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 RCPM 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 LGBTQ+ 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 publishingin 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.
We are grateful to Megan Michie and Linda Cheslock of the City of Ottawa and Marie-Soleil Bergeron of Ottawa 2017. Thanks to Gerald Trevor Roberts for the photograph of the Lord Elgin in 1942 and to Howard Fagen of the Ottawa Citizen for his assistance with the photographs from Kelly Egan’s article.
This entry for capitalhistory.ca and its related installation at Confederation Park was made possible by Ottawa 2017, CIBC and the three Arts, Culture and Heritage Program Stewarding Partners AOE Arts Council, Ottawa Arts Council and Council of Heritage Organizations of Ottawa, funded by a City of Ottawa 2017 Arts, Culture and Heritage Investment Programme Grant.