3 min

Clean and sober at Pride

Drug- and alcohol-free area caters to kids and teetotallers

I have to admit that I sometimes find Pride a little intimidating. It’s not the people, mind you . . . even the surliest among us tend to cheer up when surrounded by all the colours, the music and the smiling faces of our friends and family. It’s just such a happy time. But for those of us who find dense crowds and loud noise a little jarring, there’s nothing more soothing and enjoyable than finding a cozy spot where we can soak up the atmosphere and indulge in some people-watching. 
That spot for me over the last few years has been Pride’s Free Zone, located at the Paul Kane Parkette on the north side of Wellesley just west of Church. It’s a wonderful space with a lush, green lawn that is perfect for picnics, conversation and listening to live music. It’s also drug- and alcohol-free, a feature that has prompted a name change for the area this year: to the Clean, Sober and Proud space.
“We really did need to change it,” says organizer Dianne Moore. “People in recovery knew what it meant, but we get flooded with people after the parade thinking that it means they’re free to do whatever they want. One neighbour related a story last year where a guy lit up a big spliff thinking that he was free to do so there.”
Aside from these occasional blips, the stage really follows through on its substance-free edict. I’ve yet to see someone staggering with pupils the size of hubcaps or barfing up a mélange of street hot dog and fruity daiquiri. For a non-drinker like me (I don’t like the taste), it’s a nice break from the weekend’s heady atmosphere; for someone in recovery, it’s an essential component to engaging with the community without jeopardizing one’s sobriety.
“I’ve personally chosen not to drink or use for the last 20 years, and I do that with a community that is like-minded,” Moore says. “And having spaces like this really helps facilitate that. But you don’t have to be in recovery to enjoy the space.”
The programming for the Clean, Sober and Proud space has great variety, with a mix of live music and spoken word that works well in the laid-back atmosphere. One of Moore’s favourite picks of this year’s lineup is a musical tribute to former Second Cup owner Joseph Lipson.
“I read an article about Joseph in Xtra’s Pride Voices section,” she says. “It talked about how many different talents this person had and how he had composed a song for a children’s choir to sing. His husband said that, unfortunately, Joseph had never had the opportunity to hear it sung live.
“I really wanted to honour our own heroes and history, and I thought, wouldn’t it be great if we could fulfill that for his widower? So we’re having the Etobicoke School of the Arts come and sing it on our stage.”
Despite Clean, Sober and Proud’s eschewing of stimulants and intoxicants, Moore points out that imbibers are welcome in the parkette, as long as they don’t bring booze in with them. Like many in recovery, she’s able to separate her own recovery from other people’s choices.
“I’ve waitressed in the past, and our busiest shift was always Pride. I’d be out there selling as many beers as I could with no difficulty at all. The only thing I can’t do is drink them. It doesn’t bother me at all if anyone else wants to enjoy their tipple.”
Families seem to naturally gravitate to this quieter Pride space, and Moore and her crew are ensuring that smaller folks have stuff to entertain them as well.
“People come with their kids, so we’re setting up a few bubble machines for them,” she says. “I could truly sit and watch those kids forever with the bubbles. They never get bored, and, really, you can never have too many bubbles at Pride.”

The Clean, Sober and Proud space will be located in the Paul Kane Parkette, featuring  live entertainment along with acupuncture, yoga, trivia, dance and scheduled group meetings throughout Pride weekend. Search “Clean, Sober and Proud Place” on Facebook for more information.