5 min

Twenty years of play

Founder George Whiting, age 79, shares the inside stories of VASM

Credit: David Ellingsen

It started small and, as so often happens in our community, in someone’s home, but 20 years later it’s an opportune time to look back at the founding of Vancouver Activists in SM (VASM).

I’d become aware of a new kind of SM organization, the GMSMA in New York, and wrote them asking for information about their ideas and policies. I received a good deal of guidance from them and decided to try to set up a similar institution which would offer information and support to interested men in Vancouver.

I hosted lunch at my place on Labour Day in 1982 after publishing a letter in the Gay Community Centre news sheet. Fred Gilbertson, Michael Hurst and David Jacobs were there to help get something off the ground. We decided to launch a resource group to be known as Vancouver Activists in SM and held our first official meeting at Fred’s home in October. Six men attended that first meeting. After that, we held monthly discussions and demonstrations at the homes of participants. Through word of mouth, we had about 25 men attending these events.

I felt that our new organization could be given quite a boost if we held a special celebration on our first anniversary. In May of 1983, on my return trip from a visit to new York, I stopped off in Chicago to visit Paul Eaton who had befriended me at my first attendance at Chicago Hellfire Club’s annual Inferno the previous year. He arranged a meeting with Tony DeBlase who was publishing a radically new magazine, Dungeonmaster. After relating to him the story of VASM and my ideas for an anniversary program, Tony accepted my invitation to come to Vancouver (at his expense) for our first anniversary to be held on Thanksgiving Weekend.

Although that weekend had to be subsidized, I felt that it was an unqualified success. Tony and Dean Dunlap of Seattle, between them, put on first-class demos in SM activities like bondage and electricity at the Dufferin Hotel and in member’s homes. At this first annual general meeting, some of the members produced a draft constitution which was fully adopted and our first board formally voted in.

The subsequent few years saw VASM embark on new and exciting projects. During Jean Claude Pasquier’s presidency in 1984, and over several following years, an alliance was consummated between VASM and the newly founded Seattle Dungeon Guild. Several joint weekends were held at the old Seattle Boxing Club’s premises. In May of 1985, the Knights Templar Club of San Francisco trucked their dungeon furniture to Seattle for a joint celebration entitled Rites of Manhood.

At our second anniversary, held in Jean Claude’s basement, Jim Stydahar of Knights Templar put on demonstrations and we hosted several visitors, including Bob Buckley from Australia who became a staunch VASM supporter and visited almost every year on his way home from the Hellfire Inferno near Chicago. Bob died of AIDS in 1991 but left us with many of his writings expounding on SM themes.

Over the next few years, VASM’s forays into outside events became frequent and numerous. Particularly during the summer months, weekend parties were held at member Ryk Nystrom’s acreage near Mission, sometimes in conjunction with the Boots Club. In 1985 to l987 we also made visits to Harold Pink’s spread at Cultus Lake. Harold served one year as president in 1986. We embarked on expeditions to the I-5 Steam Baths in Bellingham and, some years later, to join John Hansen for a weekend in Bellingham. John served on the board as director-at-large for several years and has been our highly prized archivist ever since.

In 1984, I decided to increase the visibility of VASM when I took my home-made banner to the Gay Pride Parade. Jean Claude and his partner Yvon walked with me. The next year, VASM caused somewhat of a stir when Paul Craik, chained to the bumper, pulled my pick-up truck in the parade. In turn, he was led by Larry who had chains attached to Paul’s tit rings while Jean Claude egged Paul along as he flogged him from the rear of the truck.

Also in 1984, VASM held occasional bar nights at John Barley’s Bar and, when that venue closed some years later, at Chuck’s Pub in The Heritage House Hotel. When Mack McKinnon of Mack’s Leathers decided to hold the North West Regional Mr Drummer Contest for the first time in Vancouver, he asked VASM to organize the local contest so that a Mr BC Drummer could be chosen to compete in the contest. The year was 1988 and, after a little research, Ms T’s Cabaret was chosen as a suitable location for our enterprise. At that time it was decided to move our bar nights to Ms T’s as we continued these popular events with a monthly theme or contest.

At the beginning and end of the Gay Games in 1990, we held special nights at Ms T’s to enable visiting leathermen and women to socialize. On Aug 10, a huge crowd descended on Ms T’s Cabaret to watch or participate in the Slaves in Bondage contest. The night was especially hot, both in terms of those who attended and in the o

After seeing how successful an SM Sampler was down in Palm Springs, VASM decided to emulate that program and introduced it to Vancouver in 1996 as an SM Expo, later becoming the SM Sampler. Rather than having one demonstration followed by a play party, we decided to create a series of mini one-on-one demos so that people could sample what the different aspects of SM were all about. People could dabble to their heart’s content at a station for abrasion, then one for bondage, another for electricity, a fourth for whipping, and so on. Needless to say, it received rave reviews from all who participated, and the Sampler became a regular component of VASM’s programming.

There was great controversy surrounding our move to register as a Society. Those who wanted it argued that it gave legitimacy to the organization, while those who didn’t felt that it would be an unconscionable intrusion into members’ privacy. Years passed revisiting and revising the constitution to accommodate all points of view. As well, much controversy and even opposition arose from continued attempts to incorporate under the Societies Act of BC, but this was eventually achieved at the end of 1994.

We’ve held many other events over the years. For instance, the annual BBQs, first held up the Fraser Valley at Bob Powel and Don Heinrich’s property and, in later years, at Doug’s “ranch” in Surrey. And a Tips on Dungeon Design workshop was given at Mike’s apartment where members could see how to create an SM dungeon out of an ordinary bedroom.

Since the original inception of VASM, our newsletter, Scene, has played an important role spreading news and information to members and friends of the organization. Over the years, Scene has been produced and published through the efforts of many individuals as well as by, at times, committee. Special mention and appreciation must, however, be given to Bruce Armstrong who first took over the chore in 1991 and raised the standard of the publication until it won a “best newsletter for a small club” award from the US-based Leather Journal.

As VASM celebrates 20 years of service to our leather and SM community we can look back with pride and satisfaction. And get ready for new challenges and opportunities to build the SM community and share our knowledge.


20th Anniversary celebrations

Oct 11 to 13

604.684.XTRA xt 2123