– History of gay festivals in Toronto 1964 to 2011

The Pride Connection

History of gay festivals in Toronto 1964 to 2011

Copyright 2017 Gay West Community Network Inc.

Compiled By Michel F. Paré, Archvist

Alexander Parkette - Alterna-queer Concert Pride 2007. Photo by Michel Pare

Alexander Parkette – Alterna-queer Concert @ Pride Toronto 2007. Photo by M.F. Paré


Gay and Queer Festivals in Toronto has been in existence in various forms since the late 1970’s The first official gay picnic in Canada, was held at Hanlan’s Point on the Toronto Islands on 1 August 1971. Attended by about 300 people,– already, long known as a gay beach. The first picnic was the precursor to Canada’s first gay march two weeks later in Ottawa


Justice Minister Pierre Trudeau proposes amendments to the Criminal Code which, among other things, would relax the laws against homosexuality. Discussing the amendments Trudeau says, “It’s certainly the most extensive revision of the Criminal Code since the 1950s and, in terms of the subject matter it deals with, I feel that it has knocked down a lot of totems and over-ridden a lot of taboos and I feel that in that sense it is new. It’s bringing the laws of the land up to contemporary society I think. Take this thing on homosexuality. I think the view we take here is that there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation. I think that what’s done in private between adults doesn’t concern the Criminal Code. When it becomes public this is a different matter, or when it relates to minors this is a different matter.” (Source: CBC Timeline)


Trudeau’s amendments to the Criminal Code pass, decriminalizing homosexuality in Canada. In 1969, during the final weekend in June, drag queens and queer street kids rioted at the Stonewall Inn in New York City. The Stonewall riots marked the beginning of the gay liberation movement that has transformed the oppression of the LGTTQQ2S community into queer pride.


On August 21, 1971 petition was given to the federal government, prepared by Toronto Gay Action and sponsored by Canadian gay groups. It called for law reform and changes to public policy as it relates to homosexuals. On Saturday, August 28, 1971. An Ottawa gay and lesbian march marked the 2nd Anniversary of decriminalization of homosexual acts.


August 19, 1972 – Toronto – The first Gay Pride Week is organized by Toronto Gay Action.


In 1974 CHAT ( University of Toronto’s Community Homophile Association of Toronto) hosted Gay Pride Week events and Gay Alliance Towards Equity (GATE) held a Gay Pride March. Toronto gay politics being what it was, the CHAT Pride schedule makes no mention of the march but nevertheless they did have a small contingent in it. GATE held its Pride dance at Holy Trinity Church in downtown Toronto, where the first CHAT dances were held in 1971-2. CHAT marched from Allan Gardens to Ontario Legislature and back to Allan Gardens.


Quebec includes sexual orientation in its Human Rights Code, making it the first province in Canada to pass a gay civil rights law. The law makes it illegal to discriminate against gays in housing, public accommodation and employment. (Source: CBC Timeline)


Canada gets a new Immigration Act. Under the act, being a homosexual is removed from the list of inadmissible classes. The Barracks bathhouse at 56 Widmer Street is raided by Toronto Police on December 9, 1978. 23 men are arrested.


The Canadian Human Rights Commission recommends in its Annual Report that “sexual orientation” be added to the Canadian Human Rights Act. (Source: CBC Timeline)


No organized pride festivals held.

1981 – Setting the Historical Queer Record Straight

On February 5, 1981. One hundred and sixty cops have arrested 286 men in a well-planned raid of the; Club Baths, the Romans II Health and Recreation Spa, the Richmond Street Health Emporium and, for a second time, the Barracks bathhouse in an event called Operation Soap .It was the largest mass arrest in Canada since the October Crisis of 1970 (officially called the War Measures Act).

One night later, thousands of people gather to protest on Yonge Street. The rally was organized by Gay Liberation Against the Right Everywhere (GLARE) and Right To Privacy Committee (RTPC). Later in the year, the two organizations formed the The Lesbian and Gay Pride Day Committee (LGPDC).The raids and its aftermath are today widely considered to be the Canadian equivalent of the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City.

One of the first documented Lesbian Pride marches in North America took place in May, 1981, in downtown Vancouver, B.C. Canada. The march, which attracted approximately 200 lesbians, was part of the Bi-National Lesbian Conference. In October, 1981, an organization called Lesbians Against the Right organized a second march in Toronto, Ontario (Reference: Bearchell, Chris (June 1981). “Lesbian Pride March is a First for Canada”. The Body Politic.)

“In 2005 Kyle Rae (A Toronto City Councillor for Ward 27, Rosedale, Church St gay village) is being given an award by the Toronto Pride Committee as the “Pride founder.” While Kyle Rae was actively involved in the organizing of the Pride events that first year it was not an individual, but a collective event and he was involved in Pride organizing, as a project of Gay Liberation Against the Right Everywhere (GLARE), a left-wing gay liberation group dedicated to fighting the anti-gay, anti-feminist, and racist right-wing. To focus on only one person as the “founder” does a real disservice to our histories.” (Source: Gary Kinsman was a member of GLARE, the RTPC, and the Lesbian and Gay Pride Day Committee in 1981. tao.ca/~limpfist/campaigns.html)


On June 28th in Grange Park, located south of the Art Gallery of Ontario and despite opposition from City Hall, a small gay pride event is held, about 2,000 attend. Organized by The Lesbian and Gay Pride Day Committee (LGPDC)


Toronto gay and lesbian residents hold a pride event on June 26th, at King’s College Circle, University of Toronto, due to previous complaints from Grange Park area residents.


In 1984, during Jack Layton’s first term as councilor, Kyle Rae, then the director of the 519 Church Street community centre, was looking for a new venue for Pride Day celebrations. Previously the event had been held in Grange Park, until local residents had made their opposition clear. It was Layton who proposed closing off Church and holding it there instead. When the public works department objected, he conducted a poll of residents that he said showed support for the concept, and the motion was passed. ” www.trevorcole.com/journalism/layton.html

A Toronto gay pride is held on July 1st, Canada Day, in Cawthra Park with thousands celebrants. For the first time Church Street is closed and people dance in the street.


Toronto gay pride day is held June 30th. Mayor Art Eggleton refuses to proclaim Lesbian & Gay Pride Week. Thousands attend the festivities in Cawthra Park on Church St.


The Toronto pride theme for this year is “Forward Together.” Mayor Art Eggleton refuses the proclamation.


Sexual orientation is included in the Ontario Human Rights Code Mayor Art Eggleton refuses to issue a proclamation.


The temporary AIDS Memorial is installed in Toronto’s Cawthra Park. Official gay pride proclamation is refused by City of Toronto Mayor Art Eggleton.


Pride in Gay Toronto theme is “Vision 20/20: Setting Our Sights,” to remember the 20th an anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. While thousands of people attend, official proclamation is again refused.


Mayor Art Eggleton refuses to proclaim pride week. AIDS Action Now, holds a parade and Die-In. Some marchers, lay on the street, their outline is chalk marked, as they move on.


Jack Layon fought to have the city proclaim “Gay and Lesbian Pride Day” at a time when the mayor (current Liberal Senator Art Eggleton) opposed it: https://plus.google.com/u/0/113983435039746938587/posts/inVN5WNC2Ct

Toronto City Council proclaims Pride Day for the first time.

1992 November

The federal court lifts the country’s ban on homosexuals in the military, allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the armed forces. (Source: CBC Timeline)


Estimated 150,000 people take part in Pride Day in Toronto. In the U.S., about one million lesbians, gays and transgendered people attend the March On Washington with Canadians making up the largest international contingent.


Queer Toronto gay Pride Week’s is “The Best is Yet To Come.” The theme, chosen the previous fall, proves correct as provincial MPPs defeat Bill 167 recognizing same sex spousal benefits in Ontario after NDP Premier Bob Rae puts it to a free vote. Liberal opposition leader Lynn MacLeod flip flops, first supporting, then voting against the bill. Third party Progressive Conservative leader Mike Harris opposes the bill.


The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Transsexual, and Transgendered Pride Committee of Toronto.”Incorporated in 1995 .Now refered to as simply Pride Toronto (Source: www.toronto.ca/legdocs) Barbara Hall becomes the first Toronto Mayor to March in the Parade.

The Supreme Court in May rules on the case involving Jim Egan and Jack Nesbit, two gay men who sued Ottawa for the right to claim a spousal pension under the Old Age Security Act. The Court ruled against Egan and Nesbit. However, all nine judges agreed that sexual orientation is a protected ground and that the protection extends to partnerships of lesbians and gay men. (Source: CBC Timeline)

An Ontario Court judge finds that the Child and Family Services Act of Ontario infringes section 15 of the Charter by not allowing same-sex couples to bring a joint application for adoption. He rules that four lesbians have the right to adopt their partners’ children. Ontario becomes the first province to make it legal for same-sex couples to adopt.


The federal government passes Bill C-33 which adds “sexual orientation” to the Canadian Human Rights Act.


“Queer By Nature” is the theme for Pride Toronto Week , running June 23rd-29th.


“Mega Pride” is the theme for the first pride week celebration in the newly amalgamated “mega city” of Toronto, June 22nd-28th. Mayor Mel Lastman officially recognize Pride Week, as opposed to only Pride Day


Gay Toronto pride theme is “One Pride Fits All.” Young people raise their profile at Pride, with a large contingent in the annual street parade on Yonge St.


Gay Toronto pride theme is “Heroic Past, Proud Future” – a time to look back on all that LGBTQ communities have accomplished in central Toronto.

2001 to 2004

Gay West Community Network 2001 starts holding their own Pride Toronto West, as one day event, not associated with Pride Toronto. They change its name in 2005 to Parkdale Pride Party (three day event) and in 2006 it became sevenday event), and dropped the word Pride. It was incorporated as not-for-profit Ontario charity in 2008, a division of the Art Centre as Toronto Queer Arts & Culture Festival (Queer West Fest.)


Queer West Fest holds Toronto’s first Pride Bicycle Ride 2005 and Parkdale Pride Party a three day event.

On June 11th a dozen riders left Sunnyside Cafe shortly after 10 A.M. on their way to the Eastern Beaches, as part of the 1st annual Pride Ride. Despite the plus 30 degree temps, we all made it. Once we reached our destination in the Beaches we had a great lunch on the boardwalk to fuel up for our ride back west. This was the first Pride Ride and from all accounts from those in attendance it was a great success, with many looking forward to the next one on the second weekend of July. It was leisurely paced with us arriving back in the Parkdale area shortly before 3pm, an hour before Parkdale Pride began.

The Queer West Fest (Parkdale Pride Party) began at 4 pm after a few musical and BBQ technicalities. It was a fun filled afternoon of activities for everyone, drawing the biggest crowd yet. There were performances by Tantrum, Broadband, Last Nerve Productions, and I Furiosi Baroque Ensemble along with musical interludes by local DJ’s of course the great BBQ, salads (courtesy of The Drake Hotel) and pastries (courtesy of Dufflet’s) were a hit again this year, along with the excellent array of raffle prizes donated by local area business owners. A good time was had by all in attendance.


The 6th Annual Toronto Queer Arts Festival took place on Saturday June 10th 2006, coordinated by Gay West Community Network. The event is sponsored by Xtra newspaper, and QueerPlanet. It was full day of activities planned starting with the annual Pride Ride at noon followed by a Community Fair with over 20 participating organizations.Mix and Mingle Community Fair provided an opportunity to visit various community organizations offering services such as travel, health, lifestyle, sports, literature and more. The Dance Party was aimed at bringing various members of the community together to celebrate the beginning of summer, and act as a prelude to the Toronto Pride festivities.

Organizers raise $500 to host the event.


Gay West Community Network and bevy of volunteers again bring Toronto its 7th alternative Festival for queer arts and artist. Having successfully coordinated several queer focused events over the past several years, 2007 marks the first year that a series of events are being presented over the course of one week as part of the new Toronto Queer Arts Festival.

Organizers raise $800 to host the event.

The events range from a community fair, bike ride, and guest speaker presentation to the pulsating opening and closing night parties. These events are open and welcoming to individuals of all genders and sexualities. Many come turnout, get involved, have some fun and it was a great kick-off to summer!


Gay West Community Network Inc., a not-for-profit charity organization was incorporated April 28. A Board of Directors is elected. Queer West Fest managed by the Board, runs from Thursday June 12 to Tuesday June 24th., a 10 day festival .

The 8th alternative queer arts festival was held in Toronto 2008, organized by new Board of Directors from Queer West, making it the 2nd largest gay and lesbian festival in the city. Having successfully coordinated several queer focused events over the past several years. A series of event were presented over the course of one week as part of the new Queer West Fest. There is never a parade along West Queen West. Rather, there are events at a handful at many gay and gay-friendly businesses in the neighbourhood.

A member of the Board donates $1000 to host the event. $1000 was donated by Cool Beer. Queer West Fest receives a $560 Pride and Diversity grant from Pride Toronto as grass roots project for the Queer Eyes and Queer Ears June 18 Gladstone Hotel

Queer West Fest holds it’s First annual Queer West Film Festival outdoors on Wednesday June 18 in the back lot of Good Catch General Store in Parkdale. Close to 100 attendees settle in for the 2 hour event.

“It was an eye-opening experience for many people to see such diversity and acceptance”, said Chris Mitchell, Marketing, Publicity & Exhibitions Manager, Gladstone Hotel.


The Queer West Festival ran from Friday June 12 to Saturday June 20, 2009 again marks the 9th year that a series of events was presented over the course of more than one week, as part of the new Queer West Fest.

Queer West Fest held it’s second annual Queer West Film Festival at Fix Point Theatre on Saturday June 20. The Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention (ASAAP) loans the film festival a DVD Projector.

Gay West Community Network Inc. holds Queer West Fest 2009; Mix and Mingle Community Fair dropped (lack of volunteers) and the planned Java Knights, Global Human Rights panel discussion June 23rd, for Queer Women, had to be cancelled at last minute, due to disagreement with Pride Toronto use of Queer West festival name. Other QWF booked events for the 10 day festival, go ahead as planned. Despite all this, Queer West Fest has a moderately successful year.

Queer West Fest 2009, officially ends Saturday June 20.

In the summer of 2009, a new Queer West Arts Collective was formed; responsible for performing arts events, educational workshops, interactive public forums, art shows including the annual Toronto Queer Arts and Culture Festival and Queer West Film Festival. The Board would be responsible for governance and funding only.

Tuesday, September 08, Pride Toronto bids for World Pride in 2014.

Toronto’s first Trans Pride Parade took place on Friday June 26, 2009.

.Toronto’s first Trigger Festival is held – (Trigger is a Queer Arts Survivor-Centric Festival, managed by a collective). Militantly unapologetic group of performers, facilitators, speakers, musicians and activists who transform, evoke and stimulate with outrageous interactive performances and workshops focused around community accountability and healing. Trigger rages with collective love and queer liberation. Trigger reclaims the notion of survival through art as activism and activism as art. Runs Friday April 3rd to Saturday April 4, 2009 Bread & Circus Theatre, 299 Augusta Ave, Kensington Market, in Queer West Toronto, ON


April 6 – Festival Organizers begin planning for a nine day and tenth anniversary of the festival, running August 7th to August 15. Themed”Queering Boundaries.” The entire cost to host the event is $150

A decision is made to moved Toronto Queer Arts Festival from June to August, to distance themselves from Pride Toronto’s hubris.

Queer West Fest holds successful festival with no deficit. The entire festival is paid for through Community Sponsorship The National Post acclaimed the maturing of The Queer Arts festival in an editorial in June 2010, as an “arguably more substantive event” than Pride.

Second annual TRIGGER FESTIVAL 2010 June 11-12th, The Raging Spoon 761 Queen St W. Queer West Toronto Ontario.


Renamed The Toronto Queer Arts and Culture Festival, to distinguish it from the Queer West Film Festival. The Festival runs from from Monday August 8 to Sunday August 14, 2011. The cost to host the event is $100. Another successful year, no deficit

Third and Last l TRIGGER FESTIVAL! JUNE 16th, 17th and 18th 2011 Steel Workers Hall 25 Cecil Street, Toronto, ON This was the last festival held in Toronto. It’s not clear why the festival ended. Toronto Queer Arts Festival (Queer West Fest) offer a team-up to help save the Trigger Festival, but the collective had disbanded by 2012.

Arts and Culture Festival was put to sleep in 2014 when the last one ran  from Tuesday August 5 to Sunday August 10  We decide to concentrate on making  the Queer West Film Festival bigger and better and TD Bank  begin to help sponsor it in 2015, when we moved from a one evening event to a three day event.