Story kiosk location
- Corner of Elgin Street and Laurier Avenue West, at Confederation Park
- (1941) – The year that the Lord Elgin Hotel opened and an extension was completed in 2004.
What happened here?
The hotel’s basement bar – known as “the LE” – was a popular meeting place for the city’s gay community in the 1960s and gay rights activists in the 1970s.
As you stand facing the Lord Elgin Hotel, imagine what it would have been like to know you were being spied upon by undercover police...
…while having a quiet drink with friends in the hotel’s basement bar, simply because you were gay.
The Lord Elgin Hotel, seen here in 1942, is an Ottawa landmark. The Lord Elgin – or LE as it was known – became a safe place for gay people in Canada to socialize. As Carleton University journalism professor told the Ottawa Citizen’s Kelly Egan, “it’s a badge of honour for the hotel.” (Kelly Egan, “The straight good on the Lord Elgin’s pioneering gay bar” March 1, 2016.) By the 1970s it was not only a meeting place, but a centre for gay activism in the city.
One resident told Egan that the hotel “was a place where self-accepting gay men could meet other self-accepting gay men. It wasn’t like other taverns or bars where you had to hide who you were.”
Yet, patrons knew they were being spied upon by RCMP officers, often hidden behind newspapers. Perhaps the most notorious instrument of repression was the so-called fruit machine, which, in the words of an RCMP report, “could discover homosexual tendencies in applicants for government positions.” A member of the community informed researchers “I knew of a machine…. It was almost like word association, a pictorial, like pictures and stuff like that….”. (Gary William Kinsman and Patrizia Gentile, The Canadian War on Queers: National Security as Sexual Regulation (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2010), pp. 169, 184).
Protests such as these on Parliament Hill in the 1970s animated an already strong 2SLGBTQIA+ community. The National Gay Rights Conference took place in 1975, and the National Lesbian Conference a year later. Gays of Ottawa, founded in 1971, created a centre, a helpline, and a periodical.
Public picnics became regular events from 1986 and Ottawa’s first Pride Parade was held in 1989. Capital Xtra began publishing in 1993. Researchers like Glenn Crawford have been uncovering the history of Ottawa’s LGBTQ+ community through the Village Legacy Project.
This story was researched by Dany Guay-Belanger as a contribution to the Workers’ History Museum’s Capital History Kiosk’s project for Ottawa 2017. It formed part of his course work for Professor David Dean’s graduate seminar on museums, national identity, and public memory (Department of History, Carleton University). Dany would like to thank Glenn Crawford for sharing his research and the Ottawa Senior Pride Network for their assistance with this project.