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7 min

MAP: Pride locations past and present

Community speaks about past memorable Pride events

Everywhere we go, we change the landscape. But when it comes to Pride Week, we take over. Come with some of the fairy godmothers of Ottawa’s Pride past and present as they show us the spots we’ve queered.


Click to launch the interactive map of Pride locations, past and present:

1986
STRATHCONA PARK

Before Ottawa had the loud and proud spectacle of the Pride parade, we had a simple picnic. The relaxed, reserved affair, which started in 1986, brought together about 50 queers for a public display of pride — daring at the time.

Gabriella Goliger, former GO Info writer:
“It wasn’t a very big gathering, it was only a few dozen people. But we felt we were doing something very daring. It had more of a community feeling when it was a small group like that.”

***

1989
FIRST MARCH
(BEGINNING AT METCALFE AND SOMERSET)

When local homos make the leap from a small, private picnic to a louder and highly visible march, it is a big step in celebrating our community. Although the routes are short in the first few years on the asphalt, taking to the streets of Centretown starts a new era of celebrating our diversity out, loud and proud. In 1991, the march transforms into a parade with floats — a whole different feel, with the emphasis now on fun rather than protest.

Alex Munter, former city councillor and now the executive director of the Youth Services Bureau Of Ottawa:
“It being the first ‘official’ Pride Day, and the first one that had attracted a lot media attention, there were a whole lot of folks who came out to look. Some of them were queer positive, but many were not, they were just curious. So I went into the crowd and started ssking people ‘Why are you here?’ I remember one guy saying, ‘Well, I just wanted to see if there was anybody here I knew.'”

Tom Barnes, librarian at Pink Triangle Service’s Kelly McGinnis Library:
“You were waving [the marchers] goodbye, but you find your feet are marching because your heart tells you that you want to be with this group. The head was saying, ‘No, you don’t want to do this,’ but your heart is saying, ‘Yes, you want to be a part of this. This needs to be done.'”

***

LESSER-KNOWN LOCATIONS
While locations like City Hall, Bank St, and Parliament Hill have now become
parade stalwarts, once upon a time Pride enlivens such far-flung locations as the Main St Community Centre, Ballantyne Park, and even Victoria Island.

1991
MAIN ST
COMMUNITY CENTRE

Tom Barnes, librarian at Pink Triangle Service’s Kelly McGinnis Library:
“[The parade] formed up in the little park at the corner of Pretoria and Main, which is tiny. But that’s all the space you needed, because there wasn’t that many people. Now it takes a huge amount of space to set up for it, but back then it was very little, of course.”

1994
VICTORIA ISLAND

Alex Munter, former Ottawa Citizen reporter and now the Executive Director of the Youth Services Bureau Of Ottawa:
“I think of all the different places where [the parade] has ended up, the prettiest place was Victoria Island. Of course, the island is just a striking location, but also from that location you get one of the best views of downtown Ottawa, looking up at the Peace Tower.”

1995
WELLINGTON PARK AT THE SUPREME COURT

Alex Wisniowski, Leather Fest organizer
and Pride volunteer:

“[Drag queen] Dynasty was hosting the show that year, and the running gag was that every time she came on the stage, it would start to rain, and when she left the stage it would stop raining — it would happen every time! I don’t know if you could have planned it any better. It was so funny.”

***

ELGIN ST VS BANK ST
Nowadays, the Parade route is pretty firmly established along Wellington St, moving past the Supreme Court Of Canada and Parliament. But Elgin and Bank streets hosted the parade for years. Which was best? Depends who you ask. Many people see Elgin as the epitome of a busy, happening city, while Bank St wins points for its unofficial designation as the heart of the Rainbow Village.

Diane Duffy, longtime parade participant:
“If you watched going down Elgin St, people would join in and end up at City Hall. They would just follow along behind, so it was like a pied piper going down the street!”

Alex Wisniowski, Leather Fest organizer and Pride volunteer:
“Elgin was a happening street in the ’90s. There were a lot of businesses and restaurants, and everyone would be out on the street so they’d be watching the parade.”

Diane Duffy, longtime parade participant:
“You had a lot more of the bars having floats with dance music. Just the whole fun of the music really gets the crowd going. If you were watching from the side, you felt like part of the party because you’d be dancing along with the music — it made it full of energy. When you just have people going by with placards or banners, you catch the moment, but it doesn’t sustain.

“They tried going down Bank St and then cutting across Laurier Ave, but with the tall buildings, there’s no people on Laurier. The stores are closed on a Sunday. There were strips between streets where there was nobody standing, so it made you feel like, ‘What the hell kind of parade is this?'”

***

MARCHING AT THE HUB OF GOVERNMENT
Pride isn’t just about loud music, outrageous outfits and uninhibited dancing. We’re also celebrating our political achievements and sending a message to the government: We’re proud, we’re loud, and we won’t give up the fight! For a few years, the parade circled the Parliament lawn. Today, we parade past the Supreme Court and Parliament along Wellington St. In the nation’s capital we can shout our message to the government right in their own backyard.

Alex Wisniowski, Leather Fest organizer & Pride volunteer:
“There were a few years we were allowed to go up on Parliament Hill, and at the time we were the only group that was allowed, so it was symbolic.”

Bella Straight, popular local drag queen:
“I remember one year on Parliament there was a streaker. He was butt naked! I think the following year we weren’t allowed to go on Parliament!”

Lena Lanouette, longtime parade participant:
“A lot of tourists watch if the parade goes down Wellington. You can tell by their dumbfounded looks that say, ‘Oh my God, we’re in the middle of something!’ And then they really enjoy it, actually. You can tell they’re tourists because they’re taking a lot of pictures — a ‘wait ’till I show mom,’ kind of thing.”

***

1996
RAINBOW PARTY, LANSDOWNE PARK

In 1996, Yvonn Vaillant and his Pride committee brought the party farther south, into the Glebe. The first Rainbow Party was a huge success, drawing 1500 men and women together under the giant roof and Lansdowne Park’s pavilion for a queer party that couldn’t be beat.

Jay Koornstra, executive director of Bruce House:
“It was delightfully fun. I was absolutely blown away by the mixture of gay men representing various diversities, and large numbers of women celebrating altogether and dancing altogether under one roof.”

“One year, there was a bomb scare or something at the Rainbow Party, and we were all forced outside into the parking lot. An a capella group was there and they did a performance right there in the parking lot. We just kept partying outside. It was like, ‘No one’s going to stop our party!'”

***

2002:
THE LONGEST PARADE

Pride celebrations in the capital have always included our friends across the river in Quebec, but in 2002, Pride actually brought the parade into Gatineau. The route started at Gatineau City Hall and went all the way to Gladstone, making it the longest parade route in the history of Capital Pride.

Bella Straight, popular local drag queen:
“I liked the parade when it was longer, when it included Hull and Quebec. They don’t have Pride; their Pride is with us, so let’s include them. They are a part of our community.”

Lena Lanouette, longtime parade participant:
“When we came over from Hull it was a really long one, but that’s because there were so many floats! But there was hardly anyone watching on Portage Bridge, so people only really started to watch it when it got into Ottawa.”

***

PARTYING AT FESTIVAL PLAZA AND ON BANK ST
Festival Plaza and Ottawa City Hall has played a role in 10 Pride celebrations, including the after-parade parties since 2005. This grassed site has its fans, for sure. But the most popular after-parade parties of all time were those held on Bank St from 2002 to 2004, with the live on-street music and beer gardens. People get positively excited talking about those years and often ask when they’re coming back. The answer: when we figure out how to pay for the street party, for those years left a big debt.

Jay Koornstra, executive director of Bruce House:
“We have a city where both City Hall and the police services raise the Pride flag. I think it’s really bringing back and reminding people, especially if you have an event like this that’s focussed around the levels of government; that despite the successes we’re celebrating, we must always be vanguards and strive for equality for everyone. We’re keeping that political edge because we’re on government property.”

Kathi Sansom, SAGE Ottawa organizer:
“I think why they chose City Hall was because people have a tendency to stay downtown. We’re all in one space and that’s the name of the game. Don’t spread us apart, we’re spread apart in life because we live in so many different areas. Once we get together, we have a tendency to party more.”

Caitlyn Pascal, Divergence Movie Night organizer:
“I wish the after-party was still held at the city hall lawn and still had the same sense of abandon and fun. I don’t remember there even being a beer tent there. I attended with a friend and the welcoming atmosphere and smiling faces dissolved any apprehension.”

Bella Straight, popular local drag queen:
“I think it was the best idea to have a street party on Bank St. Because we’re trying to start a gay village and that’s the place. No one minds drag queens walking around or people walking around with hardly anything on. They see the weirdos all the time, so it was no big deal.”

Lena Lanouette, longtime parade participant:
“The one year they had a beach party on Bank St, that was cool. Shutting down Bank St and having sand in the middle of the road, having a great time. We thought, ‘Oh my God, somebody’s going to have to clean that up tonight!'”