In January 1976, a community dance was organized by The Gay Alliance for Equality on the third floor of the old Church of England Institute building, 1588 Barrington Street.
That dance led to another and then another until finally the space became Halifax's second (along with the GreenLantern) and for many years the only, gay bar, The Turret, named in reference to the most distinctive architectural feature which, at the third floor level, housed the bar's DJ booth. It became the social, political and even cultural center of Halifax's gay and lesbian communities for the next five years.1
In the summer of 1982 GAE closed the Turret and re-opened its private club at 1586 Granville St and renamed it Rumours.
The AlternateBookShop, the only gay bookstore east of Montreal, was located on the second floor of the Turret building. This bookstore was first located in the GreenLantern building and then moved across the street in 1978.
The Turret hosted the last national conference and meeting of gay organizations and people from across Canada in 1976.2
There is some information about the history of the building here.
History of the name, "Khyber Building": in the late '70s, Afghan-born Amin Nasr, father of Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Ariel Nasr, opened a natural food store, "The Bean Sprout" on the ground floor of the building; they opened a coffee shop there and took the name, The Khyber Café, from their homeland.3
In March, 2013, as part of the Khyber's 125th birthday, the NSCADQueerCollective recreated The Turret bar in its original location, including the controversial, defaced (and eventually painted over) mural, Tits'n'Lipstick by RandGaynor (reproduction after the defacement shown here.) There were two events held: the "Sweet Release Disco" on March 23, 2013 and "Resurrection Cabaret" on March 27, 2013.
HugoDann wrote about the project in Wayves that month in Halifax’s Khyber Building Celebrates a 125th Birthday and Its Queer Past!
About the mural, RandGaynor says, "Looks like they did a great job [at reproducing it]! It was at the Turret, on the west wall of the upper level. I have no idea about date, late-70s [maybe]? There had been a preliminary sketch which was approved before the painting began; I'm not sure who was on the management committee at the time. Originally it was meant to be cheeky and playful, but I think a few people took it a bit too seriously. There was also a second one planned with a 'guy' theme (beachballs and bananas) but it never happened."
RandyKennedy writes: I am so Happy the Turret night was such a success ! While you all were dancing away there, I was on stage here in Montreal. I performed a song i did during the Turret days and i kind of felt like I was there. I talked a little about the night and the group who put it together. You must know you got a round of applause for all your hard work. After the show ,many people expressed how impressed they are that a group with so many youth actually take the time to learn about and honor Gay history. If anything i think you will be seeing more Gay tourists this summer from Montreal. Again Congrats to you all !
HugoDann writes: A huge thank you to the young queer artists and activists of the NSCAD Queer Collective. They didn't just recreate The Turret as a space, they recaptured the feeling of a cooperative and collaborative community. It was great to see so many friendly faces there, people like myself who hardly ever go out to the bars. And what a pleasure to dance in a beautiful room, with windows, soft lighting and brightly painted walls. And even more joyful to see queer men and women working and dancing and partying together across the generations. Last night at The Turret wasn't merely a gimmicky exercise in nostalgia, it was something entirely new and of itself. And it was wonderful.
RegGiles writes: So the floors have lost their sparkle and the walls have closed in, but all the great memories of days and nights at The Turret Club shone warm and bright thanks to the group from NSCAD that made it possible ... thanks people
DanielMacKay has, in a photo album somewhere, a ticket, a pink balloon, and a photo, memorabilia of the performers at practice for the play TheNightTheyRaidedTruxx by PaulLedoux, maybe the first gay play performed in Halifax, certainly the first by a local gay troupe, mounted at the Turret June 28 - July 6, 1978.
China left over from the SanpakaRestaurant, used for anything requiring dishes, including ashtrays, at The Turret. The background of the photo is the menu cover from the restaurant, and is a drawing of the front wall of what would later be the dance floor of the Turret.
Someone writes: it was a great place and very innovative for its time. They had a great light show, lots of dance space but snug when it was crowded (it was crowded most of the time.) They had the best dance music in Halifax at the time. It was a place of freedom and a place where we could feel secure and be ourselves and just relax and have a good time. Many were not out of the closet except when they were at the club. The Turret and The Green Lantern [ed: CondonsBar] paved the way for the open and free society which we have today and allows us to have so many choices of bars.
DanielMacKay writes: when I first came to Halifax as a closeted student completely unsure of my sexuality, in '81, the Turret was well known - I think my brother warned me about it and I'm sure there was scuttlebutt about it at KingsCollege? where I was a student. I would walk down Barrington St at night and look wistfully waaaaay up at the tower at the red and green flashing lights and the shadows of people dancing in the windows. I can remember lurking across or down the street to see what kind of people went in and out. The Turret closed the next year, but by then, with the help of JimDeYoung, I was out of the closet, connected with everyone who was anyone in the community, and helped build the first incarnation of Rumours.
AnthonyWallace writes: in the fall of 1976, I was at Dalhousie University briefly. At that time it served the gay community as a coffeehouse on Friday ,and Saturday nights to dance.
But The Turret was not the first "gay place" I found. My "official coming out" was late Friday evening, October 18, 1976, when I took myself to Barrington Street after phoning the GayLine for directions. I finally got my nerve to enter The GreenLantern Building, up to the third floor to TheeClub.
I was a jumble of nerves. Growing up in rural New Brunswick, I had never been to a disco or any kind of nightclub. A stainless steel dance floor! Great big glittery revolving disco balls splashing myriads of light patterns all over the walls and floor and dancers! A hearty bass thumped from the speakers! KC and the Sunshine Band, Donna Summer, Tina Charles, Lady Bump, Tattoo Man ! The music was fabulous.
A smiling elderly small woman dispensed soda pop at the counter in the "Chill Room". She seemed to be having as good a time as everyone else. One night she offered me a glass of pop after I had been dancing a long time. I heard later she was DavidGray 's mother. Quite a hip lady!
I went to the Turret for the first time in May, 1977. BobStout? was managing The Turret then. He had been looking after it also in 1976.
From February to May, 1978, young RobertRamsay and myself cleaned the Turret on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. If I recall correctly, BillMitchell? managed the Turret for awhile in , 1978. His partner BillGordon was the DJ. BobErtel managed it in 1979 and 1980.
As part of The Turret's Gay Pride Day Cabaret in February, 1980, AnneFulton had written a spoof of Gone with the Wind, called "Blown With The Wind". Anne was Ms. Scarlet. WendallEnman had the part of Rhett Butler. BillMitchell? was Ashley. Instead of Prissy, I had the part of "Sissy". Melanie and Scarlet fell in love with each other. Then Rhett carried Ashley offstage. The audience laughed a lot, especially at the end. A woman costumed as Anita Bryant came onstage and protested to the audience with a wagging finger: "It ain't fittin'! It just ain't fittin'!"
JimMacSwain and a woman performed a very funny sketch. Jim played the part of Alice B. Toklas and ClairemarieHaley played Gertrude Stein. They "strayed" into the Turret, and came in talking to each other among the audience. Gertrude asked Alice where on earth were they? Who were all these people? They sat at one of the round tables on the main floor. Alice suggested to Gertrude to calm down. "Here, have one of my hashish brownies." Gertrude looked around and saw a lifesize soft sculpture (by artist Donna Gallagher) suspended over her head. The sculpture was of a female made of fabric, wearing a dress, sunglasses and hat, sitting in a chair.
Gertrude boomed out:"Alice! WHAT IS THAT?"
Alice assured her that it was art. And then, "After all, Gertrude, a rose is a rose is a rose."
MichaelHiltz writes: I only remember the Turret during my closeted days. I remember going to work overtime at Nova Scotia Savings and Loan early in the 80's and I could hear the song "Hopelessly Devoted to You" bellowin out of the Turret window. I can't remember what I though -- probably not good. I wish I had been part of that scene.
Your Turret Story Here!!
For more stories about The Turret, see the story cycle "Peanut Butter And Jam Sandwich (Thru My Eyes)" on the page RegGiles.
This page is part of the HistoryProject.