Canadian Queer History

First in Queer Canadian History

Most queer history makers don’t even recognize in the moment that they are in the midst of a momentous moment. They were fighting for their rights to be equal in our society. Others may be lost to time as much of our histories were never recorded or considered important enough to be saved. These moments have shaped our community into what it is today and many of these have helped increase representation across all sectors or been fought for a better quality of life for our community.

Explore the firsts in the history of queer Canada.

Please Note: We have tried our best to bring you what we have found in our research to be the first known moments of queer history. If you are part of our living history and know something that isn’t reflected here, please reach out to us! Our queer history folks would love to chat with you.

History Timelines: Firsts in Queer History

Sort by Decade
Grassroots / Protest, Riots & Raids

1971 First Gay Rights Protest

QueerEvents.ca - queer hisotry - gay rights protest ottawa 1971
Media Credit: Ottawa Journal

On August 28, 1971, roughly 100 people from Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and the surrounding areas gathered in the pouring rain at Parliament Hill for Canada’s First Gay Liberation Protest and March. They presented a petition to the government with a list of ten demands for equal rights and protections.

Simultaneously, another much smaller group of roughly twenty gay activists demonstrated at Robson Square in Vancouver.

Grassroots

Pride Week '73 Emergence & shift to gay liberation

Pride Week 1973 was a national LGBT rights event held in August 1973 in several Canadian cities, including Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Saskatoon and Winnipeg. Programming included an art festival, a dance, picnic, a screening of a documentary and a rally for gay rights that occurred in all the participating cities.

This event represented the shift from the homophile movement into the gay liberation movement, showing the emergence of the concept of gay pride.

Grassroots

Vancouver's Earliest Pride celebrations

Vancouver's earliest Pride celebrations began when the Gay Alliance Toward Equality (GATE) organized a picnic and art exhibit in Ceperley Park. The August 1973 edition of GATE's newspaper, Gay Tide, features coverage of "Gay Pride Week '73.", and was followed shortly thereafter by their first Pride parade in 1978.

Arts, Culture, Media

Buddies in Bad Times stage first production

QueerEvents.ca - queer history - buddies in bad times theatre image

Buddies in Bad Times, Canada's oldest surviving theatre company dedicated to LGBT theatre, is launched by Matt Walsh, Jerry Ciccoritti and Sky Gilbert in 1978

In Sept 5-9th 1979, their first production was Gilbert’s Angels in Underwear staged in an old brewery, Dream Factory 496 Queen Street East

Official Pride

Montreal’s First Pride March

QueerEvents.ca - queer history - montreal first official pride 1979

Montreal’s first Gay/Lesbian pride week took place from June 16-23 and was chosen to celebrate Quebec’s first public gay demonstration in response to pre-Olympic anti-gay repression in June 1976.

La Brigade Rose, which organized the first Pride march, didn’t have a Rainbow Flag. So, Montréal activist John Banks sewed together two bedsheets, dyed them pink and cut them into a triangular flag, which he and Montréal drag legend “La Monroe” (a.k.a. Armand Monroe) carried at the head of the march. The march drew 52 attendees who marched from on Saint-Laurent Boulevard from Sherbrooke to Duluth. Montréal Pride is now the largest Pride celebration in the francophone world.

Community

First Lesbian Pride March in Canada

“Look over here, look over there, lesbians are everywhere!” was the chant of over 200 women who marched from Robson’s Square in Vancouver to the West End Community Centre in Canada’s first lesbian pride march which took place on the weekend of the fifth Binational Lesbian Conference. They were there to:

"Define what it means to be lesbian and come out, not just as individual women, but as a movement"

Dorothey Kidd, Organizer

Official Pride

Vancouver's First Official Pride Parade

Queer History - poster of first pride parade in Vancouver 1981

Vancouver's earliest Pride celebrations began when the Gay Alliance Toward Equality (GATE) organized a picnic and art exhibit in Ceperley Park. The August 1973 edition of GATE's newspaper, Gay Tide, features coverage of "Gay Pride Week '73.", and was followed shortly thereafter by their first Pride parade in 1978.

It would not be until 1981 that there would be an ‘official’ Pride Parade. After years of being turned down by the city, a new municipal government was elected under the leadership of Mike Harcourt who followed through on election promises to the queer community for a proclamation and parade permit. In the lead up to the parade, hate literature was handed out in Burnaby and Port Moody and the queer community faced heightened harassment but that didn’t stop more than 1,500 attendees from showing up.

We told people if they were afraid of coming out but wanted to come out, they could wear paper bags with holes in it for eyes. A few people took up the offer but most didn't.

David Myers
Official Pride

Edmonton's First Pride Weekend

Edmonton holds its first Gay Pride Weekend June 24-27 in 1982 at Camp Harris with a theme of “Pride through Unity” in the aftermath of the Pisces Bathhouse Raids. The raid and aftermath of the trials sparked outrage and protests, effectively mobilizing the Edmonton queer community. While before, queer groups in the city operated independently, for the first time Edmonon’s gay community came together to organize out of a sense that they had to do more. The gay pride committee was made up of organizers from GATE, Dignity/Edmonton, Gay Fathers, the Privacy Defence Committee and Womonspace and others.

Previously, there are undocumented reports that there was a campfire and baseball game event with 75 people in 1980. There would not be a pride parade until 1991 and it was not until June 26, 1993 that Edmonton’s Pride Parade was officially recognized by the Mayor and City. City Council had been denying requests from GALA (Gay and Lesbian Awareness Society) since 1984 for recognition.

"[In the first parade] It was about 40 people walking down Whyte Avenue," recalls Michael Phair, "15 of which were wearing bags over their heads."

Community

First Programs to Combat Anti-Gay Discrimination

One of Canada's first programs to combat anti-gay discrimination and violence is implemented by the Toronto District School Board after a hate crime in which their employee Kenneth Zeller is murdered in Toronto's High Park.

Official Pride

Winnipeg’s First Official Pride Week

QueerEvents.ca - queer history - winnipeg pride march 1987

The first recognized Gay Pride March took place later on August 2nd, 1987 with approximately 250 attendees when they gathered at the Manitoba Legislative Building to await the results of the provincial government's decision to include sexual orientation in the Manitoba Human Rights Code. The consensus was that if the government voted in favor of including sexual orientation in the code they would march in celebration, if the government voted against including sexual orientation in the code they would march in protest.

The provincial government voted in favor of adding sexual orientation to the Manitoba Human Rights Code, which sparked the first 'Pride Parade' in Winnipeg as the 250 people marched in the streets of downtown Winnipeg in celebration.

Some of the first participants of this event actually wore paper bags over their heads out of fear of rallying in public.

Previously, From October 1st to 6th, 1973 Gays For Equality sponsored Winnipeg’s first Gay Pride Week. Events were scheduled around panel discussions, films, coffee house gatherings, musical performances and dancing. However, this Pride event was not officially recognized by the city.

Politics & Politicians

First openly gay member of canadian parliament

British Columbia MP Svend Robinson came out as Canada's first openly gay member of parliament. Robinson publicly announced he was gay during an interview with CBC reporter Barbara Frum.

Robinson was the lone publicly gay MP for another six years, until Quebecois Réal Ménard came out in 1994, followed by B.C. MP Libby Davies who was the first lesbian to come out in 2001.

Official Pride

Halifax's First Official Pride March

QueerEvents.ca - queer history - Halifax first pride 1988 image
Media Credit: Anita Martinez

The Gay Alliance for Equality, formally established in 1973, was the first organization in Nova Scotia to fight for gay rights. In 1978 there was a large national conference in Halifax of gay and lesbian activists. About 200 participants marched through Halifax.

But in 1988, things had hardly improved. That was the year Eric Smith, a teacher in Shelburne County, was fired by the school board for having HIV. John William Tha Din was beaten to death in Camp Hill Cemetery, a gay cruising area. And the AIDS crisis further stigmatized anybody who was gay.

"For us, violence was part of the 1980s in a very big way," says Chris Aucoin. "There was no human rights protection. You could lose your job if it was found out that you were queer. You could lose your apartment. You could be denied service in a restaurant. Or you could get beaten up. Gay bashing was common and pleas to the authorities went unheard."

About 75 people marched through Halifax's North End along Gottingen Street that first year. A handful wore paper bags over their heads, not out of shame, but out of the very real fear for their livelihoods and their safety.

Somebody drove his car into the crowd and laughed about it. People were yelling things from the sidewalk, or pointing their finger as if it was a gun and making shooting sounds. That may not sound like a big deal, but in a context of people getting physically attacked that is very real and threatening.

Grassroots / Community

First Gay and Lesbian Pride March in P.E.I.

QueerEvents.ca - queer history - 1994 P.E.I first pride march for rights

Gay and Lesbian Pride March took place on July 16, 1994, individuals took to the streets of Charlottetown to demand protection under the law and raise awareness.

"I definitely had some trepidation and I think some of that was highlighted by the fact that we had people walking with bags over their head because they were terrified of being outed."
Troy Perrot-Sanderson, organizer

At one point, oranges were thrown at those in the march from behind a fence, some of which were simply gathered up by marchers who made smoothies with them later.

The march was organized to help push for changes in the P.E.I. Human Rights Act to include sexual orientation.

Grassroots / Arts, Culture, Media

Blockorama: First Black Queer Space at Toronto Pride

QueerEvents.ca - queer history - Blockorama
Media Credit: Queer Events

In 1999 Blockorama made its appearance as the very first black queer space in the Toronto pride festival. Today it is an all day dance party and stage during Pride to celebrate Black Queer and Trans history, creativity and activism.

Blocko shows us that we are not alone, that we are resilient and [that] we know how to have fun in a [world] where we were never meant to survive.

Kyisha Williams, event organizer
Politics & Politicians

NWT Includes Gender Identity in Human Rights Act

The Northwest Territories became the first jurisdiction in Canada to explicitly add "gender identity" to its human rights legislation as a prohibited ground of discrimination.

Official Pride

Quebec City’s First Pride

Thousands of people lined the streets of Quebec's capital city Sunday for the community's first gay pride parade.

The march was held to mark the 25th anniversary of the province's bill of rights, which outlaws discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Grassroots

Toronto's First Trans March

The Trans March, originally started by Karah Mathiason began in response to Pride’s lack of organizing efforts for the Trans* Community.

The march, which was not recognized by Pride Toronto as an officially programmed event, was a short route that from Church & Bloor Streets to Church & Wellesley Streets.

When the march reached the Church and Wellsley Streets, they were met with large metal barricades lined up across the street. The marchers, disappointed and frustrated, pushed through the barricades, and finished the first ever Trans March inside the Village.

Official Pride

Fredericton’s First Official Pride

Fredericton’s annual Queer Pride celebrations have always been an exciting time of year for the city’s queer community, but this year the community was particularly proud. In a unanimous vote earlier this year, Fredericton’s City Council allowed the Fredericton Pride 2010 Committee to hold the city’s first Queer Pride Parade on August 8th.

The decision ended years of struggle by the queer community and allies to hold such a parade in the provincial capital because of City Council’s opposition (similar marches have been happening for years in Saint John and Moncton). With over three hundred marchers in attendance, as well as several hundred onlookers lining the parade route, the march was both a celebration of the city’s sexual and political diversity, as well as a way for straight allies to show support and solidarity with queer friends, family, and co-workers.

Community

Olympics gets a Pride House

QueerEvents.ca - queer history - 2010 olympic pride house

British Columbia was the host to the 2010 Winter Olympics, for the first time, the Olympic games included the Pride House for LGBT athletes.

Trailblazers, Activists

Angela James is Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame

QueerEvents.ca - queer history milestones - angela james

Angela James was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2010, becoming the first openly gay player, and only the second black athlete to ever be inducted.

Angela James aka "the Wayne Gretzky of women's hockey" among many other achievements led the Canadian women’s hockey team to four world championships (1990, 1992, 1994, and 1997).

James has been a dominant force in promoting and inspiring women and young girls in sports, each year the CWHL awards the highest scoring player the Angela James Bowl. In 2009 the city of Toronto renamed her hometown hockey arena the Angela James Arena to honour her contributions and work within the local community.

Grassroots / Protest, Riots & Raids

First Trans Protest in Quebec

Organised by PolitiQ-queer solidaire, an activist group fighting against all forms of heterosexist and cissexist oppression and exclusion in Quebec.

Nearly 200 people gathered for the 2010 demonstration, which included community organizations advocating for the rights of trans people and leading public figures from legal, academic, and political sectors. The protesters demanded changes be made to Quebec's existing regulations requiring those seeking gender marker changes to their civil status to undergo forced sterilization, as well as more accessible ways of changing one's name.

Official Pride

Northwest Territories Holds First Pride

The community events took place from Aug 31 - Sept 3, 2012

"I hope (NWT Pride) will raise awareness that other people that identify in smaller communities, even in Yellowknife, can see that we are a community and that we are a group of people that work together and support each other. It’s a beautiful community to be a part of and there is nothing to be ashamed of,"
Iman Kassan, Founder of NWT Pride
Politics & Politicians / Trailblazers, Activists

Kathleen Wynne: First open LGBT Premier

queerevents.ca - queer history - first lgbt premier - katheleen wynne

Kathleen Wynne wins the leadership of the governing Ontario Liberal Party on the 3rd ballot in its leadership election. Wynne is formally sworn into office on February 11, becoming both Ontario's first female Premier and Canada's first openly LGBT Premier.

Official Pride

First Pride Festival in Iqaluit, Nunavut

Out of the controversy over a flag came the idea for a party. It began when the city of Iqaluit raised a rainbow flag at city hall to protest anti-gay laws in Russia during the 2014 Winter Olympics, at the initiative of city Councillor Kenny Bell and Iqaluit resident Anubha Momin. Councillor Simon Nattaq argued that the decision had not been approved by council, and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc president Cathy Towtongie commended Nattaq for speaking out. These events sparked lively discussion among the residents of Nunavut about same-sex issues, including whether it’s within Inuit custom to be gay.

In the midst of this discussion, the idea for a party emerged, specifically, an Iqaluit Pride party, the first of its kind in the capital city of Nunavut.

Politics & Politicians / Trailblazers, Activists

Alberta elects first non-binary politician

QueerEvents.ca - queer history - Estefania Cortes-Vargas

Estefania Cortes-Vargas (born 1991) is elected to the Legislative Assembly of Alberta becoming the first out non-binary politician. They are one of three out LGBT2Q+ people elected to the Alberta Legislature.

The Colombian born politician chose to not run for re-election in the 2019 elections and was instead named executive director of the Pride Centre of Edmonton.

Politics & Politicians / Community

2016 - Parliment Raises Pride Flag

For the first time in Canadian history, a pride flag is raised on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

Politics & Politicians

First transgender mayor elected

Julie Lemieux won 48% of the vote to become Mayor of Très-Saint-Rédempteur, a municipality in the Montérégie region of Quebec.

This marked the first time a transgender person was elected as mayor in any municipality across Canada and the first female mayor in the history of Très-Saint-Rédempteur.

"We're writing history and I have a lot to offer."

Trailblazers, Activists

First trans person appointed judge in Canada

QueerEvents.ca - queer history - trans judge Kael McKenzie
Media Credit: Ian McCausland

Kael McKenzie (born 1971) is appointed to the Provincial Court of Manitoba making him the first transgender person appointed as a judge in Canada.

"I didn’t set out to be a trailblazer or to try to have courage. It just happened that way.

Kael McKenzie

He is a member of the Manitoba Métis Nation and has also served as the Manitoba chair of the Canadian Bar Association, and president of the provincial Rainbow Resource Centre for Manitoba's LGBT2Q+ community.

Arts, Culture, Media

First Two-Spirit Archives in Canada Launches

University of Winnipeg launches the first Two-Spirit archives in Canada. The collection — mostly donated by long-time Winnipeg two-spirit activist Albert McLeod is believed to be the most comprehensive collection of two-spirit materials in Canada, The archives will be used by researchers, historians and two-spirit people to tell the story of the movement's 40-year history.

Community / Politics & Politicians

Intersex Flag Raised at City Hall

QueerEvents.ca - queer history - first intersex flag raised - city hall london ontario

Community group, Intersex London On lobbied the City of London to raise the Intersex flag at city hall for the first time in 2019 to mark Intersex Awareness Day (October 26th).

The City of Barrie also raised the intersex flag at City Hall on the same morning.

Food for Queers Community Program

Food for Queers
Stay Safe. Not Hungry

Fresh meals for LGBT2Q+ folks within the City of London

No questions. No contact. Just Lunch!

Future is Queer! #QueerEvents