Quiet, discreet, and close to queer-friendly locations within Ottawa’s downtown core, Major Hill’s Park was an important gay cruising spot in Ottawa during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Its location and landscaping provided a sense of privacy at a time where 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals risked social stigma, physical harm, and persecution at work.
Overlooking the river, the park offers a clear view of Parliament Hill, where activists organized the We Demand Protest of 1971. Held in the pouring rain, the protest drew attention to police harassment and discrimination, and is seen as a landmark event in the history of Canada’s 2SLGBTQIA+ community.
As peaceful as it seemed, Major’s Hill Park held many risks. Marginalized individuals, including those cruising or engaging in sex work, were often targeted in violent attacks. Several men were murdered in the late 1980s including Martin Mallon, Peter Vainola and John Richard Miller. On the night of August 21-22, 1989, a Chateau Laurier waiter, Alain Brosseau, was misidentified as gay and thrown from Alexandra Bridge. Two years after his death, the Ottawa police formed Canada’s first hate crimes unit.