The ArQuives Digital Exhibitions

The ArQuives's Digital Exhibitions

Explore highlights from The ArQuives’s collections of personal and organizational papers, artifacts, ephemera and more!

Overview

 

Between 1981-1987, John Grube and Lionel Collier collected oral histories of earlier gay life in Toronto. Known as the “Foolscap Oral History Project,” or the “Toronto Gay History Project,” this enterprise produced nearly 100 interviews with Canadian gay men born in the first half of the twentieth century, who had spent most of their lives in Toronto. Their respondents, who were mostly white, middle-class, and English-speaking, were part of Grube’s and Collier’s social circle and ranged in age from 36 to 92. The interviews covered the respondents’ early lives, coming out experiences, initiations into the “gay community,” interpersonal relationships, sex lives, interactions with police or psychiatric therapy, perceptions of gay social structure, contact with and opinions on the gay liberation movement, membership in post-Stonewall organizations, careers, religious affiliations, among others. Though most interviews describe the Toronto gay scene from the 1940s until the 1970s, some respondents also discussed cultural and political landscape in the 1980s regarding gay culture and activism. In fact, their recollections of the past were invariably informed by then present-day conditions such as the bath-house raids.

 

 Barkley, Harold. King Edward Hotel. 1974. Baldwin Collection, Toronto Reference Library, Toronto.

 

Grube and Collier’s motives undertaking the Foolscap Project were varied. Grube’s interviews point to an academic effort to record the memories of older gay men in order to highlight pre-Stonewall forms of gay structural organization. Though he did not always refer to Foolscap explicitly, Grube published at least three academic pieces based on his findings.[1] One of the most interesting topics that Grube discussed in these pieces is the relationship and tensions between older homosexual men and the younger generation of gay liberationist and radicals during the 1970s and 1980s. Himself a member of the former group, Grube referred to them as the traditional gay community, and referred to the later as the modern, organized gay community.[2] Grube was critical of the gay liberation movement and of the common narrative that centres the Stonewall riots as the progenitor for gay democratic spaces in the Canadian context. Drawing on his interviews and on the work of scholars like George Chauncey, his piece “‘No More Shit’: The Struggle for Democratic Gay Space in Toronto” argued that riots and the once fashionable rhetoric of gay liberation alone did not create public areas for homosexual men in Toronto. He rather maintained that the building of gay public space had been slow and incremental in the city, and traced its origins back to the pre-world war II period.[3]

Drawing on Grube’s interviews, the digital exhibit “Mapping Foolscap” provides insights into the Toronto gay scene prior to the gay liberation movement by locating the places where homosexual men gathered, cruised, and socialized between the 1940s and the late 1960s. The map, however, is hardly comprehensive. Since most men referred to these places only in passing, “Mapping Foolscap” aims to locate the parks, movie theatres, bars, and “beverage rooms” most often recalled by respondents in their interviews, or those discussed in more detail. Map entries provide brief descriptions of these places, supplemented by photographs and other visual materials, and audio clips from the interviews. Through these clips, gay men describe these spaces in their own words, or discuss their social and sexual interactions therein. “Mapping Foolscap” invites users to enter the social circle Grube had discovered through this enterprise; imagine themselves in these venues and consider the implications of occupying space.

  

Toronto Nov. 7/1982 Side one of 1st taped interview with John N. convicted boy lover and homosexual.

 

“Mapping Foolscap” is an ongoing project. About half of the tapes and transcripts comprising the Foolscap Oral History Project—52 tapes containing 42 separate interviews—were donated to the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives in 2016, and were processed by the LGBTQ Oral History Digital Collaboratory. These interviews were conducted by Grube and include talks with well-known politicians, activists, and artists such as George Hislop and Del Newbigging. The Collaboratory is currently processing Collier’s interviews, which comprise the second half of the collection. The map is expected to develop as more interviews are digitized and transcribed.

 

 A selection of the tapes.

 



[1] “Queens and Flaming Virgins: Towards a Sense of a Gay Community,” Rites, 2 (9), 1986, 14-17; “Natives and Settlers: An Ethnographic Note on Early Interaction of Older Homosexual Men with Younger Gay Liberationists,” Journal of Homosexuality, 20 (3-4), 1991, 119-136; “‘No More Shit’: The Struggle for Democratic Gay Space in Toronto.” In Queers in Space: Communities/Public Places/Sites of Resistance, edited by Gordon Brent Ingram, Anne-Marie Bouthillette, and Yolanda Retter, 127–45. San Francisco: Bay Press, 1997.

[2] Grube, “Queens and Flaming Virgins: Towards a Sense of a Gay Community,” 119-120.

[3] Grube, “No More Shit,” 128-129.

Overview