Wednesday, 9 November 2016





The series of digital stories about Toronto history and culture which make up this project are the work of fifty-three Master of Museum Studies (MMSt) graduate students. The project was inspired by the 2015 Myseum Intersections – Telling Toronto’s Stories and invited each storyteller to select an object from local collections which has significance to Toronto’s past and present. The objects inspired the authors to connect historical events with contemporary context so that they tell stories about the multiple intersections that happen in the city.

Musings will be posting collected stories once a cycle. We hope that, after reading the stories, you will know Toronto a little bit better. And perhaps you will find similar stories in your own objects!

Our partners for this project, to which we are extremely thankful, are:

Now, without further ado, object stories from the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives.



The Body Politic is a fitting title for a journal dedicated to sexuality and politics. Indeed, The Body Politic was a publication at the forefront of sexual liberation and equal rights for the gay community in the 70s and 80s. Founded as a highly political journal by members of Toronto Gay Action, The Body Politic wanted to bring the lesbian and gay community together, but the journal also wanted to change society’s views about sexuality. Michael Connors Jackman, a PhD candidate in social anthropology at York University, writes that “The paper was a social experiment, an intellectual engagement, and a political project aimed at changing the world.” The members, most notably Charles Dobie and Jearld Moldenhauer, started the collective when, according to Moldenhauer, the group realized that the gay community needed its own public voice.

The goal of these activists was to help gay men and women come out from hiding so that they too could be a part of the gay liberation movement. Creating a journal was thought to be the best way to reach out. If we look at the articles published in the journal, we can see that a strong focus was put on sexual politics, gay rights, and education: “Porn at the Clarke,” “Men Loving Boys Loving Men,” “Sexual Politics: A Manifesto for Revolution,” and “Strategy for Gay Liberation,” are just a sample of the not-so-shy articles. Even though the team wanted to bring an open and positive discussion of controversial topics, the journal sometimes gained negative attention for their provocative articles on sexuality. Unfortunately, the publication closed in 1987 because of financial instability.
The Body Politic, Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives. Personal photograph by author. 
I had the chance to look through the very first issue of The Body Politic at the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives. The articles in this issue focus on gay liberation, urging the men and women of Toronto’s gay community to stand up for their rights and freedoms. One article called “We Demand” presents a list of concerns and demands from homosexuals to the Federal Government of Canada, while “Closet door, closet door, you ain’t got me no more!” asserts that gays will have to work for their justice, equality, and freedom by coming out of the closet. While flipping through the issue, I wondered if the publication was actually able to change Toronto’s views. Did these efforts challenge society’s views about sexuality? How strongly did the journal impact the gay and lesbian community? I believe that with 16 years of publication, The Body Politic must have opened the door to a more positive and engaging dialogue about sexuality and gay rights. Whether they were successful in bringing change or not, Toronto, today, is a more inclusive, free, and open-minded city regarding gay rights and sexuality.

Bradburn, J. (2015, February 15). Historicist: I Sing The Body Politic. Torontoist (Toronto). Retrieved from

Connors Jackman, M. (2011, October 20). The Body Politic: At the genesis of sexual liberation in Canada. Xtra (Toronto) 704, 17-21. Retrieved from



Toronto Star’s Brent Ledger writes that “even by Toronto standards, local gay history and heritage tends to disappear fast, leaving only ghost landmarks in its wake”. In the 1930s, the Toronto theatre scene was buzzing with bohemian energy, serving as an escape from the Great Depression. The arts and the fantastical representations of stories through costumes and set design were the perfect distraction from the time’s hardship. In the 1930’s, many of Toronto’s theatres were located along parts of Yonge St. and Church St., in the area that is now associated with Toronto’s Gay Village.

Toronto of the 1930s, Yonge Looking south of Bloor. Photgrapher Unknown. 

A major player in the 1930’s Toronto theatre scene was Toronto-native Ronald McRae, commonly referred to as Ronnie McRae. Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (CLGA) librarian Kevin Manual recounts, “There isn’t much information about his life, he’s sort of a man of mystery”. What is sure is that Ronald McRae was extremely important in the development of Toronto’s theatre scene as a safe space for the performance of gay identity.

Throughout Ronnie McRae’s life, his friends described him as eccentric, often participating in Drag Balls in the 1920s and 1930s in New York City and Chicago. His close friend Fred Sproule described Ronnie at a party as an:

“apparition coming down Fifth Avenue, I’ll never forget it, if there had been a hole in the street, I’d have dropped into it, he had a Persian lamb coat on, practically to the ground, with the biggest frogs you ever saw, and I thought: My God that can’t be anybody else in the world by Ron McRae, and sure enough it was!”

Ronald McRae was an active member of the arts community in Toronto, but was known internationally, often working in New York City in the late 1920 and early 1930s as an openly gay man. At that time, he designed costumes for the National Ballet of Canada and also for figure skaters who performed at Maple Leaf Gardens. CLGA owns some of McRae’s illustrations in an album of around 50 gouache watercolors depicting theatre costume designs for “women”. Upon a closer look at the watercolors, all the women seem to have masculine builds, and are wearing overly exaggerated heavy makeup. This album was not for women as it depicted men in women’s dress.

Ronald McRae’s Illustrations from the album “Women”,
found at the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives. Photos by: Justine Kicek.

His own dress and his illustrations of drag queens blurred and played with boundaries similar to how present day drag queens free people’s minds and educate publics through their performances. Ronald McRae’s creativity and lifestyle are part of the history of a neighborhood that evolved from an art space, to a space for the inclusion of gay identity.

Crews and Tangos Miss Crews 2015. Photos by: Krys Cee*.
Eight-five years later, his designs are still relevant for gay communities due to the popularization of drag shows that feature fabulous costumes, over–the-top personalities, and extravagance theatrics put on at places such as Crews and Tangos located at 508 Church St.

A special Thank you goes to Kevin Manuel, and the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives for allowing access to the archives.

Works Consulted
Lesbian and Gay Heritage of Toronto. Canadian Gay Archives, 5(16). Ronnie McRae.

McKinnie, M. (2001). Urban National, Suburban Transnational: Civic Theatres and the Urban Development of Toronto’s Downtowns. Theatre Journal, 52(2), 253-276.

Sibalis, M. (2004).Urban Space and Homosexuality: The Example of the Marais, Paris’ ‘Gay Ghetto’. Urban Studies,41(9), 1739-1758.

Toronto, Trans-Canada Press (1951). The Canadian Who’s Who… Toronto Trans- Canada Press, Vol. 5 (1949-1951).



Lavender Librarian membership pamphlet. Photo by author.

Interior of the Lavender Librarian membership pamphlet,
with organizational background and mandate. Photo by author

Resource guide on the reverse of the Lavender Librarian
membership pamphlet. Photo by author.
In the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives there is a slim file for the Lavender Librarians. Inside is a barrel-folded pamphlet, printed on lavender cardstock. The name references a traditional colour of non-hetronormativity. As a sign of its ubiquity, there are 51 periodicals in the CLGA with Lavender in the title, spanning all genders and orientations, from the 70s to the mid 2010’s. The Lavender Librarians was a short-lived group started in 1993, their mandate to actively promote positive information on the LGBT communities, specifically in libraries, and to promote a network of information professionals focused on LGBT topics. [1]

1993 was on a cusp in LGBT history. The Equality Rights Statute Amendment Act, which would have legalized same-sex spousal in Ontario, was being written. This legislation would have guaranteed spousal rights to same-sex couples, a benefit prevalent in the private sector. [2] While ultimately defeated, it was an important milestone for LGBT rights in Ontario. Also in 1993, CBC radio airs The Last Closet only a few months after a LGBT spa in Toronto is bombed.

The Librarians’ principles of equality of access to information and combating censorship through exclusion were particularly poignant at that moment. Libraries didn’t acquire LGBT fiction, which wasn’t a properly listed subject heading at that time. This was during a time when AIDS was still a fatal disease and it was still associated with gay men. [3] LGBT subject headings still dealt primarily with legal or psychology, so finding LGBT-friendly fiction was difficult. [4] To counter this reality, the Lavender Librarians successfully lobbied the Toronto Public Library to add activity of the Gay and Lesbian Collection to their publications and wrote against the Hamilton Public Library’s exclusion of Xtra!, Toronto’s primary gay newspaper. [5] Adding accessibility LGBT-friendly material was meant to shift the negative association and provide positive models for LGBT library patrons, especially youth.

The Toronto Public Library’s Gay and Lesbian Collection, now the LGBT Collection, is in the Yorkville branch of the institution. A finding guide for fiction and teen is available on site.

The Lavender Librarians disbanded in 1994 due to lack of membership. However, Norman Kester, their coordinator, immediately started interviewing and collecting writings about queer librarians. In 1997, McFarland & Company published Liberating Minds.

1. Lavender Librarian (1993) [Strategic Plan] Lavender Librarians: File 1. Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives: Toronto.

2. Rae, Bob. (Jun 9, 1994) Hearing on the Equality Rights Statue Law Amendment Act, 1994. Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Retrieved November 26, 2015 < >

3. Herek, G.H & Capitinio, J.P. (1999) AIDS Stigma and Sexual Prejudice in American Behavioural Scientist 42 pp 1126-1143. Retrieved Nov 25, 2015 <> 1126.

4. Turner, D.A. (1997) Community Pressures to Censor Gay and Lesbian Materials. in Liberating Minds: the Stories and Professional Lives of Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Librarians and their Advocates, Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 150.

5. Kester, Norman. (1997) Out & Proud in the Public Library. in Liberating Minds: the Stories and Professional Lives of Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Librarians and their Advocates, Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 183, 189.

6. ibid, 188.

7. Lavender Librarian (1994) [Newsletter] Lavender Librarians: File 1. Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives: Toronto.


Overhead view of the ROTC twirling rifles at the CGLA.
Taken by Alex Robichaud.
Close-up of damage. Taken by Alex Robichaud.
Above are photos of two wooden twirling rifles that were once used by the Righteously Outrageous Twirling Corps (ROTC), a Toronto division of the LGBTQ precision color guard units known in other cities such as Chicago and Seattle. Unfortunately, the rifles were twirled by ROTC members this year during their last Toronto Pride Parade, and have since been donated to the Canadian Gay and Lesbian Archives (CGLA) in Toronto.

The ROTC, a name derived from a cheeky play on the title of the U.S. military’s Reserved Officer Training Corps, was considered Toronto’s first openly gay precision color guard unit. Precision color guards are derived from military parade groups and can be recognized as the performers who proudly display their colors by spinning flags, rifles, and sabers. The ROTC was known for the incorporation of popular music and the iconic rainbow flag into these traditional color guard performances, becoming a staple of Toronto’s annual Gay Pride Parade.
Final group photo of the ROTC during their last Toronto Pride Parade performance in 2015. 
Via ROTC’s Official Facebook Page.
In 1995, the ROTC Toronto performed for the very first time at Pride. The founder of the ROTC, Michael Grimes, claimed that “we just wanted to show people that not all gays were freaks—because [the parade] really was a freak show back then.” Grimes’ vision that twirling could be a way to promote acceptance of the LGBTQ community lead to the formation of the ROTC’s mandate to create “positive image of gays and lesbians both within, and outside of Toronto’s [LGBTQ] community,” a central goal of group’s operations over the past 20 years.

In a commitment to community outreach, the ROTC toured annually throughout the Ontario region, becoming an important component of various local Christmas parades, festivals, and fairs. Robert Maglione, former president of the ROTC, recalls the visible impact these performances had on people living outside of Toronto and noted the connection the group brought to “gay and lesbian people who would be shocked to see the pride flag coming down the street in their little town.”

But the ROTC did not stop in Ontario—

Recently, two members of the ROTC travelled to Washington D.C. to join The Lesbian and Gay Band Association for a performance at Barack Obama’s 2nd inauguration. This opportunity allowed members of ROTC Toronto to expand their creativity to an entirely new audience and gain recognition of the significant role the ROTC has played in representing the LGBTQ community.

Sadly, after 20 rewarding years, senior members of the ROTC were ready to step down, making June 28th 2015 the last day the group would perform at the Toronto Pride Parade. Although the rifles now sit motionless in the archives, the connections made by the ROTC live on through the stories these objects can tell, stories that are now part of an on-going LGBTQ history in Toronto.

Chambers, S. (2014, July 9). WorldPride special: An LGBT history of Toronto. Retrieved November 16, 2015, from and-bad-key-queer-events-in-toronto/article19239709/ 

Coreless, T. (1997). Give it a Twirl. FAB Magazine.

Gardiner, H. (2015, May 28). Righteously Outrageous Twirling Corps - Toronto. Retrieved November 16, 2015, from

Lesbian and Gay Band Association. (2012). Retrieved November 16, 2015, from

Mackay, B. (2001, January 8). We're just like everyone else-- except we spin things. National Post.

Members of ROTC march during Obama's 2nd inauguration in Washington, D.C. (2013, February 14). The Mirror.

Parades & Marches. (2015). Retrieved November 16, 2015, from

ROTC Chicago Flickr. (n.d.). Retrieved December 1, 2015, from

ROTC Brochure. (1996). Righteously Outrageous Twirling Corps.

ROTC To Cease Operations in July. (2015, May 29). Retrieved October 30, 2015, from

Righteously Outrageous Twirling Corps. (1996). Xtra! Magazine, 294-294.
Ryan, P. (1994, June 16). Ont. says 'no' to same-sex legislation Bill 167 defeated 68-59. Retrieved November 16, 2015, from family/ont-says-‘no’-to-same-sex-legislation-bill-167-defeated-68-59/

"Saratoga High School Marching Band & Color Guard Macy's Thanksgiving Parade 2012." YouTube. YouTube. Web. 1 Dec. 2015. <>.

"Seattle Pride Parade 2104 Highlights - Righteously Outrageous Twirling Corps." YouTube. YouTube. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.

Smith, D. (1997, June 1). Twirling with the ROTC. Siren Magazine, 2-2. 



A routine police raid on the Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969 launched six days of riots and protests. The Stonewall Inn was a popular gay bar in New York, and like other gay bars, it survived many raids in its lifetime. In 1969, the raids caused quite the storm with the gay community in New York, making this moment one of the most visible in the fight for gay rights in the Big Apple. In fact, the Stonewall Riots, as they came to be called, galvanized and motivated LGBT rights movements to emerge across the world. The riots were commemorated, starting in 1970, with parades, and from this the modern gay pride parade was born. In New York, and as we will see, in Amsterdam and Toronto, the LGBT communities stood up and marched through the streets with pride.

The Dutch LGBT rights movement was spearheaded by the COC (Cultuur en Ontspanningscentrum or the Center for Culture and Leisure). This organization held the first gay pride event in Amsterdam on June 25, 1977 to commemorate the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, which had occurred eight years before.

Like ‘Pink Saturday’ in the Netherlands, Toronto’s Gay Pride is held annualy during the last week of June. While the LGBT rights movement existed in Canada before 1981, Toronto’s first Pride Parade was held in 1981 after the Bathhouse Raids. Like the raid on the Stonewall Inn, on the night of February 5, 1981, Toronto police raided several bathhouses and arrested almost three-hundred men for being found in a bawdyhouse, which, at that time, was considered a misdemeanor charge. Riots followed the raids and the LGBT community renewed their motivation to seek equal treatment by police and the law. That spring, Toronto hosted its first Pride Parade to commemorate both the Stonewall and Bathhouse raids.

Even before Toronto had a gay pride parade, it had the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (CLGA). The CLGA has played an active and important role in Toronto’s, and Canada’s, LGBT community since its foundation in 1973. It does most of its work with the support of a vibrant volunteer core, and benefits from an invested and involved community. Their collections contain many historically significant artefacts, but I was immediately drawn to a Dutch poster advertising “Internationale Homodag ‘80”, which literally translates as ‘international gay day’. It was advertising the fourth annual gay pride parade, which in the Netherlands is called “Pink Saturday”.
“Internationale Homodag ‘80”, from the CLGA.
Photo credit: Katherine Seally. 
One of the most interesting things about this poster is the mystery of how it made its way to Canada. The volunteer archivist at the CLGA proposed that it was most likely brought to Toronto by a Dutch delegation to the 7th annual International Gay Association conference, held in Toronto in June 1985. Unfortunately, since there is no documentation associated with the poster, exactly how it ended up in the CLGA will have to remain a mystery, at least for the time being.

Works Cited
(2011 Feb 3). The 1981 Toronto bathhouse riots: Looking back on 30 years of gay liberation. Daily Xtra. Retrieved from

Alstad, M. (Producer). (nd). The Body Politic: 1981. Queerstory. Video retrieved on 5 Nov 2015, from

International Lesbian and Gay Association. (2013). ILGA 1978-2007. Accessed 5 Nov 2015, from

Reguliersdwarsstraat. (2015). History: Amsterdam Gay Pride. Accessed 5 Nov 2015, from

Thomas, Nicki. (2011 Feb 4). Thirty years after the bathhouse raids. The Toronto Star. Retrieved from the_bathhouse_raids.html 



The Canadian Lesbian & Gay Archives (CLGA) collects many LGBTQ stories. Among them, I found a story of the rise and fall of the Roman Baths, one of the most famous bathhouses in Toronto. Its story reveals a less known socializing space for members of the gay communities, and speaks to the changing situation of gay rights during the 1960s–1990s.

A glossy colored poster of the Roman Baths,
1978(?), 59×76cm. ©Lou Yang
The CLGA has collected a poster of the Roman Baths , showing its luxurious interior and its location at 740 Bay Street. In 1964, the newly opened Roman Baths became one of the largest modern bathhouses in Canada, a landmark of Toronto. [1] How many copies of the poster were printed in its heyday is hard to estimate.

Sauna, massage and other services listed on the poster look familiar. However, bathhouses back in the 1960s had very specific functions. The CLGA archivist Alan Miller disclosed the activities in bathhouses: Before gay bars became popular, bathhouses were the major socializing space for many members of the gay communities. It was common that sexual activities happened regularly inside the bathhouses. These spaces were a shelter from the outside world, where many gays were hardly respected. Looking closely at the plan of Roman Baths , we can find that the public space like sauna room only occupied less than a quarter, while the rest were all separate rooms for private use.

The floor plan of the Roman Baths, sealed on a green paper,
perhaps removed from the steam house. ©Lou Yang
The 1970s saw the rise of bathhouses in North America. [2] The poster appeared as an advertisement in The Advocate , the oldest American LGBT-interest magazine based on Los Angeles. It seemed common for gay people to travel all the way from the west coast to enjoy a day at the “spa” in Toronto. However, their rights were sometimes threatened and had to be defended. 
The black-and-white advertisement of the Roman Baths
in The Advocate, February 3, 1971, issue 52. ©Lou Yang
The year 1981 witnessed some unfortunate police raids against four gay bathhouses, and the Roman Bath was one of them. 286 men were arrested. [3] Before that day, small raids already created unease, including a roundup in 1978 at the Barracks, another popular Toronto bathhouse, and a monitored washroom at Greenwin Square throughout 1979. [4] After that night, a march was organized at Yonge and Wellesley to protest police’s excessive violence. Next year, the city held its first Pride parade, which evolved into Toronto’s current Pride Week. The bathhouse raids marked a major turning point in the LGBTQ+ history in Canada. [5]

The Roman Baths closed down in 1989. [6] However, Spa Excess appears in Toronto as the present-day Roman Baths. “Implicit rules are observed in the old way; the police just ignore it in a tacit agreement,” Alan Miller concluded with a smile.

1. Donald W. McLeod. (1996). Lesbian & gay liberation in Canada: a selected annotated chronology 1964-1975. Toronto: ECW Press.
2. Laura Armstrong. (2014). A new reality for Toronto’s bathhouses. Retrieved from
3. Jamie Bradburn. (2011). Historicist: raiding the bathhouses. Retrieved from
4. Jamie Bradburn. (2011). Historicist: raiding the bathhouses. Retrieved from
5. Irwin, N. (2005, June 23). Flaunting the past. Xtra (Toronto). p. 13.
6. –(1989). Liquidation sale- Roman’s Ⅱ health and rec. centre. –(unknown newspaper)

*Editor's Note: In an earlier version of this article, the photo of Crews and Tangos, Miss Crews 2015 by Krys Cee was erroneously listed as Crews & Tangos, Drag Race 2014 by Cat Grant. This information was incorrect and we sincerely apologize for the error.

1 comment:

  1. Now day, everything is going to find a new but well settled and successful stream for their career. When I came to this blog, I really impressed by all the knowledge points mentioned here. Thank you for this assistance.
    Sex video