I had the honour of attending on behalf of the project the Governor General’s History Awards and Forum October 15-17. The Calgary’s Gay History project was a finalist/Honourary Mention in the category of community programming.
The awards were organized by Canada’s History, an amazing group of people who are committed to making Canada’s history accessible to all. The awards were presented at a ceremony at Rideau Hall, on October 16th. The 20th Governor General’s History Awards honour exceptional achievements in five areas: teaching, museums, community programming, scholarly research, and popular media.
I decided that I should not torture everyone with a slideshow of every building and tree on the trip. (Although Ottawa is pretty amazing) I’m breaking through the fourth wall and sharing with our researchers, readers and supporters of the project because there were more than a few things I learned in Ottawa that relate to our project:
First, that people are very excited and pleased that this project is happening. I’ve never received so much support and feel-good moments about the History project in a row. No, it was not a love-in where there were disingenuous moments littered all over the street.
Attendees, award recipients and judges were honestly interested in the Calgary Gay History project. They asked probing questions, wanted to know what was next, and shared their own thoughts on the project. The judges for our category all were adamant that we attend, were glad we were there, and made me promise we’d reapply for the GGs.
The sweetest moment ever was the all too brief handshake and 30 second conversation I had with the Governor General of Canada, his Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston.
As an honourable mention, I could not meet him formally as the award winners did. He was being shepherded off when he asked me who I was and what brought me to Rideau Hall. I just said the Calgary Gay History project, and he said with a pat on my arm, “Good. It’s about time. Keep doing the work you are.” Yeah. I got misty.
Second, that there is a huge interest and hunger from outside the LGTBQQ-2 Spirit community for these stories. We often forget that what we are doing is local history for Calgarians and Canadians about Calgarians. This is not a closed circle where only certain people with a special card get in to be a part of.
At the massive dinner in the Museum of Civilization to celebrate the awards, I sat next to a man who served in the Air Force for 25 years and then became a very wealthy airplane manufacture. He was there with his wife, their daughter and husband. I sense he gave a great deal of money to projects in military history.
Why would some old, white, straight, rich man take the time to talk to me about Calgary’s gay history? He did. He listened to our story of the project, asked what happened here during the de-criminalization period, and what was going on now.
He said at one point that these local histories provide massive insight into the daily lives of Canadians and are part of an overall narrative that we cannot ignore anymore. Again I got misty-eye. (Yes I’m getting old and soft. Love it)
Third, that there are people across Canada doing what we are doing and we can all learn from each other. I met the teachers and other local historians that received their awards.
These people go into the classroom and try to make history alive and relevant to their students. They get the kids involved in projects, like the community award winning Coyote Flats Oral History Project. Their oral history program directly involves the students speaking with elders in their community. The project resulted in strong partnerships, mentorship opportunities between seniors and youth, unique hands-on learning for students, and an engaged community appreciating its history.
The Gay History project already partners with so many community organizations, but I hope in the future we can work more with youth in the Queer community and get them as interested in their own history as these kids are in Picture Butte, Alberta.
The results then from the trip is a renewal of my own energy for the project, some ideas on programming, and a push to get our book out, as I made promises to many at the GGs that we’d deliver.
(Much thanks to Kevin Allen, the rest of the collective, Canada’s History, and the Governor General Awards Judges.)
About the Calgary Gay History Project by Kevin Allen
The Calgary Gay History Project is a community led, grass roots, initiative exploring the city’s LGBTQ existence throughout the 20th century. Long known as a city of cowboys and oilmen, the project expounds a new, largely unknown, narrative of underground communities and courageous activists.
By delving through local and national archives and oral history interviews with LGBTQ elders, the Calgary Gay History Project is creating a story of another Calgary that has proved popular and interesting. Through public presentations, gay history walks and the collection of materials for a future archives, the Project connects to a larger community and disseminates its research.
The Project has spun off ancillary gay history cultural events in theatre, music, film, and museum studies, working with Third Street Theatre, One Voice Chorus, the Calgary Society of Independent Filmmakers and the Royal Alberta Museum respectively.
The Project has attracted a dedicated volunteer corps who conduct ancillary historical research and support Calgary Gay History Project programming events.
In September 2014, the project launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a history publication and support a year’s research sabbatical for project lead Kevin Allen. 163 backers pledged $20,051 to help bring this project to life.
Furthermore, the project operates a successful website, posting news and research that now attracts 10,000 visitors per year (15,000 page views). The website was recently cited by Nelson Education Ltd. in their Grade 10 history textbook, History Uncovered. The project is also active on social media connecting to other queer history researchers nationally and internationally.
In 2015, the Project will convene the organizers of the first Pride Rally in Calgary (1990) for a historic panel discussion in honour of Pride Calgary’s 25th anniversary.