A Quick & Queer Charlie & Peter Timeline 1961-2021
(Variations On A Theme, In Five Year Increments)
60 Years Ago: 1961
The military was a traditional way of escaping small towns. In 1961 Charlie was in the navy and stationed in Victoria. Tom of Finland notwithstanding, the Canadian navy was not a comfortable place for a gay man and he got out when his term was up in 1963. While in high school he had worked part time on the production side at the Atikokan Progress and after the navy he worked as a hot metal printer at the Toronto Star. By the 1980s he'd become a systems analyst there, dealing with pagination.
55 Years Ago: 1966
Peter was living in Vancouver in 1966, working on a crew harvesting salal outside the city. He was fired when the crew boss realized he was gay. A year later, by then an office boy at a steel foundry in east end Montreal, it happened again when they too discovered he was gay. On his own at sixteen he worked a series of bottom level jobs in Montreal, Vancouver, and Toronto. By the 1970s he'd started as a street messenger at the stock broker Merrill Lynch, eventually became a cage clerk there. Later he was at the CIBC, still doing cage work and contracted out to the broker Loewen Ondaatje. He spent a couple of years at Sheridan College School of Craft and Design during the 1980s.
50 Years Ago: 1971
(a) Our paths crossed several times without us knowing it. We finally met in July, 1971 as members of the gay lib group Toronto Gay Action. Meeting again at the Parkside Tavern the next month, we went home together and have been that way ever since. The photo above is from a year later.
(b) Aug. 28, 1971: Peter in Ottawa at the first gay rights demonstration in Canada. We weren't there in search of special treatment, we weren't there out of choice, we were there because we had no other option, we were there because there was no room to breathe.
(c) The Body Politic was a gay liberation periodical that published for years and we were only with it for the first issue. Still it remains that we were very much part of the group that started it and peddled it in the bars and on the street. Copy for that first issue was typed up at our flat at 265 Richmond St. W., the paper was given its name sitting around in our living room, it was laid out at the counterculture paper Guerilla, where Charlie was a photographer in his off-time, and he was the one with expertise in putting a publication out. That issue and probably the second was stored on our porch. The BP itself lasted until 1987.
45 Years Ago: 1976
(a) The Toronto Area Gays phoneline took its first call in January, 1976. We were part of the group that started TAG, a peer counselling and information service. Besides the telephone line TAG also eventually ran several sub-groups out of our homes and at the 519 Community Centre. These included groups for people coming out, for married men, a women-only group, the weekly No Name cafe, etc. Though separate, The Gay Community Calendar/923-GAYS phone line run by TAG member Harvey Hamburg also operated out of the very spartan TAG office. Like all gay groups in this era TAG was run on a shoestring. It lasted in some form until 2008. Peter was with the group for five years, Charlie for several years more. (Bruce Glawson in the office photo, David Sanders with the balloons).
(b) In 1976 two men kiss one afternoon at Bloor & Yonge in Toronto and for this they are charged with and convicted of committing an indecent act. The Gay Alliance Toward Equality holds a Gay Kiss-In at the intersection in protest. Peter is leafleting and Charlie's behind the camera. (Jearld Moldenhauer to Peter's left, judging by the hair probably Herb Spiers faceless to his right, Robert Trow to the far right).
40 Years Ago: 1981
The Toronto bathhouse raids, the night of Feb.5, were the largest mass arrest to that point in Canadian history. We were part of the group that planned and coordinated the immediate response. The following night a midnight protest took over Yonge St., marching down to Dundas then over to 52 Division, where the front and the roof were lined with cops. The raids had stirred a hornet's nest and the crowd stands there chanting, hooting, on and on it goes. They are still not satisfied and several thousand people suddenly decide to head for Queen's Park at full speed. The police are caught off guard, the march's own marshals outrun. At first there is only darkness and the deep thumping echo of the crowd pounding the doors of the Legislature. Years of frustration and anger over so much are playing out.
In the photos above it's after 2am Feb.7/81 and cops, eventually several rows deep and still unprepared, are now standing between 3,000 angry Queer people and the Legislature as our own people try to bring things back under control. We are in the middle of it all, Charlie is holding his camera over his head trying to make some record of the goings-on. Eventually the anger is reined in and most people are persuaded to disperse, but several hundred head back to Yonge St. where there is more confrontation. Protests continue for months and with the networks and experience of community and political groups of the 1970s in place as a base and the revival of Pride this year, the community is finally welded into one to be reckoned with.
35 Years Ago: 1986
The Ontario Human Rights Commission had proposed adding sexual orientation to the Ontario human rights code in 1977. As long as the Conservatives were in power in the province that wasn't going to happen. But after forty-odd years they are gone and the addition is being debated at Queen's Park. Evangelicals and others have formed something called the Coalition For Family Values and the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops has joined forces with them to lobby each and every one of the MPPs and threaten their seats come the next election. They've also organized a massive mail-in campaign against the legislation. The Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights in Ontario and others have managed to rally voices to counter this. After days of debate in the Legislature it seems likely to come to a vote Dec.2.
Before leaving the house that morning Peter phones Charlie to pick up a bottle of something special after work just in case. Both public galleries have been packed with our people throughout and we have calmly listened to the insult, innuendo and hostility we've had a lifetime of. When the vote is finally taken that afternoon the sightlines make it difficult for either gallery to be sure how it has gone and we are anxiously searching each other's faces for clues. Five years after a midnight crowd pounded on the doors downstairs, it's announced 64-45 in favour. The galleries erupt in celebration, rising to give ourselves and the MPPs several minutes of standing ovation. Peter had been sitting beside Tom Warner and puts a hand on his shoulder in congratulation for something Tom had worked towards for so long. Then it's over and Harvey Hamburg and Peter come home and wait for Charlie. The three of us have supper, share some champagne, marvel at one more item crossed off a list that a decade before was beyond anything we thought possible in our lifetime.
30 Years Ago: 1991
Charlie quits his job at the Star and Peter hands in his key at the Canadian Lesbian & Gay Archives (now The Arquives), where he's been volunteering for 3 years. We move to the country.
25 Years Ago: 1996
At a Radical Faerie gathering we pose for our official portrait. (Ok maybe this is 1995!) The queer, wiccan and hippie countercultures had colonized the area we live in during the late 1960s, early '70s. In the 1990s the rural social circuit rivalled the urban, but we're all older now.
20-15 Years Ago: 2001 to 2006
Farmers Market 2013
To support ourselves we had started an online used book business in the 1990s, mainly selling to the States and Europe. It eventually began to require a lot of time in the car: to and from the post office daily, to our storage facility, to auctions and sales. As did seeing to the care of our elderly mothers. We moved to the town of Smiths Falls in 2001 to help cut down on travel time. It was eight years before we got back to living in the country. In the meantime the small gay rural network we were part of deteriorated, people moved, people died. Jules Chamberlain was the mainstay of that network and he opened a small cafe and art gallery in McDonalds Corners at which in 2006 three local gardeners, Torch, Mary, and Elizabeth started selling produce. We set up a book table there. This was the Molly Hill Market, the beginnings of what became the very gay-friendly McDonalds Corners Farmers Market.
10 Years Ago: 2011
They've put a mural depicting the Aug.28/71 Parliament Hill rally on the side of a building at Bank & Gilmour in Ottawa. Charlie Hill's in the centre, speech in hand, and the mural was so fresh you could still smell the paint. For nostalgia's sake a few days later, Pride Day, we went to a We Still Demand gathering, where else but on Parliament Hill. When one of the speakers called for trans rights the Peace Tower chimed as if on cue. Everybody laughed. A nice little rally. No rain this time.
5 Years Ago: 2016
At Perth's Pride Day celebration.
This Year: 2021
Charlie's 80, Peter's 74.
Four decades after one pandemic began to carry away our friends we hunker down in another.