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The LGBTQ+ history of Edmonton

New website aims to make the city’s
‘hidden’ past visible

The Edmonton Queer History Project’s website is scheduled to go live during MacEwan’s Pride Week. (Courtesy, EQHP)

History is not the past. It is the present. We
carry our history with us. We are our history.
– James Baldwin

By Dustin Scott

MacEWAN UNIVERSITY’S Pride Week is coming up March 7-11, and, to coincide with the event, the Edmonton Queer History Project is launching a new website that includes an interactive map of the city’s LGBTQ+ historic sites, as well as a podcast and news.

“When the building that contained Edmonton’s first gay bar, Club 70, burned down last November it showed that many Edmontonians are unaware of the city’s LGBTQ+ history,” says Dr. Kristopher Wells, an MacEwan professor and founder of the project.

“The idea for the website was critical to us to help make this hidden history visible and accessible to the public. In essence, we wanted to give this history back to the community.”

The map focuses on 27 downtown locations, with articles and photographs explaining each site’s historical significance.

One of the features of the website is an interactive LGBTQ+ map of downtown. (EQHP)

“What I thought was going to be a simple project turned into something so much more, with encyclopedia-style entries,” Wells says. “There was just too much to tell. Once you start digging, you end up with all this information.”

Each article can be downloaded as a PDF including a list of references.

“We wanted to show the academic rigour and the work that went into the project and to show our sources,” Wells says. “Also, to leave an archival record for anyone that wants to continue to investigate this history and to build the layers over time.”

The map starts with Michael Phair Park, because “so much of Edmonton’s LGBTQ+ history starts with Michael Phair.”

Phair, who was Edmonton’s first openly gay member of the city council, is an adjunct professor at the University of Alberta with the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services and his community advocacy.

The website doesn’t shy away from any subject, but sets out to tell the history as accurately as possible – and this history couldn’t be told without explaining the impact of AIDS/HIV on the community.

“With all of those losses, we lost a significant amount of that history as well,” Wells says. “So, we wanted to be as careful and considerate as we tell those stories. Making sure the site was as accurate as possible is one way of doing that.”

The website also includes the podcast From Here to Queer, hosted by queer historian, award-winning playwright, composer, and drag artiste Darrin Hagen, joined by multi-talented sound artist Dave Clarke.

The project organizers are working with the City of Edmonton to mark each one of the 27 locations with plaques, so they are visibly part of Edmonton’s history.

“We hope to have QR codes on the plaques that people can scan and learn the history of each location.”

Along with a history and timeline of Edmonton’s pride festival, the website features a series of videos, news, and events, and links to news articles and other information about each location on the map.


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