By ScottMacNeil, February, 2018, Halifax, Nova Scotia
In reconstructing these thumbnail sketches from the past, I have drawn mainly from memory. My intention was not to write a detailed history of the period, but rather to relate selected experiences as they unfolded. Reflections in a Mirror Ball takes place between the years 1975 and 1988. There are no imaginary stories here; they all actually happened. I would like to thank Dan MacKay for pushing me to do this. Special thanks to Kel, Jane and Beauregard for their help and suggestions. It was quite a ride.
Me: “She’s a married woman and her advances are making me uncomfortable… it’s not funny; I’m gay.”
Sharon: “Well, you’ll have to come dancing with Heather and I. We go to a gay bar downtown every weekend, and have a blast.”
It was 1975. And so, we did. The elevator doors opened on the top floor of the GreenLantern building at 1585 Barrington Street, with music blaring from the dance floor. “Love Roller Coaster” by The Ohio Players was blaring as we entered. Around the corner sat a man with a welcoming smile smoking a pipe, ready to take our money for admission. The doorman was GarryShutlak? and was always at the entrance when David owned it, and continued when the next owner, Condon, took over.
The bar was behind his desk, and there was wicker furniture and a coffee table on the left, and an open space on the right. This was the walk-through to the dance floor in the back; there were tables and chairs at each end.
We sat at a table under a speaker. Various guys who were friends of the girls were coming and going, up and down. One guy remained seated. His name was Scott; he was handsome with beautiful blue eyes, and a student at Dal. I asked what his last name was. “MacNeil”, he replied. Imagine!
I met and made many friends back then, all students at Dalhousie University. The house on the corner of Coburg Road and Seymour Street was filled with gay students: James, Fred, Clem, John, Scott, Wayne, Keith, just to name a few. They were all known to vacate the house in the dead of winter when they ran out of fuel, hitting The Triangle for warmer digs late at night.
It was 1976 and CondonMacLeod? had acquired the business TheeKlub from DavidGray. Opening night turned into a night to remember. It seemed the who’s who of Halifax showed up – even Sophie Chapman and her staff from The Unicorn on Argyle Street made an appearance. Love to Love You Baby by Donna Summer was packing the dance floor that hot summer.
Every weekend that we opened, MissKitty would appear with his entourage and his ingénue Margie James, a beautiful model who won Keith his first Allied Beauty Association (hairdressing) competition. Their weekend fun time was legendary.
Thee Klub operated on an Occasional Party Liquor License. The purpose written on the application was to raise funds for the EqualityScholarshipFund. Condon and I were close back then, and I got to see how it all worked. I was usually on hand to help with anything he needed. The application could only be submitted every second week for a “party” on the following Saturday. Because the liquor license was only granted every two weeks, on off-weeks the party took place across the street, at The Turret, which operated as a Private License Club.
Condon would use a different business name on each application, usually the name of a hair salon, and always send a different person to Strawberry Hill to have the permit approved, in order to place the liquor order. I vividly remember unloading my car, while the line-ups at the Paramount cinema next door watched as case after case made their way to the elevator and up to the top floor.
He painted the interior high gloss white, with white wicker furniture and a multitude of hanging spider plants. Strategic black lights with back-lit wall mounts along the dance floor gave the room a nice ambiance. The large mirror ball spinning in front of the mirrored wall made the entire room sparkle.
Movies were shown on occasional Sunday nights. This was long before VCR’s and large TV screens, so a reel-to-reel movie would be ordered and a projector rented, and the screen was a white bed sheet, hanging from the ceiling over the dance floor. I remember showings of gay themed movies such as Fortune and Men’s Eyes and The Ritz, and it always helped to be on the right side of the sheet, especially when foreign films included sub-titles, such as Cries & Whispers were shown.
One evening, a group of well-groomed, tanned and trendy men arrived unannounced. Who were they? All new faces. Air Canada had opened a flight attendant base in Halifax, and the boys were in town. Among them was GaetanDugas, who became my neighbour when I moved to 89 Fairbanks Street in Dartmouth. He lived in the flat below me with roommate JohnHurlbert.
On one occasion, a NSCAD student was sent to Strawberry Hill to have the permit approved, and he was grilled as to what the application was all about. His feathers got ruffled, so he shot back that if it wasn’t a gay bar, they would not be asking so many questions.
Nothing was said that day, but a few weeks later a fire inspector arrived and slapped a notice for a 75 person capacity limit on the top floor, a far cry from the minimum 200+ that would pack the place on any weekend when a license was issued. The bar couldn’t be financially stable with just 75 people attending, and Condon decided to not try again.
Sadly, the elevator no longer carried partygoers up to the top floor.
After Thee Klub closed, the only game in town was The Turret, located directly across the street, on the top floor of the Khyber Building on Barrington Street. Many a Saturday night, the line-up occupied the entire stairwell, where "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" Long John Baldry could be spotted waiting in line. There was no elevator. Operating as a private club there was an annual membership fee, plus a small admission fee at the door. Owned and operated by the Gay Alliance for Equality, the profits from the bar helped to fund gay and lesbian political causes.
The third floor of The Turret was divided into two levels. The upper level held the main bar with tables and chairs, and the lower level had more tables and chairs and a huge wooden dance floor. The DJ booth was housed in the corner turret, and a bar across the room from the DJ booth accommodated the overflow from the upper level when it was busy.
I remained a Club Boy during those years and remember getting involved with the production of TheNightTheyRaidedTruxx. They needed guys for a video segment and contacted me to get guys to do the shoot who would not mind being in front of the camera. A few phone calls and I had my quota – Air Canada flight attendants to the rescue. The play was written by PaulLedoux and directed by Rosemary Gilbert. In the summer of 2017 I bumped into her at HugoDann's one man show, and she confirmed the video segment still exists. I would love to see what I looked like back then.
On December 30, 1978, while leaving The Turret, I stopped at the second floor washroom before getting my jacket. While washing my hands, I noticed a small book of coupons on the counter – ten fifty-cent McDonalds coupons – a five dollar value. I smiled and put them in my pocket. Two months later, I dropped into the McDonalds at the Dartmouth Shopping Centre and ordered a Big Mac, fries and a Coke. I used four of the coupons as payment and sat down to enjoy my order.
Within minutes police arrived and approached my table – I was sitting inside the ship decor feature that was at the centre of the restaurant at the time. An officer asked me where I got the coupons I had just passed at the counter. They had the serial numbers of the coupons I had used. I freaked. “I found them in the washroom of the Holiday Inn where I work”. The officer responded, “You can finish your Big Mac, but we would like to talk to you down at the station.”
I was taken to the Dartmouth Police Station and placed in a small room with two chairs and a table, a hanging light bulb, and graffiti on the walls. Enter a cigar-chomping detective. “The coupons you just passed are the first to surface that were part of a shipment stolen at the airport, valued at $5,000 in total. I know you didn’t find them at the hotel, so level with me.” I told him the truth. I had to tell the truth, so that night I came out to a police detective. I was twenty-six years old. This was a big deal back in 1979. He told me I could wait until a search warrant was signed or I could save time and allow them to search my apartment now. I complied. I had nothing to hide. They found nothing.
When leaving after partying one Saturday night, I stopped off at the washroom and fell asleep on a toilet. I was locked in overnight. I woke up the next morning and called the manager, John Marr, from a payphone. He came to the rescue, arriving at 7:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning. Laughing, he said, “I was wondering who had left their jacket here last night.”
The Turret closed in the summer of 1982. I was asked by members of the management board to assist them with the closing inventory on their last night of business. My work in the hotel industry had given me the experience to do it properly. They wanted an independent inventory taken before the business moved to its new location on Granville Street, under their new name, Rumours.
When our community-owned bar changed its name to Rumours and moved to 1586 Granville, I followed. I was living in downtown Dartmouth, working and socializing in Halifax as always. In August, 1984, I received a call from a good friend, GraemeEllis, asking if he could come and stay with me. The humidity was high and he found it hard to breathe, and I had air conditioning. His partner of six years, BobMcKay, a radio announcer with CFDR, worked just down the street from where I lived. We were good friends who partied and even vacationed together.
Graeme parked himself in front of my air conditioner. He and Bob stayed with me the entire week – they in my bedroom; me on the sofa. By Friday, Graeme’s breathing was so bad we had to admit him to the hospital. I can still see him gasping for air as he reluctantly walked into the hospital. He was put on a respirator and a biopsy was taken. He resisted the tubes and had to be sedated.
Forty-eight hours after the biopsy, Bob and I were informed that he had pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP) brought on by AIDS. His family from PEI were notified and they came immediately. Bob and I sat with him, taking turns with 12 hour shifts for the duration. Graeme died sixteen days after diagnosis, on September 2, 1984. I was with him at the end and it rattled me to my core. He was the first well known Club Boy in the gay community to die from AIDS.
Four days later, after his funeral in O’Leary, PEI, I returned to Dartmouth knowing things had changed. I picked up the phone and called DrBobFredrickson, who pointed me in the right direction. I contacted the AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT), requesting risk reduction information. They sent me a pamphlet with all the do's and don’ts in language that gay men could understand. We had to get this information out to the general community.
A small group of us: Dr Bob, JohnHurlbert, ArthurCarter, DarrellMartin?, and I banded together to try to make a difference. We called ourselves the GayHealthAssociation, the GHA. We had no money, address, or office, not even stamps and envelopes. I approached the Gay Alliance for Equality at Rumours for assistance. We had no contacts with Government, and the Alliance was our only hope for help. We as a group had nothing, and no way to get the right information out there.
Back then, there were no personal computers, scanners or printers; everything had to be copied and printed for distribution via a printing service. We also needed a post office box, and this all cost money. I was totally inept with procedure at the GAE meeting and had no idea what to do. Their Chair, ArthurSniders, was extremely helpful, and eventually my motion was passed, allowing us to stage a fundraiser. There was no show, simply a plea for help. It took place on a Friday night with members donating money, and I recall a $100 bill being given by one man.
With the money raised on that Friday evening, we were able to open a PO Box. It was a big step forward. Our address was Gay Health Association, PO Box 1013, Station M, Halifax, Nova Scotia, B3J 1T0. We also raised enough money to have risk reduction pamphlets copied for those who were interested.
One day Yvonne Colbert, a reporter with ATV and good friend of BobMcKay, GraemeEllis and me, contacted me to let us know that ATV’s Live at 5 wanted to do a three-part segment on AIDS. I knew all the contacts, from medical personnel to patients. Colbert connected all the names I gave her for the feature. I requested that each segment end with the following message: “If you are a gay man who requires risk reduction information, contact the Gay Health Association,” along with our address.
Yvonne called, “I have good news and bad news. The good news is that the first segment airs tomorrow, and then for the next two nights after that. The bad news is that my producer will not allow the word “gay” to air on Live at 5." “But our name is Gay Health Association.” “I’m allowed to broadcast your address, but neither the word 'gay' nor your name.”
The segments aired, and I was bombarded with requests from all over the Maritimes for further information. School teachers, housewives and even a nun got a quick education on gay sex when they opened the information we sent. It was time to change our name and get serious.
Given the support shown by the Gay Alliance for Equality, I started attending their meetings. Before I knew it, I was asked to sit on their management board. They felt, given my hotel experience, that I probably had something to offer. Time passed, and one day, Rosemary, the Chair of the management board asked to meet for lunch. Elections were coming up and she proposed that I become Chair of the board. I was dumb-founded! I asked why she thought I would make a good Chair. She said she had observed that I was never confrontational, and that I simply asked the right questions to steer board members to arrive at the right answers.
Meanwhile, at Rumours, our manager, BrendaBryan had to take a leave of absence. I was asked to step in during her absence. It was business as usual at the bar.
But, things were changing fast with the Gay Health Association. We felt we had to change our name after the “Live at 5” fiasco. Bob Fredrickson put forth the name “Metro Area Committee on AIDS” that is, MacAIDS. It had a Maritime ring to it, and we all liked it. We were incorporated and registered with the Nova Scotia Registry of Joint Stocks on November 28, 1985 with board members listed, and applied to Health Canada for much needed funding. Cathy Coffin, who worked at the Halifax Office was my saviour. Many trips were made to review the quarterly application to be submitted to Ottawa. At the office, LynnHayes? took care of our books. Mother-figure and mentor to every gay man she encountered, she was certainly important to us all in those early years.
Funding came through from Health Canada, and MacAIDS opened their office on Blowers Street with a full board. We were able to hire an Executive Director. Being on that board kept me busy with work and weekly meetings. I had the full support from GAE’s executive regarding my involvement with MacAIDS. How did I ever find the time?
MacAIDS sponsored a one-day AIDS Conference in Halifax at one point; I remember trying to book a keynote speaker. Larry Kramer came to mind. I had met him years before in New York at a party that a friend brought me to, so I called him. He wanted to, but it turned out our conference was taking place on the same weekend as his alma mater at Yale. Our conference took place at TUNS that weekend without him.
MacAIDS received notice that a new national AIDS organization was about to form in Toronto. They were looking for reps from across Canada to work on its formation. I volunteered and, on my own dime, travelled to Toronto to represent Nova Scotia. By the end of that weekend, the Canadian AIDS Society had formed, and I was the signatory for Nova Scotia. I remember flying back that summer with the newly released “Venus” by Bananarama. I made sure Rumours was the first to play the hit in Halifax. It landed at number two on our year-end playlist. Number one was “Sledgehammer” by Peter Gabriel. It was 1986.
Brenda returned from the leave of absence and gave her notice. The bar was now without a manager. We were locked into a five-year lease with maybe two years remaining, paying rent of about $4,000 a month. The business was operating in the red, and bleeding badly. It looked tired, needed among other things an upgrade and new music; after all, it was a dance bar.
The Chair of GAE, Arthur Sniders approached me to ask if I would be interested in taking over, given the challenges that lay ahead. I accepted, and said I would see it through to the end of the lease, but needed the board’s full support for the change required to turn things around. He agreed and we shook hands.
My first challenge as manager happened when I received a sales pitch by phone from a prominent Halifax magazine to buy advertizing space in their monthly publication. A quarter page cost $425. It had wide circulation and I liked the idea. Imagine being approached to advertise in the legitimate press! Yes, we had ads in the gay press both locally and nationally, but this was a Very Big deal! Their circulation covered lots of area including the airlines. The board approved and cut a cheque. Graphic artist ArthurCarter generated the artwork to the specs required for the ad.
One week later, I received a call from the office of the editor, requesting a meeting. I arrived for my 10 a.m. appointment at 1800 Argyle Street, 7th floor, decked out in a suit. He explained he had no problem with our ad, but in the line, “A private club for lesbians and gay men.” He asked if could I change the word ‘lesbian’ because “Our readers might find the term offensive.” I responded, “I will have to ask the lesbians.” Long story short, the word ‘lesbian’ stayed, and eventually the magazine returned the artwork and uncashed cheque with no explanation. We circulated a story after that incident: the city's theme, with a tag: "Halifax Likes Company -- But Not Lesbians."
When I took over the reins at Rumours, I was asked by the Management Board to draw up job descriptions for all the bar positions. Every night, I stood back and watched each employee's duties. Not knowing why I was doing it, a complaint was registered with the Board that they were being watched. I explained to the Board it was the only way I knew exactly what was involved before it was documented. Before I knew it, I was being served papers from the Department of Labor for a Union Vote by the employees. The Board dug in their heels and challenged the counting of the vote, which in the end was soundly defeated. When I look back now, the staff had a good thing going at the bar. It opened at 8PM and closed at 1AM. Business picked up at 10PM. Today, the party doesn't get started until 1 AM! I don't remember what the hourly rate of pay was, but they all had Medical Insurance paid for in full by the Alliance, and they kept their own tips. They were responsible for cleaning their workstations, but regular cleaning took place during the day: EttaGibson would arrive every morning and thoroughly clean all areas, and the stainless steel dance floor gleamed when she finished her shift. Today, much of that would not be available for employees.
Changes were in store at Rumours, and my first task was to paint the entire bar black, using strategically placed black lights, which gave the bar a whole new look. Our new sign looked spectacular over the dance floor. I wonder whatever happened to that sign?
I hooked up with a DJ service in New York that I had read about in a Dance Music catalogue. It was filled with promotions of what was being released and of course ads for various services. I decided to give it a whirl and picked up the phone. My contact was extremely helpful and each month a shipment of vinyl arrived from New York with product that was fresh and not yet heard in Halifax. My budget was $100 US a month, and the subscription covered all sorts of genres: Euro disco, dance-hop funk, contemporary R&B, hip-hop, HI-NRG, and even techno. My DJ "Smitty" DeniseSmith was happy to have the product. Each weeknight there would be a different crowd. On Smitty's night off a young student, Al, would spin "techno" for that crowd. Women's Night took place on Tuesdays and Smitty was aware of what they liked. On weekends they played all genres, and word got out and people noticed.
Long before the MacAIDS office opened on Blowers Street, Rumours was able to promote condom use when they were available for distribution. I would use special events such as Valentine’s, Easter or New Year’s. Troy Langille dressed as a cigarette girl, carrying a tray filled with an assortment of condoms, or my doorman would dress as the Easter rabbit, carrying an Easter basket overflowing with condoms. As the song goes, “You gotta have a gimmick!”
EricSmith was a school teacher infected by HIV in the 1980’s. A firestorm erupted when his HIV status was revealed by a medical secretary, and he lost his job. In 1987, the Nova Scotia Task Force on AIDS was established by the conservative government in power, to conduct a wide-ranging, full scale review of all matters relating to AIDS in Nova Scotia. The Task Force was to identify and prioritize issues of concern, hear input from individuals and organizations across the province, and make recommendations to government.
There were many government agencies covering Medical, Social and Education that sat on that board, including the Metro Area Committee on AIDS. I applied to the executive of GAE to sit with MacAIDS as the Gay Alliance was not included, nor did they lobby to be there. Given my involvement with MacAIDS they felt that would be ample contact. I felt it was important that we be involved. I was given their full support to sit. After all, it was GAE who first supported us back in 1984 when the virus raised its ugly head. BillHart? and I were appointed to represent MacAIDS and I made it known I was also there for GAE.
We attended weekly meetings and travelled throughout the province. It was a fascinating experience. I got to see how the government machine worked. When we had to travel, a car and driver would pick me up and drop me off at the airport, where I would board the government jet to be whisked off with board members to the hearings.
It was quite a ride, especially in the part of the province where Eric taught. We flew to Yarmouth on the morning of March 15, 1988. After landing, we were picked up at the airport and driven to Digby for an afternoon hearing. There were only two submissions presented. One was from Vince MacLean, Leader of the Opposition and the other from the McLeave Medical Center. Both submissions had a positive spin. We returned to Yarmouth and stayed the night at the Rodd Grand Yarmouth. The next day, Shelburne was on the agenda first, and there were nine submissions. The most glaring one was presented by Mayor L.M. Huskilson from the Town of Lockeport. The previous evening, town council had unanimously passed this motion: Resolved that this council go on record that known AIDS carriers not be allowed to attend or be employed in our school system. Succinct and to the point!
Next up was Clark's Harbour on Cape Sable Island, where Eric had been a teacher, and had his HIV status had been disclosed by the gossipy medical secretary. We travelled by car and stopped for dinner before heading to the meeting. The newspaper headline and editorial were basically saying that the Task Force was not welcome there. When we arrived at the school (the same one where Eric taught) the parking lot was packed. The hearing took place in the gymnasium which was packed -- a sea of ball caps. The media was also there with an entire wall lined with TV cameras, some from as far away as the United States.
We were guided into a locker room with a scrum following us in; they were pushed out. A group called the United Concerned Parents of Cape Sable Island was front and center. We entered the gym and took our places on stage. The submissions started: First up was Ms. A. Reynolds/G. Newell Councellor/Deputy Warden, Barrington Municipal Council. Excerpt: "Despite the alarming rise in the number of cases of AIDS, many are refusing to see anything wrong with their thinking and free swinging lifestyle. Instead many are demanding their rights to do whatever they want and expect Government solutions for the resulting problems." Another one - Ms. Linda Swim with the United Concerned Parents of Cape Sable Island: excerpt: "We have sought medical advice, we have spent a lot of money, time and energy to gather all the information and facts we could, and in light of these facts as they now stand, we do not feel we can expose our children to a virus disease that could kill them. After all: why would you send your child to school with an unhealthy teacher, when there are healthy teachers available?"
But there was one lone voice in that sea of hysteria. Her name was Ms. Joan Czapalay with the Nova Scotia Teachers Union whose presentation was both balanced and elegant. It ended with: "There are two principles which might guide us which we need now more than ever: Love one another and do unto others as you would have them do unto you." The meeting ended and we headed out. I was half expecting the tires of the cars we were in to be slashed, but we got away.
On October 3, 1988, the Task Force submitted its final report to the Minister of Health. The report contained forty-seven recommendations relating to AIDS education, care and financial support of HIV-infected persons and ensuring the rights of HIV-infected persons.
I recall there were two dissenting views regarding one of the recommendations when it was released. Eric Smith stormed out of the press conference over the government's refusal to implement three of the most controversial recommendations contained in the report, saying later "I guess I feel like it's been a waste of a year." Personally, when I look back now, there was a benefit to all of it. One only has to look at the hysteria and attitudes pre and post Task Force to see that there was a marked shift.
GordonPike? started working at the bar and we quickly became good friends. He was a talented handyman who had the smarts to get things done to improve the facilities. Our biggest challenge was improving air quality. Back then, smoking was commonplace in bars and Rumours was no exception. Gordon’s solution was ingenious: fresh air vented from outside, landing on the dance floor. It was cheap and effective, people noticed, and weekend crowds started improving. Coupled with the new music arriving from New York, we soon had line-ups at the door.
On a Friday night in the fall of 1986, Rumours was packed. Two young men tried to gain entrance. They were not members. One was hiding something under his jacket. GloriaBorden and MarkHicks were stationed at the registration desk at the door. The men were refused admittance and started shouting obscenities. A pushing match took place at the door. Mark pulled out his mace and sprayed. He hit a hornet’s nest. The men retreated, but returned with clubs. The double doors were bolted shut. The police were called. Adrenaline was flowing on both sides of the door.
The men started ramming the door, trying to gain entrance. As they pushed, we on the inside braced the door, with Gloria on my right, Mark on my left, and me in the centre. All at once, the door gave way, and I fell out onto the sidewalk, on top of the doors. The men were swinging and pounding me with their clubs, but Mark was right behind me with his mace.
The police arrived and arrested both men. Patrons had no idea what just happened, and left that night through what looked like a battle zone. Gordon was called in to secure the area, and a new door, with stronger frame, was in place within a week. Never before had I experienced an attack like that.
The young men pleaded not guilty in court, given that the damages exceeded $1,000, which meant a criminal record would follow them. Both Mark and I testified at the trial. The judge found them guilty.
It’s Friday night in February, 1987, and JimBarnaby and MurrayWilson? are out on the town at Rumours. They always showed up in three-piece suits, and once on the dance floor, they seldom stopped. Boy, oh boy, could they dance! They were seasoned pros on the floor, and their foxtrot was thrilling to see! I always loved watching them. But on this night, Jim went down, hard. He had a massive heart attack. The music stopped and the lights went up. I ran to the DJ booth, to grab a mic to ask if there were any medical personnel in the crowd who could assist. Four doctors and six male nurses stepped forward.
An ambulance was called. Medical patrons kept Jim alive until the ambulance arrived. The paramedics lifted him from the stainless steel dance floor and placed him on the carpet. Out came the paddles, and they jolted him back to life. He was lifted onto a stretcher where they paddled him again. Outside, before the stretcher reached the ambulance, the paddles were used yet again. I overheard the driver say it was the first time that the Nova Scotia Ambulance Service had ever used the paddles. “This would have made the news had it not happened here," said the driver.
As they sped away, I gathered up Jim’s jewelry which had flown off and landed in a snow bank. Back inside, the lights were still up. The crowd was silent, more or less in shock with what just happened. I lowered the lights and asked Smitty, our DJ, to start the music. She was shaking, and honestly thought it was her high-energy dance music that had taken him down. “Play anything,” I said. She grabbed the first piece of vinyl in sight: Tina Turner singing “Help!”.
A new executive was elected, headed by JJLyon as Chair, which made me very happy! Always upbeat, and I felt we were on the same page. He was very supportive. How lucky for me, first with Arthur Snider followed by JJ. Life was good! JJ was very well aware of the details of the Granville Street lease, its duration and how much we were paying every month. His vision was that if indeed we could afford to pay in excess of $4,000 per month, we could certainly pay that on our own building. Business was brisk, controls were in place, and our bank account never looked better.
JJ and team were on the hunt. The Misty Moon, located on Gottingen Street was on the market. The building was vacant, except for a boxing ring located on the top floor. News got out that GAE was interested. I was getting calls at the bar on Granville Street from different people who were interested in purchasing the ring should we be successful in buying the building.
The public weighed in on a morning radio talk show. Alderwoman Margaret Stanbury and a male radio commentator expressed opposition to the purchase, given the building was so close to an elementary school. How school hours and bar hours intersected was a moot point but word was out now, and GAE withdrew their interest. It was a lesson learned: never go public with real estate purchasing plans.
Time passed, and one day I answered the phone. It was Keith Tufts, one of the business partners from Club Flamingo. The venue was an oasis for alternative music at the time. They heard that we were looking for a new venue and felt they had exactly what we needed at the old Cove Theatre at 2112 Gottingen Street. We arranged a time to meet. I walked in and was met by all three owners and given the grand tour. I had been in many gay bars across the country, as well as in New York City, including Studio 54. I immediately knew that this space was special, equipped with a stage wired for sound. They explained that they were unable to obtain a liquor license and had to unload. We had a liquor license. It was a win-win for us! I thanked them and said we would be in touch.
I immediately called JJ with the good news and details. He was as excited as I was. Negotiations started and finances were secured. I had nothing to do with that aspect of the purchase. Everyone remained tight-lipped, given what happened with the Misty Moon fiasco. We did however meet with the Gottingen Street Merchants Association once papers were signed. They were anxious to see us to set up business on their street. Once a bustling business district, it had fallen some due to shopping malls.
The plan was to make the announcement of the new Gottingen Street location at the Carpenter's Hall, during a special Pride celebration. Located at the very south end of Gottingen Street, it was a kind of a stepping stone that could introduce the community to the area, which for us at the time, was not the place to be. We moved what we could from Granville Street to the intermediate location, which included our liquor stock, cash registers, cash drawers, music and sound system. The Hall was packed when JJ made the announcement that we had successfully purchased the property at 2112 Gottingen and would be opening on the following night. We were to move all of our equipment the next day and open that evening. When the event came to a close, I gathered up the cash trays and called a cab to return to Granville Street to secure the floats and the sales in our safe.
The cab arrived on Granville, and I asked the driver to wait, only to find a big padlock bolted on our door by our landlord. He had heard we were moving and decided to play dirty with the gay boys! It was time to call the lawyers. In the meantime, I had no safe and was saddled with transporting the floats and nightly sales back and forth by cab to my apartment on Quinpool Road, until we got our safe back. Every night, I would pack up seven cash trays containing the floats and the night’s sales into a cardboard box, tie it up with bungie cords, and call a cab before I activated the security code.
No one on the street ever suspected that the cardboard box sitting on the sidewalk beside me contained thousands of dollars, while I waited for a cab to arrive and take me home. This went on for the entire summer of 1987. The law firm of [[BuchanDerrickAndRing?|Buchanan, Derrick & Ring]] demonstrated that we had no intention of forfeiting or breaking our lease on Granville Street, and the landlord had no right to lock us out from our Granville Street location. I got my safe back sometime in September. I was a happy manager.
At some point that summer, I was approached by a young 19 year old student who was employed by Club Flamingo as their canteen girl. She was now unemployed, and wondered if I had an opening. I explained we came with all the staff that was required and I had nothing to offer. I’m almost certain I had to say no to Sarah McLaughlin Was it her? I still wonder.
At our new location, I noticed that 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Happy Hour was catching on. Happy Hour had always been ineffective at our other location, but our new space was set up to properly accommodate those who preferred quiet music and conversation in the earlier part of the evening. During the winter months, there was a marked increase in rent boys and older men meeting for drinks before the dance music really clicked in at 10PM.
With the new space, we were able to accommodate the GayLine, a phone service providing information, counselling and referral to gay, lesbian. bisexual and curious callers. It was located in the basement under the lobby. Gordon Pike constructed a secure room where trained volunteers arrived to answer inquiries. They had an interesting phone number: 429-6969.
My idea for “Hallowe’en ’87” was to have a giant spider suspended above the dance floor. I had no idea as to scale, or how-to. JJLyon came to the rescue. It looked spectacular, thank you, JJ! The event was billed as “Come as Your Favourite Sinner,” and it was a roaring success. TommyMiller graced the stage as Tammy Faye Baker, holding a bible in one hand and a hankie in the other, crying crocodile tears. He stole the show and won top prize.
Rumours was known for its dance music. Most bars would not play the music that we played. Owners claimed it affected liquor sales and attracted only water drinkers. Rock and even Country were the norm in Halifax. Personally, I know it had a lot to do with racial issues. Rumours had no such issues. We were invited to join a DJ Service where I got to meet many DJ’s in the city. They were all envious of our music library. Quite a few would ask if they could come and spin during the week, just to get a feel for what it was really like. I was happy to oblige.
One day, I received a call from a woman who requested to meet. She had something to give me. She arrived with a book by Derek Humphry, called “Final Exit”. The book covered many aspects of planning and carrying out suicide. She was concerned about the gay men who were suffering. I’m sure she meant well, but I could never imagine handing a book containing such recipes to anyone I knew.
For Christmas ’87, JJ Lyon’s GIGANTIC CHRISTMAS WREATHS on each wall of Rumours was truly impressive and extraordinary! Not to be outdone for New Years’ Eve ’87, we decided to have hundreds of balloons suspended from the ceiling, and drop them at midnight. A huge makeshift plastic bag was filled with hundreds of white balloons, ready for the countdown. 5…4…3…2…1, pull the cord and Happy New Year!
The cord caught on something, and the bag would not open. Pull, pull, pull. DarrylKenney, employed as Male Security joined in. Picture two men in tuxedos tugging away. Nothing happened. People kept looking up. Some started climbing onto the tables. Couples were trying to pull down the bag, which looked like a giant nipple filled with white balloons. It was New Years Eve, people were drinking, and my fear was that the entire thing might fall, with candles burning below. I could see the headlines tomorrow, “Giant Nipple Falls and Kills Gay Bar’s New Years Eve Party Goers.” After exhaustive tugging by Darryl and I, the cord finally worked. We had severe rope burns on our hands that took time to heal. Was this an omen for what would unfold in 1988?
1988 was a new year with a new executive. There was no longer a management board, with the executive front and centre for the day-to-day operation of the bar.
We were equipped with a stage wired for sound. Few bars in the city could boast such an asset, and I had plans. My first proposal was to book "The Village People" for a one-night show. Armed with a contract to be signed, I made my pitch. It was unanimously rejected by the GAE Board. My second idea was to book gay icon, "Divine". Again, armed with a contract, I made my second pitch. Rejected again. My third and final idea was to book Quentin Crisp for his one-man show. His contract was completely different from the others. He preferred to be billeted in someone’s home rather than a hotel suite. He too was rejected.
Long before the internet and instant communications, I had first to find the booking agents for these artists and then arrange the rest long before I made my pitch. I was spinning my wheels. June arrived, and the city was hosting Eva Moore’s Great Canadian International Theater Festival. Theater productions were being staged all over the city, and our stage would be the venue for the AIDS play, “The Normal Heart", a largely autobiographical play written by Larry Kramer, which focuses on the rise of the HIV/AIDS crisis in New York City between 1981 and 1984. as seen through the eyes of writer/activist Ned Weeks , the gay founder of a prominent HIV advocacy group. The event was a sell out that evening.with healthy bar sales.
The stage was lit with proper theatre lighting. I asked the lighting techs if they could leave the lighting in place for our upcoming show taking place on July 2. Our first birthday party was taking place the following week.
July 1, 1988 was the date of Halifax’s first Pride March. It was a damp, overcast day. There were perhaps 50 of us. While marching, I noticed all the people who came out to cheer us on. Trouble was, they watched from inside their cars. After all, as bar manager, I knew all the players.
The next day was the date to celebrate our first birthday at 2112 Gottingen. Much had happened in the past year. We acquired a magnificent property – arguably the largest gay bar in the country. It was time to have a party. We had a stage, professional lighting, performers and a special cake ordered from the Hungarian baker just down the street. Billed as a variety show, the two-hour-plus production featured a wide variety of talent. Blair Beed stepped in as our Master of Ceremonies. The show ended with GaryWest who appeared as Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday, Rumours”, a direct knock-off of that icon’s “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” performance at Madison Square Garden in May of 1962. A Pink Triangle cake was then rolled out and cut. There were easily six hundred in attendance – a night to remember…The 30th anniversary is on July 2, 2018!
Shortly after that big night, I was out of a job. It’s sad to think that seven years after my exit, they had to file for bankruptcy. They were teetering close in 1985 when I shook hands with Arthur Sniders and we managed to stir the ashes and get things on track again. I was responsible for a 72.8% increase in bar revenue within a 2½ year period. With the right approach, the sky was the limit. How tragic to lose an asset like that.
I have chosen not to review the “he said; she said" details of my departure. It’s a moot point now, and after all, as Tennessee Williams wrote in Memoirs, “A high station in life is earned by the gallantry from which appalling experiences are survived with grace.”
Many bars have opened and closed since then. I like to think of that era as our Golden Moment... WASN'T THAT A TIME!
After my exit in 1988, I started receiving messages on my answering machine on Christmas Day. The voice wished me a Merry Christmas and regaled me about the wonderful time we had and how he missed me. He had a German accent and was calling long distance. This happened every Christmas Day for approx. 6 years. I was always at my home and not in the city for the Christmas Holiday. I had never met this man and always scratched my head wondering what this was all about? How did he get my phone number? Who was he? It then dawned on me that he must have called the bar and asked who the manager was while I was away for Christmas in 1986. He probably met the employee who posed as the manager and had some fun. Years later he thought of him, called the bar, got my name, called directory assistance, got my number and made his Christmas Call for the next 6 years thinking he was sending the manager his message. I totally get why he would call... That employee was well-endowed!