Canadian Queer History

Marches & Festivals

Everyone is familiar with the phrase “the first pride was a riot” but in our queer history, there has been more than simply a singular protest which led to the parades today. We all know about Stonewall which occurred in America but what do you know about Canada’s history?

In many of our communities across Canada there have been those who have quietly made history in a time when coming together in groups opened you up to persecution, harassment and violence. Many of the first official pride parades had years of unofficial gatherings before cities finally gave ‘official’ permission and many attendees marched with paper bags over their heads in order to not face repercussions such as being fired from their jobs.

Today, allies march in the parade and cities approve requests to march, but the history of what we, as a community went through to get where we are today cannot be forgotten. Equally as important is to remember that what may seem to be the struggles of the past, are still ongoing today for many members of our community.

Explore the history of queer marches and the festivals we know today.

History Timelines: Marches & Festivals

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Grassroots / Protest, Riots & Raids

1971 First Gay Rights Protest - 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.


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.


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.

Official Pride

Montreal’s First Pride March - 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.


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
Grassroots / Protest, Riots & Raids

Dykes in the Streets - queer history - lesbians against the right march 1981

On October 17th 1981, the now-defunct organization Lesbians Against the Right held a "Dykes in the Streets" march in Toronto, Ontario, with lesbian power, pride, and visibility as the theme. 350 women participated in this demonstration.

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."

Official Pride

Winnipeg’s First Official Pride Week - 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.

Official Pride

Halifax's First Official Pride March - 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. - 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.

Arts, Culture, Media

The First Trans Festival

Counting Past 2 was a Trans Arts Festival that ran between 1997 and 2002 in Toronto, Ontario. It was founded in 1997 by activist/artist Mirha-Soleil Ross, in recognition of the distinctive cultural and economic situation of trans communities.

The festival's goal was to be more inclusive and encouraging of trans artists than mainstream gay and lesbian film festivals by centering trans voices, accepting less-polished work and including cabaret and performance components instead of restricting submissions to films.

It was the first festival of it's kind in the North America, and thought to be the first in the world.

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.


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.

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
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.


Newfoundland and Labrador Trans March - queer history - newfoundland trans march 2015

Over 70 members of the trans community and allies marched through downtown St. Johns to shine a light on the issues that face trans people in Newfoundland and Labrador. Community activists voted at a community meeting in June to have a Trans March separate from the Pride Parade.

I believe this march is a demonstration of what Pride Week could and should be — community organizing and political action, without asking permission.

Alex Noel, Organizer

The march was an unsanctioned St.John’s Pride event and was held without a permit and follows on the heels of a smaller trans rally on July 13, 2014, attended by 10 community members that was organized by Jennifer McCreath in an attempt to raise awareness to some of the challenges still facing members of the trans community.

Official Pride

First Official Pride in Haldimand Norfolk

The first annual Haldimand Norfolk Day was celebrated on Saturday May 24, 2017 in Dunnville’s Central Park, it was reported by the media (Sachem and the Haldimand Press) 200-300 people attended this first time event in the rural region of Haldimand Norfolk.

This event was primary organized by a small group of people led by Ken Hancock, it has since evolved to PRIDE Haldimand-Norfolk which is committed to promoting diversity and inclusion in our community and providing equal opportunity to people of all genders, sexual orientations, and gender identifications.

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