Edmonton’s new swingers club is not swinging open its doors quite yet.
A few months ago Steamers, Edmonton’s oldest bathhouse, quietly closed as a result of gentrification in the city’s downtown eastside. Across the city, a neighbourhood association is trying to stop a swingers club from opening, arguing that its presence would be a setback for the area’s image.
Eleanor Burke, president of the Canora Community League, told the Edmonton Journal she was “amazed” that people go to clubs like 4Play and swap partners.
“Do it downtown or somewhere, but not in a community where there are kids,” she said. “I don’t think it’s morally right for the kids to see this.”
Owners of swingers club 4Play hoped to open their venue over Valentine’s Day weekend, but the opening date has been pushed back. The club faces a development permit appeal citing parking issues, set to be heard March 5.
4Play is located just off Stony Plain Rd, a stretch well-known for pawn shops, sex stores and rent-to-own furniture locations. Last month, the City of Edmonton released the Jasper Place revitalization strategy that suggests a limit on the expansion and creation of adult-oriented businesses in the area.
4Play owners Joe and his wife Cindy have hosted swingers events in the past without much opposition.
“People are looking at us in a different way,” suggests Joe, “because we are not hiding, we are straightforward, we are saying, ‘This is who we are, this is our lifestyle.'”
While Joe says he has no issue releasing his last name, both he and Cindy have decided that for the privacy and safety of their children and membership, they will provide only their first names — a sign of how far we as a society still have to go in terms of sexual openness.
“The reason we are fighting to open 4Play,” says Joe, “is for freedom of expression, to express our sexuality.” And, adds Cindy, “because the Supreme Court of Canada has said we are not wrong.”
Cindy is referring to the 2005 Supreme Court of Canada ruling that found swingers clubs cause no harm to society.
In the 7-2 Supreme Court decision stemming from the Montreal-based Labaye and Kouri cases, the court ruled that sexual acts are indecent if the act is harmful. The previous test of decency was based on community standards.
4Play’s owners see a link between swinger and queer communities, with both groups fighting to carve out a place for themselves in a sexually repressive culture. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are welcome to apply for 4Play membership, say Joe and Cindy.
“We do not discriminate,” says Joe, “but it is up to people to be honest with who they are and what they are looking for.”
He suggests that if people are looking for the bathhouse experience 4Play is not for them. As Joe sees it, the swingers club experience is more social than sexual, with most sex happening when people go home together after meeting at the club.
Before they began work on opening the new club, Cindy and Joe ran a swingers club four blocks away from 4Play. That club was open for over 10 years and they say they never had an issue before now.
Through running the club and hosting swingers camp-outs on their private property, they have become part of a strong community of people they call their “horizontal friends” — friends with whom they have had sex.
This group of 20 people has been working around the clock since Jan 8 to open 4Play. The place needed a lot of work. The club is situated in an old movie theatre that sat abandoned for six years and then was briefly home to a church group that never did any renovations. From dealing with damaged ceilings to old carpet, Cindy and Joe have put up over $40,000 of their own money and expect to put in at least $15,000 more.
They plan to recoup the costs through Friday and Saturday night events that they hope will bring in 60 to 100 members. After 4Play is up and running, they may also rent out the space after business hours to other organizations. The venue has a capacity of 130 people and includes a dance floor, theatre and lounge area.
Despite the local community association’s concerns, Stony Plain Rd area citizens have been supportive of 4Play opening. Ruben Verdin works at a nearby coffee shop and moved into the neighbourhood three years ago when he came to Canada from Mexico.
“When I first heard about the club opening it blew my mind,” says Verdin. “But then I thought — hey, this is Canada. It is a free country and people are free to do what they want as long as they don’t harm other people.
Jorden Dorran who lives in the area and works in restaurant just outside of the Stony Plain Rd area was not surprised when she heard that the club was opening.
“It suits the area. Right now I live with hookers,” she says, referring to neighbours in her building and the sex workers who do business in the area. “This street looks like shit, so if they make sure the outside of the building looks good then I say why not. I don’t care what goes on inside.”