2023-06-21 RainbowCafe

2023 Halifax Public Library Rainbow Café

pic At the Halifax Central Library

Join us at Halifax Central Library for a Rainbow History Café! Celebrate Pride month. There'll be coffee, tea, beverages, snacks, music and conversation while learning about Halifax's LGBT history with the NS LGBT Seniors Archive in an inclusive and low-pressure environment. Paul O’Regan Hall, Halifax Central Library

The audience was about 40 people at a time, people drifted in and out during the evening.

The Event


Author guests with books:

... and then, social time.

Dan MacKay's Talk

pic Publishing and news and history are severely addictive. I do NOT recommend even dabbling into it unless you are prepared for it to take over your life. I won’t go into the specifics but.. please check with your partner and your employer before trying publishing, news, and history.

My start to archiving started with a bit, just a hint, of OCD. I have a .. a kind of need to be able to file things in a place where I can retrieve them. I can’t stand being given something that I don’t have a place for.

Right around the turn of the century three things happened. First, people were starting to give me things - documents, and facts and I was starting to go a bit squirrelly about that.

Second, in late 2001 a young computer geek in Halifax named MikeGodfrey created a website about gay Halifax, using a system called Wiki which allowed anyone to very easily create pages on line - very easily. Anyone could create a web page in thirty seconds with no username, password, authorization, knowledge of HTML or markup codes. This was twenty years ago; it was revolutionary, so revolutionary that the Wikipedia - that modern day library of Alexandria - came out of it.

Anyway, my partner at the time reeaaally loved watching drag shows. Now, drag shows are OK but <cough> I started wondering. what I could do that was actually productive. I decided to use that Halifax wiki to make a catalog of the draq queens and their profiles – and suddenly I had a place to file any item that could be represented electronically.

Life was good! The Halifax Rainbow Encyclopedia -- it's had several names -- was born.

That was twenty years, two thousand encyclopedia pages, 2200 images, and seven hundred and fifty THOUSAND words ago. You’ll see the images scrolling by over there. Well, almost all of them. There are a few elements of Halifax queer history that are not suitable for family viewing.

Activism in Nova Scotia began half a century ago. It was announced via… a newsletter. There are some copies of it over there. There’s a very brief history of the beginning of our community in a little yellow brochure near it - take one home. There’s a very big history of our community in Rebecca Rose’s book, over there, please buy one and get her to sign it. The very first Halifax Q history book, by Robin Metcalfe, is over there, ready for you to borrow.

A lot of the documentation of history comes from the written word. I’ve been privileged to be getting the words of the smartest, cleverest, most informed Q folk in Atlantic Canada, in front of an audience for almost forty years. You’ll see copies of the GAEZETTE and Wayves over there, they’re spare copies, they’re there for you to root through.

Between 1985 and 2012 we published roughly 2.5 million words of local news and opinion on paper, and since then another quarter of a million words on line.

And also in terms of paper, in the archives we have tens of thousands of pages of notes from the hundreds of organizations that bravely made Nova Scotia a powerful queer space.

But - a lot of history comes from the spoken word too. The people who created the community were young and idealistic and eager to change the world fifty years ago and… ah, not to put too fine a point on it, won’t be around much longer to tell their stories. We’ve started this project - we have a few dozen hours of oral history collected.

You hear some pretty strange stories. Most of them make sense, within their context. One that doesn’t is that poster over there, the one with the blue statue from Brussels.

Anyway, if you have a story about the old times in queer Halifax, please get in contact with me. If you know someone who has a story, contact them, then contact me.


Will I get in trouble for using this space as a soap box? Yes? Hm.

Wikipedia says: The term Fourth Estate refers to the press and news media both in explicit capacity of advocacy and implicit ability to frame political issues.

You can see, people, that the pendulum of right wing bigotry swinging towards Q folk in the USA. There is no reason to think it is not swinging towards us. We probably can’t stop it, but we probably can limit its swing a bit and we probably can shorten its impact on us. To do that we need to be organized and have trusted, reliable communications channels. Hint: social media probably won’t be one.

I see publishing as activism, I profoundly believe in the free press as an element of activism - as well as documenting history.

If you want to write news about our community, contact me. Wayves pays its writers.

The history project needs volunteers! If you want to help with the history project, contact me. I have lots of very specific, individual tasks ready for someone to take on, and if you want to get involved in the big picture, we’d love to have you on the team.

I’m delighted that you’re here, I’m delighted to be on this journey with you.

Let’s do history.

Jess Wilton's talk

I just want to start by saying thank you to the public libraries, the organizers and to all the other speakers for hosting and attending this event. Like Elliot has already graciously mentioned, I am a queer historian currently in the process of researching for my dissertation. My main focus is the many histories of Nova Scotia’s 2SLGBTQ+ communities using the archival records from the LGBT Seniors Project and oral history interviews.

Today I’d like to talk a bit about how I came to this important topic and I’d like to tell you a bit about my experience in the archives.

I grew up in a rural community in PEI, and each day I passed a house called the Rainbow Lodge on my way to school. It was a little cottage painted with large rainbow stripes right on the side of the trans Canada highway. Despite its long history in PEI’s LGBTQ+ community and queer tourism, it wasn’t until the cottage was de-rainbowed and re-branded at a new location down that road that I actually became aware of the Rainbow Lodge as a safe haven B&B for the rainbow community.

In this way, it was a bright symbol along the highway that pointed towards a hidden history my neighbours didn’t talk about— or at least only talked about it in the way small villages do.

And I think this represents a lot of what I’ve noticed living in the maritimes as a queer person. As I’ve learned more and more of this area’s deep and rich history, I can see symbols all around the city. The Khyber and the Green Lantern buildings still standing on Barrington; streets that hosted Halifax’s first pride march; citadel hill; even less tangible things like the CKDU radio station which still fills the airwaves today and hosted many gay and lesbian programs in the 1980s and 90s. Outside of Halifax, the Pictou women’s centre still provides services and the streets that held the counter protest against Roseanne Skoke’s homophobia continue to exist. In Sydney, Wolfville, Truro and elsewhere across this province, there are physical reminders of the decades of activism, and queer history, which I think kind of acts like continuity and physically brings these events and ideas into the present along with us.

So with this, a major part of my project is trying to share those of place and people with a maritime perspective, since despite really amazing archival sources, the Halifax Rainbow encyclopedia, and groundbreaking works by Rebecca Rose and Robin Metcalfe, still remains woefully understudied. I’m interested in questions of regionalism, but also archival practice and memory because I think the way we choose to collect and keep records of our past can often tell us a lot about the community itself. Similarly, the way we then use those records to tell a history or histories, can also shed a lot of light on the people who collected those items but also the person writing that history.

Which brings me to the NS LGBT Archives located at the Dal Archives. Since beginning my dissertation work, I’ve been researching these archival collections weekly throughout the summer and the main thing I’ve noticed is the overwhelming amount of records and I’ve only been through around 4 different fonds. There are so many documents with such amazing historical potential from the Gay Alliance for equality minutes and documents, to the full run of the Gaezette and Wayves, to news clippings from the 1960s about homosexuality, and I’m sure I will find even more as I explore the several other fonds part of this collection.

Some of my favourites have included a collection of photographs from the lesbian sponsored Wild Wymyn’s weekend in the early 1990s where a number of women went camping somewhere in Nova Scotia enjoying picnics and sports games and a trip to a creek. I also read an article In the Gaezette debating whether or not Rumours should be declared an anti-nuclear zone, which also delved into how being anti-militarism could conflict with the desire to advocate on behalf of those who were being purged from the military because of their sexual orientation.

Even more in some of the pride committee documents there were multiple submissions for the pride logo competition, many drawn and coloured by hand, which I thought was really interesting because you could see a lot of the important 2SLGBTQIA+ symbols like pink and black triangles and the rainbow, but also the importance of Halifax’s location on the water with waves, and sails often prominent.

I’m not even kidding when I say that each day I take a trip to the archives, I find a new set of records that I could easily write a very interesting but entirely different dissertation on.

In some ways my visits are almost bittersweet because even though I may want to cover every single event, person, and document I might come across, there are only so many topics I can cover with the detail and sensitivity I think is necessary. But you know, projects for the future I suppose

Ultimately, I really encourage anyone here, whether you’re an academic, activist, local historian, or just interested, to come visit the archives and use this collection. While I am taking the approach of an activist-historian, we need more queer history of all types in the maritimes written down. Whether its academic, popular history, a blog, an artistic installation, an article, a tiktok, we live among these histories everyday and I think it’s time to let everybody know about it.