A Fernie author is making headlines around the country with his literary debut climbing to #2 on the Calgary Herald’s non-fiction bestsellers list last week.
For the past six years Kevin Allen has been researching the history of the LGBTQ community in Calgary and on November 28 released Our Past Matters: Stories of Gay Calgary.
Inside the 153-page book are 70 vignettes, which dive deep into the lives of those who were instrumental in the formation and preservation of Calgary’s LGBTQ community.
Everett Klippert, who was the last Canadian incaracerated for being gay before homosexuality was decriminalized in 1969, is one of these stories.
“His story, I find really compelling,” said Allen.
“Klippert was in jail 50 years ago. The anniversary of decriminalization is next May… but if you think about it, 50 years is – from my perspective, because I’m almost 50 – not that long. That’s within a lot of people’s lifetimes. They were alive when people went to jail for being gay.”
Our Past Matters is the result of four years of painstaking research, which Allen said got easier as time went on.
Because the history of the LGBTQ community was not very well documented, much of the information Allen obtained was through first-hand conversations with some of Calgary’s original gay community members. In the beginning, he found it was hard to know where to start. But once he turned over one rock, it quickly led to the next.
“One thing about the project that has surprised me is how much information I was able to discover through oral history and different archives, and source materials,” said Allen.
His research took him as far back as the 1870s, around the time when Treaty 7 was being formed between the Canadian Government and Plains First Nations.
The LGBTQ community first surfaced in Calgary through the opening of a club, known as Club Carousel, in 1930. Very little remains of the club today as it was shut down in the late ’70s.
The book continues through the 1900s and concludes in 1998 with the story of Delwin Vriend, a teacher at a private school in Alberta who was fired for his sexual orientation.
The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the exclusion of homosexuals from Alberta’s Individual Rights Protection Act was a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“That led eventually to same sex marriage, amongst other things,” said Allen. “It was a landmark court case. That seemed like a natural place to end.”
Not every story in Our Past Matters has a happy ending. Some tell the harsh truth about being gay in 20th century Alberta.
However, there are some humorous anecdotes and underlying themes of bravery and staying true to yourself.
“One important thing that I want people to take away from this is that we were always here,” said Allen.
“Queer people have always existed but our stories haven’t been recorded by mainstream culture.”
Allen wants people, especially those living in Calgary, to know that there is more to city’s history than energy exploration and the Calgary Stampede. He believes Calgary has other stories worthy of the history books.
As time progressed through the 20th century and into the 21st, issues surrounding the LGBTQ community in Canada changed. Today, Allen says that a large focus of the community is trans rights issues.
“Absolutely, there’s still work to be done,” he said. “There are certain industries in Calgary that are pretty macho and homophobic.
“I ask people who I interview, ‘could you bring your same-sex partner to your staff Christmas party?’ And a number of people still don’t. Their close co-workers will know but it’s kind of a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ mentality for some people in certain industries.”
Not long ago, Allen did a presentation for the Calgary Fire Department. There, staff explained that they had started their first fire pride chapter but also talked about how, as a culture, fire departments can be very macho and historically not very welcoming to minorities.
“And that’s hard to change,” said Allen.
Although Allen’s new book focuses specifically on Calgary, the author hopes that people around Canada can relate to and learn from it.
“I think Calgary is a microcosm for a lot of different cities in North America,” he said.
In Fernie, pick up Our Past Matters: Stories of Gay Calgary for $25 at Polar Peak Books. A small selection of signed copies are still available.