived. Their community probably chose to view them as close chums. However, social intolerance hardened during the 1930s, and this may have contributed to Keith’s banishment.

The strongest elements of this book are the photographs and the moments of affection they capture. These images speak for themselves.

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This article originally appeared in the October-November 2022 issue of Canada’s History.

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