Saturday, 1 July 2017

Pride in Canada

Today is Canada Day and this year the nation is celebrating its 150th anniversary.

I have a personal affection for Canada. My paternal grandfather lived in a village called Newton Brook near Toronto (now one of the suburbs) until 1911. Two of his brothers remained and I have relatives in Toronto to this very day. On my mother’s side of the family her great-uncle emigrated from England to Winnipeg and I have relatives who still live there as well.
To celebrate Canada Day and this season of Pride it is the right occasion to have a look at the origin of the Pride movement in Canada. Most of the cities in Canada have annual Pride events that originate in their current format from the 1980s. But there were nationwide Prides going back as far as 1972.

As with the Pride movement in the USA the Canadian movement began with a landmark event. In the US it was the Stonewall Riots of 1969 which led to the first Christopher Street Gay Freedom March of 1970, recognised as the first New York City Pride. Just six weeks before the Stonewall Riots Canada passed the Criminal Law Amendment Act which decriminalised homosexual activity. It received royal assent on 27th June, the day before Stonewall. However, this did not stop harassment and discrimination.

Groups of activists formed across the country. Now that they were decriminalised they could be more open in their demands for equality and protection from discrimination. One of the earliest groups was Toronto Gay Action. They planned marches on the provincial government building in Toronto and the national government building in Ottawa to call for their full rights. To promote these marches, and to gather the lgbt community together openly for perhaps the first time, they organised a “gay picnic” at Hanlan’s Point in Toronto on 1st August 1971.

The Gay Pride March took place on 20th August 1971 and the march in Ottawa took place on 28th August. They may not have much in common with modern Pride events but they can be regarded as the first in Canada, having both been promoted as “Pride” marches and laying the foundations of the more familiar ones that followed.

The next event was timed to coincide with the first anniversary of the Ottawa march. It was called Gay Pride Week and was held from 19th to 27th August 1972. It was much more recognisable as a Pride. It included another picnic, art exhibitions, film screenings, a dance, an interfaith service and a rally. Over 200 people took part in the march.

Other Canadian cities began to organise their own similar events. By the time the second anniversary of the Ottawa march came around in 1973 a nationwide celebration of Gay Pride Week took place in several cities – Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver, Montréal, Winnipeg and Saskatoon. Most followed a similar format with rallies, exhibitions, films and picnics. Not all of them had marches but all had the same goal of calling for action against discrimination and for equal rights.

For several more years Gay Pride Week was held. It wasn’t long before local concerns in the lgbt community dominated the protests and awareness of discrimination. In several cities police raids on gay venues sparked anger and demonstrations. Subsequent Gay Pride Week events were superseded by new Prides with new dates being chosen, often to coincide with the US Pride events commemorating the Stonewall Riots in June or the local police raids. These new Canadian Prides are the ones most often regarded as the first in their respective cities, overlooking the pioneering Gay Pride Weeks. They may have different organising committees but their aims were the same.

Today all Canadian provinces have Pride events, even Nunavut which surely hosts the coldest Prides in the world (though not necessarily the most northern, that honour goes to Scandinavia, though I am willing to be corrected).

With so many Prides taking place across Canada on different dates it feels that the national unity felt in those early Gay Pride Weeks has been lost. But don’t despair. A new Pride is rising.

Way back in 2004 Fierté Canada Pride (FCP) was formed bringing together volunteers from many cities across the country. In 2015 FCP felt confident enough to propose a new national Pride to be hosted in a different city once every four years. The proposal was accepted by its member and the first Canada Pride is set to be held in Montréal in a few day’s time on 11th-20th August.

I wish all my Canadian friends and family a happy 150th anniversary and hope that all your Prides are a success, especially the new Canada Pride. I hope that it will inspire other countries to adopt regular national Prides of their own.

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