picAugust 2018. Photo by RichardCrooks

JJ Lyon

June 18, 1939 - June 26, 2023

JJ died suddenly and unexpectedly on June 26, 2023. The world has become a less fun, less thoughtful place.

His Celebration of Life took place on July 15, 2023 in the Penthouse of Northwood Centre. There are some notes and materials about it, below.

Memorial donations can be made to Northwood Spiritual Care through the Northwood Foundation in recognition of JJ’s long involvement as clergy and volunteer.

Jeremiah James, or Jerry the Fairy! I was born in Winnipeg, and lived in Toronto. Was I involved with the community there? I lived at Church and Wellesley! Hello!1

Family & Early Years

Born in Winnipeg, he and his family later moved to Calgary and Moose Jaw. He was an excellent student growing up and skipped from grade 6 to grade 8, received a degree in Interior Design from the University of Manitoba and moved to Halifax to do design for federal government offices, and lived there his remaining days. He made many trips back to Winnipeg and Brandon to visit his brothers, sisters, and nephew.

JJ was predeceased by parents Charles Lyon and Ester C. Lyon (Winnipeg), his siblings Arthur (Winnipeg), Patricia (Brandon), Eileen (Winnipeg). He is survived by brother Charles (Winnipeg) and nephew Lyle (Brandon), great niece Tori and great nephew Nolan, both of Brandon, Manitoba.


"I was transferred down here by the federal government to start an interior design department; we were the largest occupiers of office space in the country. That's the business I was in, designing offices."

"Back in school, priest friend had given me a battery of tests and said I should have been an engineer, but frankly, I would have been murdered if I had gotten into the engineering faculty. As a very effeminate gay man, I wouldn't have survived. Then, I worked in the AIDS community for eight years. At that point, I didn't care whether your bathroom was pink or blue -- my friends were dying. After that, I became a clergyman."

JJ was an ordained Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) minister and founding member of Safe Harbour Church, the only church specifically for the Halifax Q community, ever. He was the only person from Atlantic Canada ever ordained into the MCC; he graduated from the Atlantic School of Theology with a Master of Divinity on April 29, 1994.2

Safe Harbour was founded in his kitchen back in 1991, when a small group of gay men decided they needed a spiritual home they weren’t finding anywhere else.

JJ sang in the 1990 AIDS Vigil Choir and was a founding member of the HalifaxGayMensChorus3.

He took his sobriety very seriously and celebrated his Alcoholics Anonymous family and its traditions, and created the East Coast Canada 12-step LGBT annual conference, CourageRoundup. See that page for that story.

JJ, how did you get involved with the community in Halifax?

I was playing bridge with some friends and I was whining about the gay group in the city “They weren’t doing anything” to which my friends said, “And you’re a member of the group are you?” and I said, “No” and he said, “Then shut up.” So I joined the group. I was the next chair of the Gay and Lesbian Association. It was at the time when Rumours had to move from its Granville Street location, and I was the guy involved in leading us up to Gottingen Street.

When I got involved with the AIDS Crisis, I wanted to do an overdub of a video from driving around Citadel Hill. I said, "The only way we’re going to get the message to the husbands that live in Bedford, is to show them what they know, and what they know is driving around Citadel Hill." They wouldn't let me do it.

MMC said: God loves gays, they should be free to gather and worship.

At the 2018 Elderberries Storytelling Salon, JJ gave a fuller, funnier version of his story. His self introduction starts about 8 minutes in and he and the others back-and-forth for about the next hour. His coming out story is at 00:24:00.

JJ was Chair of GALA from October, 1986 to December, 1987, while they moved Rumours from to Granville to Gottingen Street, and was in the 1988 Pride March, the "Paper Bag" march.

"A later career of mine was as a clergyman, and I was in Fredericton, and the story was, there had been five gay men murdered there, and they were all murdered in a little park where people went to make connections, and they know it was students from the university, but they never investigated because the university was so important. We were disposable."

Where we were, was a problem for some people. That we were anywhere, was a problem for some people. That’s something that I celebrate when I see the parade and I see that throng of people downtown. I just say, “Hello! Hello!” - it’s remarkable.

"I was involved with setting up the Persons With AIDS Coalition," says EricSmith, "and JJ was our very welcoming receptionist. And there were many people who, on their first time in the door, in crisis, JJ was the first person they talked to. He is a wonderful guy."4

In the mid-2000s, JJ began volunteering with spiritual services at the senior's complex, Northwood, in north end Halifax.

Renée Clark writes, "JJ’s ties to Northwood were very strong. He lit up when he led worship there. He could speak to the experience of the residents as clergy, yes, but also as a peer who understood intimately what it was to be an aging person whose body was acting up, whose relationships were changing, and whose world was getting smaller. He would address that openly and with his characteristic humour and sarcasm, and they loved him for it. So did I."

"JJ deeply valued his time there as a volunteer and as a friendly visitor, and could often be found in a coffee klatch with friends, 'the old girls' in the Harbourview Lounge, singing with the community choir, and continuing to lead worship as part of the ecumenical rotation. He would sometimes say to me as he sat in my office sharing the concerns of the day, 'Darling, Northwood saved me. I find joy and a purpose and a welcome here.'"

Celebration Of Life

On His Passing

Dan MacKay: To me, JJ channeled OscarWilde (or Lady Violet Crawley from Downton Abbey) he always had an unexpected, witty comment delivered with panache, for any situation, and had profound, thoughtful comments on any topic; he was always ready for a flamboyantly funny quip -- or a deep dive into any intellectual topic.

When he was working with one of the AIDS organizations, he created "Fuck-Aware Parties" -- a fun name for safer sex information sessions.

Renée Clark: One of his great gifts to me in my ministry at Northwood was to go to all of the queer folks and out me before I arrived, as he knew what weight my being a Baptist minister would otherwise been likely to have have had. He didn’t ask if he could, or tell me he had; he just did what he felt was best, and he was right. Typical JJ. It was a gift.

Richard Crooks: I am still in disbelief that this wonderful person is gone. Spring Garden seems different, the concerts by symphony Nova Scotia and watching Live from the MET at Park Lane this fall will definitely be different and hard the first couple of times. We had just celebrated his 84th birthday at Le Bistro by Liz on the 17th. JJ was like a grandfather to me. We spent a lot of time together in recent years. Apparently I have adopted his laugh and have blended several of his one liners and dry sarcastic humour into my own. Our friendship started with a screening of Brokeback Mountain at the Oxford Theatre in 2005 and was re-kindled after my return from living in Banff and later Calgary in 2010. I regularly attended the MCC church where he was as well. In fact there was an evening there that we all watched Brokeback Mountain together as well. Over the years we bonded on a mutual love of beautiful men ( especially firefighters and middle eastern men) , classical music, opera and art. I remember our local boys made an annual firefighters calendar and I was able to introduce him to several as the guys and I did Walk a Mile in Her Shoes YWCA fundraiser together. So got to know them well. He had a great time meeting them and from then on until they stopped producing the calendars he and I bought each other one. This eventually led to the tradition of buying the firefighter calendar from London UK. Last winter when his brother moved to an assisted living place in Winnipeg we were talking of going to Winnipeg on the train this summer to visit him one last time but he didn't have the energy to travel. Pre-Covid we were going to go to NY to see La Boheme but lockdown screwed this up unfortunately. I may have to go myself one day in his honour to see what he loved so much and experience it live. I will always remember and miss you JJ my dear friend. You were one of a kind and I feel very grateful , honoured and blessed to have known you. You helped me be a better person and I learned so many things from you. I am very thankful for that. See you on the other side.

Karen MacKay: I met JJ when I joined the North Street Singers which later became the Halifax Pop Singers. As he often traveled to practices and concerts with me I came to appreciate his humour as well as the challenges he faced in his lifetime. He was so looking forward to returning to choir in the fall. His presence will be greatly missed.

Tuma Young: I first saw JJ when he was in Eskasoni working as an Interior designer for the Federal government. JJ was the designer for the new Eskasoni Indian Day School that was to replace the old Indian Day School.

The school opened in the fall of 1978 when I started grade 8, but the construction was not really complete, and there were some tweaks that needed to be done. I particularly remember the circular staircase in the library that had a guard rail that ran across, and really blocked it from being used. I noticed JJ because the federal folks were going around with the contractors trying to fix this and that, and to make the interior design work. You could not miss him as he was very tall, with piercing eyes.

Despite JJ being in the closet (remember he could have been fired for being gay - there were no human rights protections for sexual orientation in those days) and trying not to let anyone know he was gay. He was also very flamboyant and he shined like a gay beacon to me, a young, (recently outed) gay boy. I wanted so desperately to ask him what he knew about gay life. But I managed to only ask him about the staircase design (and he gave me the exasperated look) and muttered something about the carpenters being idiots.

Later on, I met him in Halifax at the Metro Area Committee on AIDS office where he was a volunteer. I believe the office was on Argyle Street. I asked him about the recent Canadian AIDS Society's new set of guidelines on safer sex. JJ uttered that famous line that was burned into my memory. He looked at me (a young, goth Twink), and just said: "Remember this: Cum on me, not in me!" And that was my introduction to safer sex in the 1980’s.

JJ was also a very good support for many homos during the HIV/AIDS epidemic. He was a regular face at 12-step meetings and at the receptionist desk at Nova Scotia Persons With AIDS Coalition office on Gottingen Street. JJ, Walter and Tim lived on the edge of the "Lavender District", on Black Street, in the North End.

I ended up renting an apartment from Walter, JJ’s partner, who became my landlord. They would invite my partner, Paul & I to come over to Black Street and try to teach us how to play Bridge, but card playing was not my passion. When Paul died, he helped organize the memorial at The Church on North Street.

JJ was one of the original marchers in the 1988 Pride March in Halifax. I distinctly remember him carrying around a bag of black and pink candies and passing them out, and thinking that someone was going to attack him, but he skipped around giving gawkers candies. I thought JJ was very courageous to do this, especially in those days.

Over the years, I would run into JJ at various events, such as funerals for gay men who died of HIV/AIDS when he was part of the AIDS choir. When Lon, a 2-Spirit young man, died of AIDS, I called him and asked if he could bring the choir to the service. I told him that we did not have any money to pay for the choir, and his response was, “Don’t worry, we will be there and the choir will do what it has always done - make the service uplifting with songs!”

I remember how passionate he was about his yearly visits to New York where he would see the latest Broadway shows and musicals. JJ would invite me to come along, and I would always say, maybe next year.

Our community owes JJ a great deal of gratitude for his tireless work trying to prevent, support and advocate our queer community. I will miss him and in his memory, Nick and I will go to New York to see that Broadway show.

Wela’li’ek JJ for all you did for the Halifax Queer Community.

Pat Kinrade: J.J. was the person who introduced me to Opera. As we worked together each Saturday while grading student drawings in 1966, we listened to the Saturday Opera from the Met. He gave me lots of commentary on the plots of each opera. I continue to enjoy live and broadcast opera thanks to J.J.

Pam McGrath: J.J. It was a pleasure to have gotten to know you over past few years. You've made me laugh so many times, I was happy to be your neighbou. I'm going to miss not seeing and waving at you every day. I gave you my blessings and said goodbye. It broke my heart 💔, it was an honour to have met you, my friend. I'm going to miss hearing you say, "come on girl come down here!" R.I.P J.J. you'll never be forgotten.

Greg Homer: I was introduced to J in 1986 and was captivated by his bigger than life personality. I was initially somewhat confused. I saw him as both silly and profound, kind and intolerant, whimsical and intense and many other seemingly incongruent traits. In the years that followed I learned a simple truth about J; he was always himself. It was a special moment of clarity for me when J identified himself with the child in the parade whose mother exclaims "Look at that, everyone is out of step except my Johnny." As much as he has left his mark in many ways, for me his legacy will be that he was who he was and if you were ok with that, then you had a great friend, and if you were not, you were not a friend. I am proud to say we were friends.

Jerry Mihailoff: With JJ there was no pretense. He called it like he saw it. Sharp wit or compassionate comment, his timing was precise and interpretation appropriate. His bigger than life explosions were a like a burst of fresh air, when he arrived at one of our parties. And although in our University of Manitoba Interior Design class of , 1964 there were many, he became an icon. It is no surprise he went on to share his force with the communities so described in his future years. He will long remain in the memories of all who experienced his presence. Thank You JJ.

TJ Johnson: When my Dad, BrucePellegrin, was nearing his 80th birthday in 2017, he and JJ talked about Dad getting a tattoo. Dad was a little more communicative than he is now. He said JJ had a friend who could do the tattoo and it wouldn't be expensive, and that "Lots of people are getting tattoos on the floor" and so he wanted to get one too. The staff at Northwood said they would not be responsible for caring for the tattoo and what if it became infected etc. I was planning to be in Halifax within a few weeks, so I said to Dad that we would talk about it when I got there. I was hoping for a few details from JJ, and since I am POA, I assumed Dad couldn't get his hands on any money before I got there. Dad and JJ together were quite rebellious, so next thing I heard was that the tattoo was a fait accompli. JJ had picked Dad up in his room, taken him to the internal "bank", who knew Dad couldn't access his Trust account but he persuaded them that he could access a small other account we had used for some other things. They gave him $250 and away Dad and JJ went. I phoned Dad to talk about it and he wasn't clear how much money had changed hands, he wasn't sure if he had to go back for more tattooing and he couldn't really tell me what the tattoo was. We found out the details from the staff and closed off the avenue of money for any future adventures. He was so delighted with it, it was hard to be mad about the minor insurrection that had taken place. The irony is that my Dad wouldn't even allow us to get our ears pierced when we lived at home and the idea of a tattoo would not have been accepted at all. We laugh about this story now and say that my Dad's dream of a tattoo would never have been realized if not for JJ.

Betty Buckley: I have known JJ for 30 plus years and am all the richer for the friendship. I am glad he made it to his 84th birthday so I can continue saying he was soooo much older than me, although in reality the difference was only 5 months! In earlier, healthier times we would do lunch to celebrate each successful passing year. I am so happy to have his beautiful cross-stitch work to remind me of those days. I will miss him.

Dan Gooding: So sorry to hear a precious choir member has passed. But for the short time I knew JJ he imprinted on me what I kind and gentle soul he was. He will surely be missed, RIP! ❤

Jordan Fisher, Symphony Nova Scotia: I would love to include a memory on J.J. Lyon’s page on behalf of Symphony Nova Scotia.

When you walked into the Rebecca Cohn auditorium for a Symphony Nova Scotia concert, you could count on finding J.J. in “his” seat: M8, on the aisle. It had the best sight lines and was acoustically satisfying. I’ll miss those moments where I could look over and see J.J. embracing the whole experience and meeting up in the lobby afterwards to gush about what we had just heard.

I admit, at first, I was taken aback by J.J’s frankness. But he always spoke with respect, and with deep appreciation for the nourishment of the music, and the talent of the artists.

Those moments were so meaningful to me. I could feel how important the orchestra and the music was the J.J. And just as important as the music, was the friendships and the community.

I gained an unexpected friend in J.J. Often he would show up in my office on Spring Garden Road after he finished cross-stitching and listening to CBC, or visiting his friends at Northwood, or running his errands. Always unannounced, but always welcome! We would sit for hours, and I would just listen with admiration and awe about his life’s adventures. He made me laugh, cry, and even cringe. It was never dull, and always meant the world to me.

J.J. fiercely supported Symphony Nova Scotia. We will continue to play fabulously in his memory, and his track record of introducing friends to classical music will continue through his orchestra.

If you would like to add a memory of JJ, email it to Dan.


2. AST Registrar
3. June 26, 2023 pers corr ChrisAucoin