Points of Pride
What We Are
Realized as a passion project by a group of friends who grew up and came out together, Points of Pride is a place-based resource designed to reveal and celebrate sites of 2SLBGTQ+ heritage in Hamilton.This expanding and evolving archive exhibits and connects often invisible or erased visual, oral, and spatial narratives across time and space. The curated platform is intended to emplace 2SLBGTQ+ experiences that intersect across race, class, gender, age, and sexuality to materialize the spectrum of life in the city across generations and community boundaries. Points of Pride aims to pay homage to the rich 2SLBGTQ+ heritage in Hamilton, and create a sense of continuity and connection among its many communities.
How to Engage
- Scroll down to the Points of Pride HistoryPin collection below
- Using the map, click on one of the points to open information about a place
- Visit our oral history archive feature below the map to listen to interviews with people about different places across the city
- Read our blog, where we will post updates about new pins, stories, reflections, and events
- If you have a point to add or correct, a story to share, or if you want to run a mapping workshop, reach out using our 'Talk to Us' page below
ER [00:00:00] That this will block sounds coming from this side. So if I have it off here, it'll be a little bit more echoey on the recording. And I have it here, just get a little bit more deadening of the sound good. Yes, she's quiet. That's yeah, she'll be OK. Right, Dipsy? So this interview is being recorded by Emma Rockwood on August 13th 2021, as a part of the mapping project with the working title "Mapping Hamilton's Queer Spaces", and our interviewee is Renee. So could you introduce yourself? Tell me a little bit who you are and why we're talking today.
RA [00:00:39] Well, I was the owner of the first and only feminist bookstore in Hamilton. It opened in 1985 here on Main Street West in Hamilton. Yeah, my name is Renee Albrecht, and I was born in Hamilton.
ER [00:00:57] Great. Can you tell me a little bit about you before the bookstore? So what were you up to and how did the bookstore come about? How was its inception?
RA [00:01:09] So an indirect answer to that is when I decided to open up the bookstore. It was after my first visit to the Toronto Women's Bookstore, the summer of '84. I thought to myself afterwards, "Wow", I just, I almost fell-feinted into that bookstore. I felt like every title on the shelf spoke to me, even though I had no clue really what's in the covers. It just it was a physical experience and it was only a month or so after that visit to the Toronto Women's Bookstore that this little house on Main Street, next to the Royal Bank at Locke, had a for-sale sign on it. And I put an offer in and they accepted it, and we made a little bachelor apartment in the back of the house to help pay the mortgage, and we opened a little two-room bookstore in the front. I had pretty much no experience. The only real experience I even had with feminism up to that point was that the last year of my university days at McMaster I took a "Sociology of Women" course, which was new and they didn't have yet women's courses, but the "Sociology of Women" was just one course, and I remember sitting there in quite a great-sized class of women, and hardly any men, of course, but that professor, the teaching assistant, for our particular course was a man, and I only remember his first name as Bruce. But the head of the course was Meg Luxton, and he stood up there, I think, on the first day, and he told us that the way that women were treated globally and historically was deliberate. So systemic sexism is that you get paid less than the men, you're not offered the jobs that the men are offered. You are just seen as entertainment, and if you're not entertainment, you're a slave. And we were all just like, you know, in our twenties, maybe, like me, even younger, just like sitting there. I mean, I was a single mom, so I wasn't naive, but I remember him looking out at the whole bunch of us and saying, "I'm not making this up." And I thought, "Yeah, I already really knew all this", but I never had the language. We didn't have the language in 1985 that you have today. It was [pause], like, and when I was your age, they were debating on the radio whether or not women should be allowed into medical school and whether or not it should just be a few or how many should they let in and how many women should be allowed to be professors in university. This was discussed on radio, like, can you imagine? So that was as I was a young woman, so I mean, I'm not quite a dinosaur, but it wasn't that long ago. I'm, I know, I'm sidetracking, but anyway, so they took this, the offer, we bought the house, my husband and I, Peter, and I started researching and ordering books, but still really quite naive. And then on March 8th 1985, I opened the women's bookstore. But I'd heard little rumblings in the community like, "Who's this straight woman opening up a feminist bookstore? Who is that woman? Who is that woman?" I don't know, I had to be naive to have the courage, I think, and at the time, I was working as a substitute teacher in the high schools in Hamilton, and I remember people, like teachers in the staff, were just looking at me like I was some kind of fool to be leaving work. I mean, supply teaching, but still a fairly good salary, to open up a women's bookstore of all things. So, and I just opened it, and, there wasn't, I really wasn't very political. You know, I mean, I inside myself, yes, I had that physical feeling that I had to do this, like, I was moved to do it, but it was like early days, weeks, into it that in walked some women who, I didn't even know the concept of lesbian, right? So it was the "lesbian" section, and I think I had one or two titles. "Here's the section." and they just like almost growled at me. And then the women of colour, "where's the black women's section?" And "I've got Alice Walker." And I just had to learn so much, learn so much. And it just every day was an explosion of learning. Like, I had to wake up and realise, but I was ready for it, I wanted to, I really was ready. And it was, like I said, it was 1985, and, I, it was all new to me, it was all my beginning. But in the history of women's literature and women's writing, we were coming to a real backlash, which I was not yet aware of in 1985 because I was new to it and excited. But Emma, I think it's worth it to explore a little bit that in the 1800s there was controversy about whether or not a woman should even be writing a novel. Like, it was just heresy to write a novel. I mean, we've, we have some knowledge of authors that whose names are still with us today, Virginia Woolf, Mary Wollstonecraft. I mean, Virginia Woolf killed herself, and she wasn't the first, you know, and other women wrote under false names to be published. So, what I was involved in at that time, but unbeknown to me, was really part of a lineage of women writers, and as the bookstore grew and my knowledge grew, I started to see that we had a network. And there was a newsletter that came out bi-monthly from San Francisco, The Feminist Bookstore News, and it was, and before internet, it was our connection to the feminist bookstores throughout the globe. Everyone who had something to say sent it to a woman named Carol Ceajay, C-E-A-J-A-Y, in San Francisco, and she would collate that newsletter, The Feminist Bookstore News. And when I first subscribed and started to get that newsletter, I was seeing women opening publishing houses every month, every month, like they were just booming all over the world. Women were publishing because what they had to say wasn't going to be published in the mainstream, but somehow they got together and organised and they got their words out. And even though it was so-called "fringe", you know, small publishing, the brilliance on the page, you know, it was so challenging of the status quo. You know, and it didn't matter whether we were talking about the way that women are having sex, to the environmental issues, to the military, to how we have children and how that whole operation has been controlled by medicine where it used to be, long ago, that women knew how to help each other through those processes, at the most dangerous time in a woman's life. And all of a sudden, men pounced on it and owned it, and women couldn't even think for themselves. So as women started to write and talk and say, "You know, this is all crap, like this is, like we're, we're, we're being told what to do, but we're natural beings, and we, and there's history that's been covered up, our knowledge has been covered up." And, there were archaeologists, there were political scientists, there were environmentalists, and there were poets and artists, and they were all just saying like, "it's insane the way the world is set up." And, when I'm here today in 2021, looking back, I don't know that we were able to stop it. I think it's still insane, but we do have a midwifery option in Ontario. I remember early on getting, finding books to put on the shelf about women's health. Women's, I don't even know if it still exists now, Our Bodies Ourselves, is it still being published? Thank goodness. I had Catholic school teachers, nuns, in plain clothes coming in and buying Our Bodies Ourselves to put in their desks in their classrooms because they could not have it out and they could not talk about it. But they had it in their desks and their students knew it was there so that when the teacher was out of the room, they could open up the drawer and see that book and find out things that we need to know. So, it was a really wonderful time, even with backlashes slowly burning and boiling. We had a wonderful time. There was, and the lesbian community, as I relaxed and, they, it just, they were so alive they were just so grateful, I think, to have a space and just to relax. I remember one woman, she came in from St. Catharines, and she almost tiptoed in, and she almost didn't want to be seen coming in. But then once she came in and found that section of the store, which was no longer two authors, it was a room. It was like, for her, probably the way I felt the first time I went into the Toronto Women's Bookstore, it was just like, "Oh, thank goodness, I feel at home." And I think that, and that was my intention, to have folks feel at home.
ER [00:12:04] That's really fantastic, thank you for telling me that. Could you tell me a little bit more about who the patrons were of the bookstore? Maybe not just, you know, specific people, but like what different groups of people did you see coming and going?
RA [00:12:15] A lot of health care providers and social services. So nurses, social workers, teachers, doctors. I guess there were. I mean, it was really a cross-section. There were artists and there were just rebels, radical people, and some people wouldn't want to be known at all. They just like, come in and go out and never have a chance to find out much more about them. I used to send out a newsletter and I didn't put it in an envelope. I just folded it in three and put a stamp on it and wrote the address of the customer who I had on file. And then one day someone called, called or came in, and said "Don't send me that newsletter anymore", because it was too radical for her mailbox. Just the titles of books. Right? So I had to start putting it into an envelope. Weird. But it's just a little catalogue of books, but I had to start to put that in an envelope. Then it became costly. And I, I guess I slowly let that go. Yeah, I guess a cross-section. But professionals, a lot of professional women were, were the customers. Yes.
ER [00:13:38] Wow. OK. Why do you think the store attracted a lot of LGBTQ people?
RA [00:13:44] Well, because there really wasn't another place. And as I said from two writers, I, it, it became a room and it was fiction, non-fiction, politics, all for, with the history of, of those radical people who really felt that their history was missing. As far as the women's movement went, I remember hearing, look, if there wasn't lesbians, there'd be no women's movement. Because by and large, the straight women are, they're having babies, they're looking after husbands, they can hardly get out to do a protest or organise anything. So if there wasn't the the gay women who were more free, less occupied by with the male interest. And I, it's really, it's I think it's very true that we all so much of our progress, intellectually, to women who have chosen not to live the stereotypical hetero life.
ER [00:14:50] Mm-hmm. Very nice. Why do you think feminist bookstores in general, you know, became these nexuses of LGBTQ life?
RA [00:15:01] It was because these people had been hidden. I mean, when I talk to women who would now be 100 years old, they had friends for sure, gay men, gay women, but you just didn't even say the word. You knew, but you didn't talk about it. So, now we had a place not only to talk about it, but to actually open a book and explore, and read what some other brave soul has dared to write about their life. And it wasn't, I mean, for sure there was all about the sex and how the sex is happening and how the sex feels, but it was also very much about changing, and changing the status quo. And, and people started coming out. It was like the women's bookstores gave us, gave, um, a face, somehow a face to, to a, a whole section of society that had been kept hidden. And then we started watching some of our favourite celebrities and stars come out. I remember we'd go for drives sometimes, you get a group of women together going somewhere, and we would guess who's coming out this week. So "when's k.d. lang coming out?", you know, like, "she'll see much better when she starts to come out, when she finally comes out!" And then rumours about people that you think "no, can't be!" But it, so, so many of our our role models are the stars, the shamans, I call them, in our communities came out, right? It just it became safer. And, and you weren't some sort of strange creature. You saw yourself in the doctor. You saw yourself in every line of work. Yeah.
ER [00:16:57] Very nice. Thank you. OK. What do we have here? What kinds of spaces were the other feminist and LGBT bookstores that you knew of, and what made the Women's Bookstop different?
RA [00:17:10] Well, in the beginning, I guess we really were, as far as I know, the only public space. The other spaces that I can remember being part of were the dances, and maybe Cole mentioned that. But I was, it was almost a challenge that, you know, the women that would come in and say "you should come to the women's dance." It was like they were trying to see "is this straight woman that owns the women's bookstore going to come to one of our dances or what?" But I went in, at the beginning they were mixed, so they were the the guys and the the women, gay women and and queer men were in the same room dancing. But it was interesting, as time went on that changed. The women started to say, "Hey, we're doing all the organising, we're lugging all the beer, we're planning the dates, we're renting the hall. Let's do our own thing." And as time went on, the Women's Bookstop very much got into that. Like, we were having dances for the sake of keeping business flowing too, because by asking people to come in and buy dance tickets, then they had to come into the bookstore, right? So there was that, I really, for me in Hamilton, I think that's the only other space that I could really say that I could speak to was that we organised these dances, and we also had concerts. We had feminist singers, you know? And I remember my kids kind of laughing because I'd organised, I was the producer, I'm organising these concerts, or actually it was a community of women producing. But, and I'd say, "Well, we're bringing Heather Bishop," and they're saying, "Who is she?" "We're bringing Farren [?]." And like, "Oh yeah, right, Farren[?]." And it's like, nobody knows these people. But when we sold the tickets all of the sudden we were sold out. So they had a following, it was a, you know, it's sort of a grassroots underground following and we'd always get a good crowd. Beautiful, beautiful music and always lifting the spirit. Just go, I don't know if these women or the likes of them are still, like Ani DiFranco. Towards the end of my time doing that, she was, I think, the last concert that I had, but I don't know if women are still doing that. I don't know.
ER [00:19:30] I definitely haven't heard anything about it personally, which is why we want to we want to know so badly about that kind of thing, you know?
RA [00:19:39] So also, we were like a network of feminist bookstores across not just Canada, but North America and the world. And for a period of time, every other year, we would have feminist international feminist conference, international feminist bookstore conferences. The first one I went to, I think it was in 1988 and it was in Montreal, actually at École Polytechnique. And when we say, it was not the first one, that was the second one of the conferences that were held. The first one was actually held in Oslo, Sweden, but that was before I started. But in Montreal, we met women from all over the world and it must have been really something for them to get the money to travel. Because there was one very old woman I remember from South Africa, her name's just escaped me, but she, like a very old woman whose books I was selling, and the title of her book was I Am a Woman, and I remember being in the marketplace at the International Feminist Bookstore Book Fair and this very weathered looking African woman and I went up to her and I, and it was during the apartheid, so we knew that children were being gunned down in the streets when the people were protesting. We hear that on the news and, and we were just, you know, it was a time "free Nelson Mandela, free Nelson Mandela," and I went up to her and I said, "Oh, it's so, so terrible." I was just in my thirties and I felt foolish going up to this brilliant woman, and who am I? But I had to, and I said, "It's just terrible what we're hearing about the slaying of children for, for protesting and in Johannesburg." And she said to me, "We have no choice." I almost fell over. And it's always stayed with me, "we have no choice." Yeah. The lack of freedom. "We have no choice."
ER [00:22:18] Hmm, wow. So, yeah, we were talking about the the networking. What did that communication look like? Was it newsletters talking on the phone? How did that network kind of communicate?
RA [00:22:27] Well, there were, we were on the phone, like placing orders with various little presses all over. Mother Tongue, I remember that as one of the presses. Look that up. Oh, so many women's presses. So we'd be on the phone, but also we would get catalogues, and in those catalogues there would be the titles and always the descriptions, and you just would want everything you just, I know I ordered way more than I could sell. And then it became really apparent that we needed to include women of colour, of course, but international authors. So that was a hard sell, because here in North America, first of all, I think there is that sense, or has been, maybe not now, there was this sense that we already knew everything, that we were the teachers. Which is crap, that we were the teachers. And I, when I was in Barcelona for the Feminist Book Fair there, I remember going to a particular workshop that was talking about fundamentalist religions and the evolution of fundamentalism and how that was really off putting for radical feminists. And I saw a Muslim woman stand up to the microphone, she was one of the speakers, and say that whether it was Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, that we should not even open their books and that it was there was not one good thing in any of those patriarchal religions. Not one good thing for a woman to know that you don't even need to open that book. It's the author, the woman speaking was Nawal El Saadawi, she was an Egyptian physician, and she just passed away this past March, but she stayed with me forever. I remember standing there thinking, "Oh my gosh, this is a Muslim woman living in so-called oppression," with having to wear layers and layers of clothing and apparently under oppressive regimes, but she's so clearly articulated the the process of the oppression against the feminine. So I, actually, bolder, more daring than I've ever heard an American woman speak it. So yeah, there's that. But as I say, so we, I, created a space for these international authors, but that was always a harder sell, but I felt that they needed to be there nonetheless. And in my mind, it was always when these books start flying off the shelves, we know we've done a good job. Right?
ER [00:25:26] Gotcha. What about other languages? Was it all? It was everything you carried in English or was...?
RA [00:25:32] I did carry everything in English, however, there was a feminist bookstore in Montreal, there might have actually been two, and they had they had theirs in French. There were, there were definitely different languages.
ER [00:25:44] Mm-Hmm.
RA [00:25:45] And I met women from India who wrote in Hindu, Hindi. So there were others, and Europeans, so.
ER [00:25:55] Yeah, very nice. OK. What about the local business network? What were their particular businesses in Hamilton that you were connecting with and what did that kind of communication look like?
RA [00:26:08] We had to be careful who we connected with. We want, we didn't want to connect with anybody that would give us a bad name. So, maybe it was the reverse too, maybe some people thought we were too radical. But we were connected to some restaurants and health food shops, and of course, Bryan Prince Booksellers out in Westdale, at that time, we were definitely colleagues. So we would be able to refer to each other and respected each other. I think probably the most important networking was with women's organisations, the Hamilton Women's Centre, the Sexual Assault Centre, the women's shelters. And there were detox centres at that time. I don't think it's here anymore, but there was the first women's detox centre was called Mary Ellis House, and actually, Mary Alice was a friend of mine. Yeah, those were those were vital. And I think that we, because we were open to the public and easy to, a storefront easy to come into, we actually helped people to connect to those services in a way that it's probably not possible today.
ER [00:27:36] OK. So we talked about the concerts and the dances. Were there meetings were activities held specifically at the bookstore?
RA [00:27:49] Yes, we had a book club that we had. And I remember one year we went through every paragraph of a book that had come out, it was by Estés. Anyway, it was called Women who Run with the Wolves. And, hmm, Pinkola Estés was her last, I can't remember her first name, Pinkola Estés. And it was a retelling of global fairy tales from a feminist perspective, and our book club went through every paragraph of that book. I'm sure it took a year. And we would sit there together and read the paragraphs. We didn't have homework, we would read them together, like everybody had to read a page or so. And oh, it was wonderful discussions, just like constantly realising that we have been just so, our brains have been cloaked with baloney. That there's so much from the past that has been buried deliberately that could have given us so much more courage and confidence. It was like our confidence was deliberately eroded so that they could make women into servants, servants for society.
ER [00:29:20] Yeah, wow. OK. And were there any events other than the dances and the concerts that were held, maybe not at the bookstore, that you were aware of that maybe were in connection?
RA [00:29:33] Well, we brought in some speakers occasionally, like at Take Back the Night. I remember one year we had Rosemary Brown, who's gone now, but there was actually Canada Post had done a stamp with her face on it. But Rosemary Brown was a great advocate for young women, and she was the first woman of colour to run for federal politics. She was at one point, I think, the leader of the NDP in British Columbia, and then eventually she came into federal politics. She's, she came to Hamilton a few times, but I remember when we invited her, she she spoke at a theatre that at the Board of Education, which was across from City Hall at that time, and she was just such a good speaker. She said, "And if you're not with us, you're in our way!" [Laughs].
ER [00:30:22] [Laughs] That's fantastic.
RA [00:30:22] And yeah, she was marvellous and everybody just had such and such great respect for her. So there were speakers. You know, we had we had authors come to the store. We invited authors. Sometimes they would speak out at McMaster University. Yeah.
ER [00:30:46] Yeah, awesome. Was the bookstore a meeting place for different groups and organisations? Were there any, you know, specific organisations in Hamilton that kind of made the Women's Bookshop their hub that you can remember?
RA [00:30:59] No, I don't think that. I think that we were always a little bit on the outside, a little bit on the fringe. And I do think that we might have been a little bit too free for our organisations that were dependent on government funding. So it was nice that we were there. We could sell tickets, we could get the word out as if the Sexual Assault Centre was having an event, but they didn't necessarily meet in our little space. But I was, I belong to a lot of the boards and committees, so I would know what was going on. And so it was, yeah, there was a, I would say, it was, I really needed the connection as a businesswoman. But for them, they were a little bit leery because they were more in the establishment and connected to more conservative funding.
ER [00:31:55] Hmm. Do you ever have any trouble from from anybody?
RA [00:32:02] I think back on when the Women's Studies programme started at McMaster University, under Joan Coldwell. Did you, did you know that name? It's worth it to look into Joan Coldwell. She was the one that started the Women's Studies programme. A beautiful person. And when she started the Women's Studies programme at McMaster, I just know it was in the 1990s, I don't know exactly the year, she came to me and asked me to help organise the women in the women's social service network in Hamilton to come and have a conversation about how the Women's Studies course that McMaster was going to look. And I was just thrilled to be asked and to be given the, you know, the responsibility of organising these women. But when we all got together, they those women were just pounding on Joan. Like, "You didn't come to us before you started the programme! You should have come to us and asked us about how to do it!" And you know, "Did you come to the lesbians? Did you come to the Sexual Assault Centre?" And they were attacking, really, it was quite brutal. So it wasn't always the best thing to all get together because it was like, you know how, I don't know exactly the phrase, but they say that the oppressed people will turn on each other, and it's because we have so little power that we end up turning on each other. And that that happened, to the point where I think the second year that she invited the public to come to International Women's Day events at McMaster, Joan really encouraged the public to come to the university and engage with just the programmes that they put on for that day. Then she came out during one of the workshops, and it wasn't appreciated. It was almost like, it was, I don't know. They were not kind to her, and I remember having conversations with Joan a couple of times, I don't even know if she is still living, but I felt that we were the women of the community were harsh, harsh. So it wasn't all, we had our stuff. But it's hard for us to work through our stuff because we're not we're not the mainstream and we can't get together in the same way, and we don't feel secure in the same way. But maybe, maybe that's just my interpretation of why are, why were women harsh with each other? They were. At times they were.
ER [00:34:47] Mostly infighting, not necessarily from from, you know?
RA [00:34:52] Yeah, yeah. And I used to think it was because the funding dollars were scarce and so everybody was in competition for the same funding. But I think it goes deeper than that because at the heart of feminism is this philosophy that we are working together as women. We are working to elevate women and we need to elevate ourselves so that we can have a relationship with each other so that we are not constantly fighting over the men, which is the big one for women, and that we can learn to respect each other. It was really new because I think until feminism came out, like more public, more into the mainstream, women really didn't have those places to to come together and build a relationship, except maybe one or two over the phone. Like, if you're, so it was, it was all very new. And we were also always being challenged. I remember hearing, you know, arguments on the radio about pro-abortion or pro-life. And so there, we were almost deliberately put against each other, you know, like finding topics that polarised us. And the more radical feminists amongst us saw that happening, that it was deliberate, that we were set up to be polarised and to argue with each other.
ER [00:36:33] Yeah, that's, yeah, that's a tough one to think about. You know, how the downfall it's all from the house divided? Not even necessarily...
RA [00:36:41] Yes, yes.
ER [00:36:42] Yeah.
RA [00:36:42] But I think we've made progress nonetheless. And even though we may have known that we were fighting within each other, within within us, somehow the world thinks there's a feminist movement. Somehow the world thinks there's a women's movement, and that's good for them to think that and to even feel it because, that, if nothing else, it makes them straighten out for a day. [Laughs]
ER [00:37:10] [Laughs] Yeah. Can you tell me a little bit about, you know, the end of the store's life? You know, how, you know, what the, how the landscape had changed, the change that you could see coming, the ones that you didn't?
RA [00:37:23] When I started it, I did, I did an interview with Andrew, Andrew Dreschel, at the Hamilton Spectator. I remember we went to the West Town restaurant on Locke Street, so that's like in 1985. And he said to me, "How long do you think this story is going to last?" And I said, "Well, I hope I'm here till I'm 90!" because I loved it so. But times came along and the big bookstores opened. And the big bookstores courted the publishers and got better deals than we ever did. And I remember Bryan Prince coming to the store one day and just saying, "We're going to become museums." So the big stores that buy lots, were getting a better deal on their merchandise, and we were still paying top dollar when we were just a puny little one. So, you know, I mean, in a, in a fair world, it would have been the reverse, like you're a big store, you can handle paying the regular. These little stores need a leg up, but that's not the way it works. So there was that. So, and then, of course, the new big, gigantic Indigo's, or whatever they were, Chapters, they just were so attractive. They were so attractive. So we lost a lot of customers to that, as did every other independent bookstore. I also think that we did, I don't know, maybe we didn't do enough to get our message out. I don't know. I was in Amsterdam for the 4th International Feminist Book Fair, and that was the last one I went to, and I was I was in a youth hostel. We shared a room with a group of women of colour, they were from London, England, and it was like 19, I think, '92, '94. And these women from England, they said, "You know, there's not really a recession going on," because there was all this talk about a global financial recession, there's, "It's just manufactured because people are getting too socially aware. People are coming together. Women are coming together. Women are rising up. So they've created this illusion of recession to put us all back. If you can't pay your mortgage, and you can't feed your children, and you can't pay your rent, you can't protest." And at that time, I remember hearing these women, they were so clear, so clear, like it's just a manufactured thing. And I was thinking, "Well, we're still doing okay in Canada." But not long after that, we had a conservative government come in, Mike Harris, and a month after that government was brought in there was 25 percent cuts to nurses pay, so social workers pay, and the welfare checks and mothers allowance checks that were, you know, monthly helping women. And our sales were gone. Those were people that, professionals, like nurses and social workers who would come in and they would buy books to inspire them to do the work that they were doing. And I think when they were cut that way, they just felt, "What's the point of me spending money on developing my career if this is the way that I'm going to be treated?" Cut. You've spent so much thousands of dollars to get your education, and now they're just cutting it. I saw that happening. We didn't, I'm putting it into words, but that's how I saw it. And so that was a great demise. And then there was the 2000 World March of Women, and that's that was October 2000. It was organised globally to take place on a certain date in October. Every capital city around the globe would have women marching on their capital, demanding justice for women. And in Hamilton, we got wind of this and there are groups of us got together and we raised money. We had a picnic, we had a dance, I don't know, we did things. We raised money to hire two coaches, buses, so that women who wanted to go to Ottawa to the march, the World March of Women, could come for no price. It was free, they just had to get on the bus. So we raised the money for two buses. It was a beautiful thing to see all these women come onto the bus. We got to Ottawa and the people! Emma, you wouldn't believe it, I'd never seen anything like it. They just came out of every-, it was like our parliament was in the centre, and every road coming towards parliament was just people walking, pushing strollers, for the World March of Women. We were part of something global phenomenon. And then when it was over, we all got on the bus and we came home and there was not one story in any of the newspapers the next day. Nothing in the Globe and Mail, nothing in any of the regional papers. There was maybe, maybe we saw a paragraph somewhere, I think. And I must say that I was so disheartened by then, I thought there is no, I can't, I can't keep it up because it's so deliberate and I also have to pay my my expenses. I have to pay the rent, I have to put food on the table. And so I slowly wound it down. It was heartbreaking. I could just go on, but if you look at it throughout time when oppressed people have come to a point of profit, whether it was the Irish that were expelled into North America, when they start to get their lives together, and make business and commerce, and and thrive, and have livelihoods, the powers that be can just come and take it because they can't stand to share. They want everything. I was in, I went to Newfoundland in 2004, and the history of Newfoundland is that, it's that oppressed people sent to the Rock. They could die for all that anybody cares, but they don't. They somehow scrape together a life and then the the merchant class claims to be speaking on behalf of the king, and "This land that you're farming is ours. These fish that you're catching are ours. And these books that you've been selling are cutting into our bottom line. And so we have to make sure that you're gone." It's done without those words, but that's, it's it's probably not relevant to what you're doing, but I warn you to watch when you when you start to see a little, somebody start to blossom, or a group of little somebodies start to blossom. Then all of a sudden, all of a sudden, all the grocery stores are selling organic. Is it? We don't know, because they see that people are going to the organic farms, so then they want it. They can't, not even a penny can they stand to lose.
ER [00:45:27] I think it's extremely relevant, actually. Like, I don't know, I feel very, very affected by that, by what you said. I think that's really, really poignant in what we're doing is trying to find, you know, these spaces that have been snatched away for whatever reason, as you know. The rent soars in Hamilton and people can't keep these businesses that are really genuinely important to the people. And, you know, we're just becoming a desert of culture, right? Yeah, I think that's really, really relevant and poignant.
RA [00:45:59] In 2001, I went to Germany. I have relatives there, I went to visit an aunt, but while I was there I went to a little town, not too far from Frankfurt, that has a museum that shows how they tortured the witches. And we've all heard that, you know, nine million were apparently burned, and mostly in France and Germany during the Middle Ages, but going into that museum, which is in the country where it happened, and they're not just showing that these are the devices they used to torture and burn and murder, but also about who these people were that were killed, that were just country people living country lives. And until this oppressive regime came in and started, well, we call it Rome or the Catholic Church, before that, there was a benevolent relationship between, say the the owner of the land and the workers, that it was just there was a lot of thriving and the livelihood. It's, I don't know how we're going to get back to the garden. Joni Mitchell song, "How do we get back to the garden?"
ER [00:47:20] Yeah, oh my gosh. Yeah, that's, I was going to ask again. You know, how is the landscape changed, but we can, we can see it.
RA [00:47:27] We were so political. We really, I mean, I was in the, I felt that, oh my gosh, like, I was learning constantly. Learning, and and we were so political, and we really felt like we were changing the world. We, and then, then all of a sudden, we started to be afraid, we were afraid that we wouldn't be able to stay at our jobs. I used to think that the world had changed, you know, because I was I was in my own space and we were talking freely about anything. And I mean we had, I remember going to an evening out where we watched movies of women giving each other vaginal exams to take the mystery out of it, you know. Like, close ups of one woman putting a speculum into her her friend and opening it up. And I, "That's what her cervix looks like! Oh, I had no idea!" It looks like the end of a penis!
ER [00:48:28] Really! [Laughs]
RA [00:48:29] It does! [Laughs] It's like when you look at it, it's a mirror of a penis. It's just the head. It's like, "Oh, that's the cervix!" Who knows that, right? Unless you're going in medical school, how are you going to know it?
ER [00:48:47] Wow.
RA [00:48:47] We were just learning so many things! So, we got stronger and stronger, and as women got stronger and stronger, Emma, this is, I hope that you can find this somewhere that I'm not the only one saying it, women gone madder and madder, and they didn't want to take this shit anymore, from their kids or from their partners. Like, "Listen, you guys got a think! You got to rise yourself up, you've got to get with the programme! Because we are just full of all these realisations and everybody else around us is happy the way we were, right? They're not, nothing's changed for them, but we're we're bursting open! We're bursting open!" And so women started to get sick, because there, they had all this this new stuff but around them people weren't changing. So like, "What am I going to do? What am I going to do? I mean, my family is nuts, right? My fam, my kids are nuts! My husband's nuts! My parents are nuts! They're racist or sexist! They're not, they're not forward thinking, they're nuts!" So women went to the doctor, and so "I can't, I'm so stressed!" And they were put on tranquillisers, various, well whatever the marketing name is, Prozac was the one at that time. I put up on my sign, I used to have a sign that I would change the letters on the on the traffic-facing side of the building, I'd put on "Books not Prozac." And I got a call that morning from a woman who was on Prozac, "Please take that sign down." She felt insulted by it. She felt threatened by it. She was on Prozac. But so we had that. I I don't know if you can find that in any other literature, but that happened. Women were medicated. And to underline that, Emma, I actually had a customer who was a sales rep for a pharmaceutical company that came in. I, unbeknown to me, I didn't didn't make this conversation happen, it was a it was a man, in fact, and he said, "Look at this." And he opened up a brochure that he was giving to the doctors, he's working for a pharmaceutical company that, I don't know who, he didn't-. The brochure shows a woman my age, 50, 60 years old. Just average looking woman getting on the bus with her groceries, and she's she's just an average looking woman. She's just she's had a long day, she's, and now she's getting on the bus with her groceries. She's not smiling, she's not sexy, she's the average middle aged woman. And a caption above the bus driver, or under the bus driver says, you know that that woman should do us all a favour, and then lists the hormones that she should be taking so that she doesn't look like that. Yeah, "she should do us all a favour," so the bus driver doesn't have to look at that. Yeah, that was being handed out at brochure to the medical establishment. This man was a sales rep, he came in and said, "Look at this! This is what I have to give out." Yeah. We don't even know how deliberate and mean it is, we can't. It's unspeakable.
ER [00:52:13] Insidious. Yeah. Oh my gosh.
RA [00:52:17] Mm-Hmm.
ER [00:52:17] You know, I can remember that kind of thing, you know, on billboards. But to specifically marketing it to doctors.
RA [00:52:25] Yes. Yes.
ER [00:52:25] Yeah, that's yeah. That really blows my mind.
RA [00:52:27] Yes.
ER [00:52:28] It's horrifying. I'm going to turn a light on, it's getting dark in here.
RA [00:52:31] And then because of the work I was in, there was always revelations, right? Like, women were going out and getting this product called Premarin. It was how it was sold as to keep you young so that you, you know, to somehow to keep menopause at-bay. It was made from pregnant urine, the pregnant mare's urine. It's called Premarin, it was made from pregnant mare's urine. That was the ingredients. So in Alberta, there were these stalls of pregnant mares, and the urine from these pregnant mares was being collected to make this remedy, to make this drug.
ER [00:53:17] Right.
RA [00:53:19] But women didn't know, "Why is it called Premarin?" But of course, when you get that together, PREgnant mare MARe's urINe, Premarin. [Sings] Da-da-da! [Laughs]
ER [00:53:32] [Laughs] Wow.
RA [00:53:32] Mm hmm!
ER [00:53:36] Um, maybe I can phrase, had you seen, you know, the political landscape change in maybe your customer base or your friends from the time that the store opened to the time that it closed? Was there, could you see an obvious change in how people were feeling?
RA [00:53:52] Yes, I definitely can see how we were really political and radical in the early days. We had a theatre group in in Hamilton, Half the Sky Theatre. Have you, do you know about it? Well, Kathy Brown was the person that really was the spearhead, I think, and she is still around. Cole would know how to put you in touch with Kathy Brown. She needs to be interviewed. But there were many others in the theatre group. I was, I did a few plays with them, but the core people were Kathy Brown and that group there. So we were we were really, really radical. And then as time went on and these cuts to salaries, people people just played everything close to home then, close to their chest. It wasn't safe. It wasn't safe to be radical. Mm-hmm.
ER [00:54:59] I just think it makes me so sad, but so hopeful, I guess.
RA [00:55:04] Well, what makes me hopeful is there's so many young women who still have who have the language, and who would do know how to express themselves, who know that we're being oppressed and have and can lead. You know, A-B-C-D-E, from here to there, they can see it, so. There is a saying that the truth will never die. It takes energy to keep it going, but anything else is just frivolous. I mean, we need some frivolity, but you want the truth, right? I mean, if you really want to know why you're here and who you are, you're digging for the truth. I think.
ER [00:55:45] Yeah, OK. Those are all my questions. I think you've got some really fantastic stuff. Thank you so much because I think that's really invaluable, you know?
CG [00:00:00] Cool.
MB [00:00:01] Right, OK! This interview is being recorded by Maryssa Barras, my pronouns are she/her, and-
ER [00:00:12] Emma Rockwood, my pronouns, are she/her they/them.
MB [00:00:17] And on August 10th, 2021, as part of a mapping project with our working title "Mapping Hamilton's Queer Spaces", and our interviewee today is Cole Gately. Please feel free to introduce yourself!
CG [00:00:34] Thanks! My name is Cole Gately, I, my pronouns are he or they, and I am a trans educator in the city of, in Hamilton. Let's say that.
MB [00:00:48] Cool thanks! So starting off pretty broadly, would you mind just sharing with us how you came to Hamilton and what your history is in the community?
CG [00:01:04] Yes, and I also want to say that I'm the community steward, one of two community stewards for the Hamilton Queer Archives. So I, I arrived in Hamilton from Scotland in 1991, when I was twenty-one? I think? No, no, I arrived in '89 when I was 21, and then I came out as a lesbian in 1991 when I was 23. And I have lived in Hamilton my whole, my whole adult life, really. I'm now in my 50s, I'm fifty-three years old, so I've been around for quite a long time. I came out as a little baby dyke back in-
MB [00:01:50] [Laughs]
CG [00:01:50] -back in the early 90s when women were having dances every single week and there was lots of feminism happening, and it was a little bit second wave, but it was also in transition. And I started working at the Women's Bookstop in Hamilton, which is queer, no, it was a feminist bookstore, but obviously, you know, it involved queer titles. It involved, it had all the intersections, it had titles around mothering and childbirth, titles around racialisation, and it had titles around lesbian identity and and all sorts of other things as well. Feminist writing, mostly. And I spent the decade there, working there, and then in the late 90s, I started working in social services. I started out at the Hamilton AIDS Network, which was called, I think it was called the Hamilton AIDS Network for Dialogue and Support at that time, so HANDS. And then I was the men-and-men worker, which was quite interesting because I was a lesbian. So there I am, up there talking to gay men about their penises and how to, you know, just not, you know, just perform properly without, you know, you know getting HIV or anything like that. And then I moved into homelessness work, and so I left the bookstore completely, and I have worked for the last twenty-two years in homelessness in Hamilton. And have also been part of, um, I've been an activist. I came out as a trans person in, well I started transitioning, just socially with my name, in the mid, I would say, mid 2000s, and then, mid-aughts. And then I around 2008 I came out as a trans man, and I started doing a bit more of a medical transition with hormones. And I've been involved in Pride organising over the years. Yeah, so, and now now I'm actually working at the City of Hamilton as the educator for eight thousand workers working at the City of Hamilton on trans inclusion at the city. So that's my trajectory.
MB [00:04:26] [Laughs].
ER [00:04:26] Very nice. Yeah. How do you find that that kind of work goes educating? Because my mom works for the federal government and she goes through all this training now, she's always coming to me like, "I don't think this is right. I think you've told me something different from this." Do you find that there's a lot of weird, you know, misdirection, like the curriculum?
CG [00:04:46] Do you mean like the the the city?
ER [00:04:49] Yeah, the city.
CG [00:04:51] What are you asking?
ER [00:04:53] Like, how does it translate to people, you know, who are maybe younger? Like is there a curriculum for what you teach?
CG [00:05:02] Yes, well, the actually the the the thing that I teach is a course. It's a two-and-a-half-hour, between two and two-and-a-half-hour course, which has which actually was developed by Egale, which is the national queer organisation in Canada. And they developed it, they were hired by the city of Hamilton to come up with the protocol, a policy, for the City of Hamilton, but then also to develop the the education. There were also community members who were consulted with. I was one of them, I helped to drive the consult, consultation. And then I ended up applying for the job and getting the job, so as the lead educator. And so I find it quite, it's actually quite good, the education that they provided, that Egale came up with was quite good. I wouldn't say it's the absolute best. It was, trans lives and what our experiences are like, rather than what you need to do to be a good ally. So we've, you know, we're changing it up a little bit in order to produce more allyship at the City of Hamilton. And my idea is that, like, when there is 8000, when there are 8000 employees all individually learning about trans inclusion, then they're going to be in-, you know, infecting their [laughs] families, and their communities, and their friends, so that the reach is going to be much farther than 8000 people. So I I feel very good about it, but I don't believe that one two-hour session is good enough.
ER [00:06:47] Right.
MB [00:06:48] Yeah. I had a question about a story that you shared last time we spoke, and I didn't write all the details down. You mentioned something about how after coming out, you had just missed the first gay Pride and Sam Robinson was there?
CG [00:07:12] Svend, Svend, Svend. S-v-e-n-d.
MB [00:07:17] Oh Svend! OK, yeah, I was trying to get Sam Robinson, I couldn't find anything! Would you mind?
CG [00:07:22] Oh sorry! His name is Svend.
MB [00:07:22] No, that's okay! Would you mind just sharing that story again? So that-
CG [00:07:28] Yeah, so I [laughs] so I was, I had, just landed in Canada. You know, and after a year and a half, I was like, "I don't want to be here anymore! I miss all my friends, and I miss my, you know, my community and I miss people." And I had done, you know, I'd done, you know, I'd been working in Edinburgh in the 80s selling books, you know, just being. So I was just finding myself and I didn't want to be here, really. But then a friend of mine said, "Hey, do you want to go on a road trip in your car-" (I had a car) "out west?" And I was working at Greenpeace at the time, so I'm like, "Yeah!" And you know, we were hippies, we were like environmentalists in the early 90s, and so we decided to go out west. And I just thought it'd be a great place, a great way to see the country and to travel for more than two hours before getting to a coast. You know, like, I mean, that's what in Scotland. But like, so I travel for an entire week without seeing a coast. And on the way there, I mean, before I left, I was starting to think, you know, I'm not really interested in dating guys anymore. I just don't know what I want, I don't really know. But then I was out there and I, you know, I met some gay people and I just actually came out. Somebody was homophobic towards me, or towards us as a group, and I called them out on it. And then my gay friend that I was with said, "Are you gay?" And I was like, "Ooh? Yes I am!", and you know like, "OK, thanks for asking!" So I was like, "Yes, I am!" So then we travelled, I mean, I was still with this, not 'with' this man that I was travelling with, we were friends, but we went down to the US. We went across North America. We went, you know, we all, we sat in the Grand Canyon and decided we didn't have enough money to go to New Orleans, so I've never been there. And then by the time we got back, oh yeah, we were in San Francisco and we missed it, by a week! We just missed it by a week, so Pride had already happened, and then by the time we got back to Hamilton, we had missed that by another week. And but I was just very, very excited lesbian out there and I was like, "Let's go!" You know, and Pride had already happened, but I, but a good friend of mine came out actually at the same time and she was actually in Australia, I was in San Francisco. We came back and we met each other at a bar, just bumped into each other, and we talked about Pride, and she said that she had been there and she was involved with people who had set up this whole dinner to celebrate gay pride, it was called 'gay pride' in those days, and and they invited Svend Robinson, who was the very first openly gay MP in Canada. And he actually, I actually wrote about it this last Pride, and he wrote back, and he says he remembered it very well. I asked him on Twitter.
MB [00:10:48] Yeah.
CG [00:10:49] He said "Yeah, I remember that very well." Yeah.
MB [00:10:52] Oh, that's awesome. Yeah. Oh, that's so cute. Yeah. We'll have to track him down.
CG [00:11:00] Well, yeah, track him down. Like, talk to him and ask if he wants to discuss because I think he might. And then the other thing is that shortly after that, I came out in, like, May, I was back in, you know, in July, and then in September was Take Back the Night, which I didn't know what Take Back the Night was, I was just like, so even though I was in, oh, this is early on, like this is before I was at the bookstore. So I didn't know what to Take Back the Night was, and but I was like "All the lesbians go to Take Back the Night, so I gonna go there!" And I was invited to go and then there was a dance afterwards, Take Back the Night is always on the Thursday and then there was a women's dance on the Friday night at the Army and Navy Hall on Vine Street in downtown Hamilton, and which had loads of stairs. What were you going to say, Emma?
MB [00:11:56] They're right across from Happy Hours right?
CG [00:11:59] Yeah! They right across the street, which used to be called-
ER [00:12:01] OK Yeah!
CG [00:12:01] -Used to be called the Backstreet Bar.
ER [00:12:04] Oh wow!
CG [00:12:05] Yeah, right? So it was up there and that was the very first dance I ever went to. And I, you know, I met a woman, and blah-blah-blah the rest is history. And there is a famous, like, everyone says, for years they always said, "I remember when you met Yvonne, and then Yvonne, you know, took you away from the dance and you were riding on the back of her bike." And everyone was like, "Oh, I guess that's what's, you know, that's what's going to happen!" You know?
ER [00:12:33] [Laughs].
CG [00:12:33] And that was in the early 90s. And unfortunately, Yvonne, who was very famous in town, Yvonne, my very first partner, she died of an metastasised breast cancer in 1996, a little bit after we'd broken up, but we were still very, very good friends. And there were loads of women, lesbians, involved in her care, actually, for, we did the Tibetan death chants and all this kind of stuff. And she died in '96 in November, so we always remember her, her, you know, her, her, you know, every year. Anyway, so that was like coming out. And yeah, so I missed the first Pride in Hamilton, but I made it to the second one. Yeah, yeah.
MB [00:13:19] Yeah that's awesome. I guess-
CG [00:13:19] And then, and then from 1992 onwards, I was at every single Pride in Toronto until about, I think I made about twenty-one or twenty-two Prides in a row. And I just, kind of stopped going.
MB [00:13:37] Yeah,.
CG [00:13:38] You know, I'm older and I don't want to travel to Toronto and worry, and worry about where I'm going to go for a pee and things like that, yeah.
MB [00:13:50] Yeah, I guess a good segue now would be so, like, you you came out, you had, like, all of this finding yourself kind of thing happening. Is that kind of how you wound up at the feminist bookstore? Or did you, were you already kind of frequenting that space? Like, what kind of a space was the feminist bookstore and how did you end up there?
CG [00:14:16] Yeah, the feminist-
MB [00:14:17] The Women's bookstop, I should say. I just, yeah.
CG [00:14:20] Yeah, no worries, the Women's Bookstop. It was there, and I didn't really know Renee, and Renee was this very, very beautiful and intimidating woman, and everybody thought she was a lesbian, but she's actually very, very well, you know, married for fifty years or something to Peter. But so my friend Robin, the one who, actually her name is Robin Stevenson, she wouldn't mind me telling you this, she actually is an author of young adult books through Orca Press. She's written like twenty of them, young adult novels, and much of them involve being queer. She's actually written the very first timeline, oh, you should get this, the very first, the only book on queer history in Canada for children aged nine to thirteen, and it's called Pride. Okay?
MB [00:15:11] Yeah.
CG [00:15:12] So, Robin Stevenson, I've been friends with her since I was sixteen years old, even though I only moved here when I was twenty-one. I was a visitor every single summer because my dad lived here, so we met and we were friends since we were sixteen. And so, so she's written this history of pride in her in Canada called Pride. And so she was the one who said, "Oh," I was at the Svend Robinson dinner, so she was the one who said, "Hey, we're going to go to, do you want to go to this women's concert with us called Women's Music?", which was by people like, well, this concert we went to was by Lucie Blue Tremblay. There was also Holly Near, there was also Chris Williams, there all these famous women who sang women's music. So it was sort of like a little, you know, subculture of lesbian singers. They're all white. And and so we went, I went to this concert out in Maryhill, which is a sort of rural area outside of Hamilton, where all the concerts happened in this little church community centre or something. And I went there, it was my first time I'd ever been in the presence of more than one lesbian, and I was, I mean, there were hundreds of them there. And I was just beside myself with excitement, I just could not believe that there were so many lesbians out there.
ER [00:16:47] [Laughs].
CG [00:16:48] And I was just "Whew!" And I had a younger, well an older lesbian, take me under her wing. And, you know, she just told me, "OK, you need to go to Take Back the Night. You need to go to the women's dance, you need to go to the the gay dance, and then I'm going to help you find a woman!" You know, and she really did!
MB [00:17:08] [Laughs]
CG [00:17:08] [Laughs] So the bookstore. Robin is much more bookish than I am, but, you know, I'm quite bookish, but she's a bit more. And so she went in to the bookstore and talked to Renee, and Renee said, "Hey, why don't you and your friend come to this, you know, this concert?" So we were like, "OK!" So she gets in touch with me and she was like, "Hey, guess what? Renee from the bookstore wants us to go to this concert with her, and a few lesbians!" And I'm like, "What? Like what?!" So we all went, we were in the back of a van. It was driven by, the van was owned by, [Laughs] I'm giving all these names away, but Diane Woods, who actually owned the Cactus place in Dundas, which is what the Cactus Festival is named after, like-
ER [00:18:00] The Thirsty Cactus? Yup! [Laughs]
MB [00:18:02] Yeah, yeah.
CG [00:18:03] Right? And they don't exist anymore, but she was she was the owner of that. And then she and another woman, that I'm still friends with, and, one, two, oh and then Lynn, the one who brought me under her wing, and Robin and me and Renee. So we're all sitting in the back of this van with no seats or anything and just driving out to this site with all these lesbians. I'm like, "What's going to happen? I don't know." And then we went to this concert and then from then on, we, like, Robin and I became, like, you know, even better friends because she, you know, she was out. And then, you know DJ Cozmic Cat? Have you heard of Cozmic Cat?
MB [00:18:45] I've heard of, but I don't know.
CG [00:18:48] D you know, Cherry Bomb? You know, the dance party?
ER [00:18:52] Ok.
CG [00:18:52] The queer women's dance party Cherry Bomb, and Denise Benson. And so Cozmic Cat, before they were famous, is, was became, like, is from Hamilton, and she she got in touch with me, she says, "Hey, I heard you just came out!" And I'm like, "Yes!" And she's like, "OK, let's hang out!" So we became absolute best friends. And so we were just like little dykes about town, running around, you know, just tearing up the whole lesbian community, like with our coolness and whatever. We used to plan, like, for three hours before going to a women's dance. Like, what we would wear, and you know, who we're going to try to pick up and this kind of stuff. [Laughs] So we, so the, uh, oh god I'm getting all over the place, but Robin. What was I saying about Robin in the- oh yeah, so we came out and then we went to that, that dance, that that concert and then, you know, we were great friends and then we went to these dances and I became really good friends with Paula Burrows, Cozmic Cat is Paula Burrows, she would, you probably need her permission to talk about that, but she is really cool. You should go look it up on Instagram, DJ Cozmic Cat. And she was from Hamilton, she grew up in Hamilton. I've known her since she was, you know, like we were in our early 20s and were in our early 50s. And so she pulled me out of the closet and, you know, make love to a woman, all this kind of stuff, you know like. So, and so the lesbians were quite effective in those days. Like, we had a lot, there was a lot going on. There was lots of feminism going on. There was lots of like, you know, you know, involvement with SACHA. There was involvement, you know, I actually got lent from the Women's Bookstore to SACHA for a week, you know, to do an administration for them. And it was all very, the women were very, very connected with each other and working all together on, you know, ending violence against women from men, and also, you know, amplifying women's issues. And, you know, sometimes there was once a protest by some lesbians against other lesbians for having a dance at a church that wasn't accessible. [Laughs].
MB [00:21:20] Oh wow!
CG [00:21:21] Oh yeah! They actually picketed our dance! We were like, "Why are you picketing?" Like, we're they're my friends, and I'm like, "Why are you picketing?", "Sorry Cole, sorry but you know, like, you have to stand by your principles." And I'm like, I mean now, we're like, "Please City, you know, make more, you know, accessible spaces!" Because there aren't very many accessible spaces in town.
MB [00:21:43] Yeah. So is the the Bookstop kind of like a, did it, was it there for a long time before you ended up there? And then like, did it kind of act as a nexus? I kind of, I'm getting the impression that it was kind of like where everybody gravitated. [Laughs] Yeah.
CG [00:21:59] Yes. It totally was. It was a total nexus. I mean, it started in 1985. It was the second ever women's bookstore to be opened in Canada. The first one was in Windsor, actually. And the oldest running one was in Thunder Bay, as a matter of fact, but they didn't, they started later than us, but they were longer running. But basically it started in '85, it closed down in, I would say, 2000 and it [audio cut off]. We had, I mean, Renee and I actually started up a little production company called Gearing Up Productions. We just named it after very, like, nothing, you know, Gearing Up Productions. And we produced five anthologies of women's writing on different themes. One was called The Courage to Eat, so it was talking all about eating and fatness and everything, like, you know, this is back in the 90s, you know, before anyone was talking about this kind of stuff. [audio cut off] …it was all about erotic writing by women, and they were all local women, and we, you know, we vetted them and there was no poetry allowed. So we had to say no to a couple of people, but it was all short stories. And we did the photography, I did the photography, we got people, [Laughs] it was just so grassroots. And I have, I think I have, I mean, Renee must have all of them. We also put on art shows. We put it on an art show called Bountiful Woman, the Beautiful… [audio cut off] …gallery on the, oh no, at Workers Arts and Heritage Centre, down on Stuart Street, and there were, like, you know, fifty women's, you know, put together art to put there. We also brought in Ani DiFranco, which, you know, I don't know if you have ever heard of her, but we we, she's famous, you know, bisexual chick singer who had Righteous Babe Records. You know, she refused to go with any kind of major label, and she created her own label. We brought her to town and we charged six bucks and three hundred people came!
MB [00:24:17] Oh wow!
CG [00:24:17] And this is before the internet! So pre-internet… [audio cut off] …came into the bookstore to buy tickets to get to that concert, and we were practically, I mean, we were sold out. I mean, three hundred people showed up at Mohawk College. We rented Mohawk College, we got some guy to do the the sound and I had to cook her dinner, a vegan dinner. I made her nut, I think it was a nut curry or something.
MB [00:24:50] [Laughs].
CG [00:24:51] So we did a lot of other things. And we had, we also served as a little bit of a place, like a little hub, for feminists and for women. I mean, every time there was a women's dance, people would come in on the Saturday to de-, you know, debrief the women's dance, and who was going with who, and who was doing what, all the drama and blah blah blah. They would come in and discuss it all with me, you know, the next day to like, "Oh, I guess, oh oh oh", you know? So there was all this, like, real, there was a real sense of familiarity and family around the whole thing. Yeah.
ER [00:25:28] Right.
CG [00:25:28] So the store was a major hub and we would have concerts in the backyard, and poetry readings and all sorts of bizarre things happen there.
MB [00:25:38] I I have a follow up question about, because it seems like it was the nexus, but also like there was quite a network, like, of of of different places across the city, or of different types of places that the bookstore would, like, participate or like, you know what I mean, like, you know, different different people in different places and crossing over. What kind of what kind of did those networks look like? Was it kind of a lot of, like, little little nexuses all over the place? Or were there kind of groups that would transiently go between places? Like, what did that look like?
CG [00:26:21] Well, I think there were, because the thing is like, not all lesbians are feminists, right? So I remember, you know, and not all women, not all lesbians would come to the women's dances. So I mean, we would have women's dances and, I mean, most people we ever got, I think, was like two hundred. And I'm like, surely there are two hundred thousand lesbians here, or at least, you know, twenty thousand or something. And so, but then I realised that there were other groups of of, not all lesbians are feminists. So there were other groups of, and not to say that they were anti-feminists or anything, but just to say that, you know, there was the queer bowling league and loads of lesbians were involved in that, along with gay men as well. And then there was, there were, I mean, the dances would attract some people, but some people prefer to go to the Windsor Hotel or to 121, which was 121 Hughson North, which, you know, had many iterations, and ended up being the Spice Factory, which is called the Spice Factory now. But, so there would be, not everyone would be attached to the Women's Bookstop because they didn't necessarily see themselves as feminists. So maybe some of the more, I would say, the 'sporty dykes' would maybe not quite be coming to the store because they weren't really interested in, you know, reading and, you know, being intellectual or whatever or whatever, you know, whatever they thought we were doing, and they were more interested in playing softball. And so there was a softball league, there was, like, bowling that was like, you know, probably soccer or something, you know. So sports stuff. And then there were people who would hang out at the bars and be a bit more involved with gay men as well. There's definitely a gay culture that involved women that wasn't really about lesbians being separate from from men. Yeah.
MB [00:28:24] Mm-hmm yeah. Before I forget, I also was wondering where the dances often took place? Because it sounds like they were kind of all over. You mentioned that the first one that you went to was at Maryhill, but I'm assuming they weren't all out in the boonies. [Laughs]
CG [00:28:44] No, Maryhill was a concert, so it wasn't a dance.
MB [00:28:47] Oh ok.
CG [00:28:47] It was seats, right? So that was just listening to music, for sure. But then the main places were, well, first of all, my very first women's dance, and I think the gay dances happened there, they were called the HUGS dances, Hamilton United Gay Societies. They would happen at either the Army and Navy Hall, or, and they would, you know, go in between, or St Demetrius Church on Head Street. I don't know if it's still there. But, so Head Street is just off of Dundurn, it's near the Staircase and. But the problem is the Army and Navy April is run by the military, and after a while we were like, "Why are we going here?" Because it's a military thing and the military hate us and they're going to kill us and blah-blah-blah, and so let's not support them. And then St Demetrius Church was first of all, it was inaccessible. Well, the Army Navy Hall was inaccessible because I had stairs going up, but also the St. Demetrius Church was inaccessible because it had stairs on the outside going up. And that's why we got picketed because it was inaccessible. But also, you went upstairs to get in and then had to go downstairs to get into the hall. And so there was also a church. You know, why are we, you know, there's so many queer people who have been abused by, you know, the church. And so why are we supporting? Why are we having people who could be triggered, you know, coming to dance for gay people at a church? So that, you know, so towards the late 90s there were much more, sort of, consciousness around, you know, what kind of spaces are we going to be? And so then what we did was we had a few people running dances, but in the mid, I would say the mid-90s, maybe like '95 to '99 it was, the dances were not as often, but they were run and that was just the women's dances. There were no more gay dances because the gay people didn't want to do it or whatever, or the, and the gay men I remember once saying, "Well, why can't, why do we have only, you know, lesbian dances not gay dances? And it's like, well, if you want a gay dance why don't you organise it?
ER [00:31:06] [Laughs].
CG [00:31:06] Like, you know, we're organizing our own dances, you organise your dances. Hey, come on in!
Anonymous [00:31:15] [Background talking]
CG [00:31:15] Thanks!
Anonymous [00:31:18] This is so fucking cool!
CG [00:31:18] Isn't it? Thanks! I'm talking about gay history. So you can come in. This is my friend from [audio cut off] who's just arrived. Basically, I'm just doing it.
MB [00:31:28] Yeah.
CG [00:31:29] You can always chime in if you want.
Anonymous [00:31:31] No, thanks.
CG [00:31:31] And have a beer.
MB [00:31:33] We can, we can just, like, you can just give us your last little schpiel and then we'll wrap up.
CG [00:31:37] Yeah, yeah.
MB [00:31:38] Yeah
CG [00:31:39] But basically, I'm just talking about the dances, so basically where we where we ended up was at the YWCA and and so Jill Rumble, who was a really good friend of the lesbian community, she wasn't a lesbian herself. She actually died of ALS, it was just terrible. She had, like, a very long, long period of not being able to move and speak and swallowing things like this. But she was very good, she was, I don't know if she was the CEO or, definitely in charge of operations. And so we had the YWCA auditorium where, you know, some things happen now, and we brought in our own bar. Well, they had this sort of like 1970s, like, so there is this round thing that you opened up into two halves and they had this is all this liquor cabinet underneath. And we had big tubes filled with ice and we had beer there, and we served even mixed drinks sometimes, and we served wine. And and we made all the money and then we gave it basically to, you know, we donated lots of it. But sometimes we we just had to pay for everything and then we would split it amongst, you know, people who worked it. But basically, we had these women's dances there for about, I would say, like many years, like four or five years. And yeah, we just ran it all ourselves, we got a special event licence and everything. And so, and Jill Rumble, as I was saying, she was the CEO or what have you, and she, I would call her up and she would give us a discount. You know, so she'd always give us a discount, "Oh, you can have it for $200." You know, so rather than like five hundred or whatever they they rented it out for. So we had them there. And uh, you know, the people at the front desk were very understanding and we were always like, "No men allowed!" you know? So in those days, it was like, I mean, trans women, we were always very much like, we don't know any trans women, but if they come, they're allowed in. I mean, some of the women there would be like, "There's a man here!" we'd be like, "No, she's a woman, and you better be nice to her, otherwise, you know, we're not gonna-" And I was the bouncer!
ER [00:33:56] [Laughs].
CG [00:33:57] I remembers, you know. I was the bouncer, and I am the smallest and the tiniest and the friendliest of all the lesbians-
ER [00:34:08] [Laughs].
CG [00:34:09] -that we worked with. So that's why I was chosen because I would be able to, like no one would want to pound me. And so, and it worked out, you know, I was I was the bouncer, right? And then we had drama. My friend is over here, she remembers all the drama from the dance.
Anonymous [00:34:25] [Muffled audio]
CG [00:34:25] I know I never bounced her out, and she's like twice my size. But anyway, so we yeah, so we did that. And you know, it was great. And then we just like we ran out of steam and nobody ever took it up again. And-
MB [00:34:41] Yeah.
CG [00:34:43] -it didn't happen anymore. Yeah.
MB [00:34:43] Yeah, right. Oh, well, thank you for sharing all that! That's awesome! Lots of very good information.
ER [00:34:52] [Laughs].
MB [00:34:52] We'll let you go hang out with your friend, I'll I'll stop recording so we can just chat.
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