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The Interviews

Each Lesbians Making History Interview includes streaming audio and a full transcript. Audio has been noise reduced to improve audability. 

Jeanne Healy, 1985

Jeanne is an activist and retired bookkeeper and secretary. She was born in 1924, the youngest and only girl of five siblings and grew up and lived for a major part of her life in Toronto. At the time of the interview she was back living with her ex-lover, Lois Stewart and Lois’s husband. The interview covers Jeanne’s lesbian relationships from 1948 up to the time of the interview. She discusses the bar scene in Toronto and Detroit as well as house parties and friendships with other lesbians in Toronto. Topics discussed include dealing with homophobia frm the 40’s to the present as well as thoughts on the intersection of class, gender and sex.

Interview Details and Transcript

Beatty Burrow and Shirley Shea, 1987

Betty was born on a farm just outside in Sidney, Australia and Shirley was born in Sudbury in 1924. The two meet in Toronto in the 1960s, where they were apart of the lesbian bar scene that gravitated around The Continental. At the time of the interview in 1985, both Shirley and Betty are retired. The interview covers their early lives in Austrlia and Sudbury; their coming-out experiences and various men and women they have dated; Betty’s travels around the world and Shirley’s work for CBC; their first encounter; and life in the lesbian bar scene in Toronto. 

Interview Details and Transcript

Eve Zaremba, 1986

Eve Zaremba was born in Poland in 1930. The Second World War displaced her family to Scotland and England, where she was sent to a boarding school in Reading until the age of 15. Zaremba leaves school in 1945 and moves with her family to Southern Ontario. When she comes to Toronto in 1954, Zaremba becomes an advertising and marketing executive, and later becomes an important figure in the Women’s Movement. The interview concerns Eve’s coming out process from the 1960s, charting her lesbian relationships through the Women’s Movement in Toronto. At the time of the interview, Zaremba had became a noted writer. Her best-known works are The Privilege of Sex and The Helen Karemos Detective Series.

Interview Details and Transcript

Pat Murphy, 1986

Pat Murphy was born in 1941 to an Irish-Catholic working-class family in Toronto, Canada. Murphy trained as a nurse and worked initially at Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital in 1964, where she had her first lesbian relationship with a co-worker. The interview covers Murphy’s transition to activism and community work initially through Canadian Homophile Association of Toronto. The interview examines dissensions between lesbians and gay men in the political movements of the 1970s and 1980s. Murphy outlines her role as a public figure of the lesbian movement; her activism in WAVAW (Women Against Violence Against Women); and the opening of the bar, The Fly-By-Night. Murphy also details her involvement as one of the Brunswick Four, a popularly-reported series of arrests which informed the Royal Commission on Toronto Police Practices.

Interview Details and Transcript

Lois Stewart, 1985

Born in 1920, Lois Stewart is a political activist and retired schoolteacher who grew up in Victoria, British Columbia. After teaching in Victoria during World War 2, Lois moved to Southern Ontario, where she taught in a number of cities and towns outside of Toronto. At the time of the interview in 1985, Lois is 65 years old and living in Toronto. The interview’s themes and topics vary widely, spanning Lois’ life from roughly 1943 to 1985. She recounts her long- and short-term relationships with women her experiences in the Toronto lesbian bar culture, primarily around The Continental Hotel; her connection to and thoughts on socialism, feminism and the Co-Operative Commonwealth Federation/New Democratic Party; and her perspectives on lesbian and same-sex intimacy, sex, and love in the 1950s and 1960s.

Interview Details and Transcript

Cheryl Freeman, 1987

Cheryl Freeman was born in 1949, adopted by a working class Baptist family. She grew up in Toronto. Her biological mother was Jewish but she was not informed until she was in her 30s. Her father was an alcoholic. Her mother was very controlling but often very supportive. Her mother committed her to a mental hospital at 16 years of age, because she was rebellious. Between 16 and 18 she was in and out of mental hospitals but there she discovered that her sexual attraction to girls was “normal” and she was introduced to lesbian culture through other lesbians in those institutions. When she was out of those institutions, she started going to gay and lesbian bars. She made money by dealing drugs, robbery and protecting prostitutes. She was married to a gay man and had a daughter intentionally in 1971. Between the ages of 19 and 21, she lived with a woman lover who had a child. At that time she switched from butch to femme. After 21, she lived in several co-op houses and went on welfare. Post-1969, she participated in several gay rights organizations, including CHAT and LOOT. She speaks of encountering prejudice from lesbian-feminists around butch/femme roles. She lived off and on with at least three women lovers. She experienced abuse from a sister and one woman lover.

Interview Details and Transcript

JEANNE HEALY, LOIS STUART, AND JACKIE, 1985

This interview begins as a conversation between Lois, a retired schoolteacher and activist in Southern Ontario, and Jeanne, a retired secretarial worker and activist. Partway through the interview, Jackie enters and dominates much of the discussion. Jackie was born in 1934 in Sudbury, Ontario to a large French and Native family. As a teenager, she ran away to Toronto multiple times. Following a marriage at 16, she moved to Toronto for a number of years, where she became part of the lesbian bar scene at The Continental Hotel. Jackie would have been considered a downtowner and a rounder, having spent time in and out of the Don Jail throughout her life. The majority of the interview concerns her coming out process as a butch; her work as a pickpocket and later a heroin dealer; her experiences of violence in the Lesbian bar scene; as well as her relationships with women, one of which was with an aspiring Hollywood starlet. The interview is framed by a larger conversation about police harassment, books published in the fifties featuring gay and lesbian characters, and Jeanne and Lois’ involvement in the Women’s Movement.

Interview Details and Transcript

Dorothy Knight, 2000

This series of two interviews with Dorothy Knight accounts for one linear life story, but split into two parts because of a recording error during the first interview. The second interview done on May 24, 2000, attempts to replace a part of Knight’s narrative (approx. 1950–60) accidently erased from the first tapes.

Dorothy Knight talks about coming of age in Toronto in the 1930s and 40s, falling in love for the first time at 19, and training to become a nurse. Knight discusses early sexual experiences with several women, and her subsequent engagement to a man in 1959, called off before their wedding. Knight describes feeling isolated from lesbian community until a trip to New York in the late 1960s when she visits a lesbian bar, sees Butch/Femme aesthetics for the first time, and finds that they are not a fit for her. Returning to Toronto, she is nonetheless inspired to look up the local homophile association where she meets new friends who introduce her to the local bar scene. At the age of 42, at the Blue Jay, she meets B.L., who would become her most significant relationship. Later in the 1970s and 80s, Knight preferred to socialize with other lesbians at house parties. Working as a nurse until the early 1970s, Knight eventually transitioned into working as an “association consultant,” and then started her own business.

Interview Details and Transcript

 

The Interviews