Edmonton Queer History Project

Celebrating the People, Places, and Events that built the Queer Community in Edmonton

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Orlando Books (1993-2002)


Orlando Books by Jacqueline Dumas

Orlando Books was an activist, progressive bookstore on Edmonton’s Whyte Avenue from 1993 to the end of 2002.

When I opened Orlando I was just coming out as lesbian; the store was part of that coming-out process. I wasn’t too interested in the bar scene and wanted to create an alternative space where everyone in the community would feel welcome: a bright, airy open space that carried books I hadn’t been able to find in other bookstores at the time: progressive political books; feminist books; poetry; a good selection of international literature; books from small, independent presses – and books by queer writers, of course.

During our tenure, the bookstore hosted hundreds of readings for writers from across the country – among them, Daphne Marlatt, Dionne Brand, Gail Scott, Nicole Brossard, Shani Mootoo, Patricia Nell Warren, Paula Gunn Allen, Ivan Coyote, and Taste This. The store hosted musical events and publicized happenings of interest to the queer community. We sold tickets for events outside the bookstore – for EVM concerts, for Womonspace dances, the Pride dances – and for the Weird Sisters, Jennifer Berezan (who also appeared in our store on several occasions). We promoted the appearance in Edmonton of Suzanne Westenhoefer, the first openly gay comedian to appear on television, and the legendary singer/songwriter Chris Williamson. We took part in the annual Pride Parade and the Silly Summer Parade on Whyte Avenue. As part of our mandate to support social justice issues we collected money for the Delwin Vriend and Ms. T. legal challenges.

Orlando’s first location was between 108th and 109th streets, but we moved to 101st Street to escape the rising rents west of the tracks. Above the bookstore proper we opened The Room for Change where we held our readings and made the space available to groups in the community whose goals we shared: theatre workshops, singer/songwriters, political activists, spiritual gatherings. The Rainbow Business Association met there for a time.

After an incident with a local high school a group of educators and myself decided that queer students needed more support within the system. We authored a booklet that was eventually published and distributed by the Alberta Teachers’ Association called Safe and Caring Schools for Lesbian and Gay Youth: A Guide for Teachers.

There were challenges. In those days certain titles – primarily leather books from the US – were routinely stopped at the border, and when that happened our entire shipment of books would be stopped, which meant that dozens of titles (including customers’ special orders) could be held up for months because of one title, and by the time the books finally did arrive they were usually damaged.

In a way, the store became a gay bookstore by default. As Orlando became more and more active around gay issues, it became marginalized. The media would call to ask my opinion about current gay issues; however they never called about the weekly literary events. The Edmonton Journal stopped including our titles in the bestseller list. And although Orlando was not strictly a queer bookstore, in the minds of some, the fact that I was openly lesbian and outspoken came to define the bookstore itself. A few closeted people I met outside the store confessed they did not shop there for fear of being seen. And despite the fact that we probably had the best selection of progressive books in the city, a number of members of the political left stopped shopping at Orlando, Even nowadays when I mention which store I owned in Edmonton, the dismissive response is often, “oh yeah, the gay one.” When I hear that, I know that person never set foot in the store.

Mostly as a result of drastic changes in the book industry, Orlando Books closed in the late fall of 2002,

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Maureen Irwin



Maureen’s son Kevin was kind enough to come by our Queer History Days and share with us a few of her memories. Maureen was a leader for years in the Edmonton Community and in addition to the seventeen items, we have shared her obituary below.

Maureen Irwin Collection Index

1.     Inaugural Maureen Irwin Award honoring the achievements of a member of Edmonton’s lesbian Community. Presented June 21, 1993

2.     Copy of Article in Clue! Magazine – July & August 1993 Edition about Mom’s trip to Ottawa to receive the Canada Volunteer Award Medal and Certificate of honor

3.     Copy of the Charter of a Gay Human Being – Michel Clerou

4.     Mom’s Pride ’97 Parade Ball Cap

5.     Copy of Times 10 Magazine Vol 6, No. 1 – Cover photo of Michael Phair and article page 8. Michael was a long-time friend of Mom’s and Edmonton’s first openly gay city councillor. Mom twice ran his campaign office.

6.     Copy of Times 10 Magazine Vol 4, No. 4 – Cover photo of Mom and article page 6 that talked about her contributions to the gay 7 lesbian community and awards

7.     Mom’s blue guiding hat; she got it when she led a Canadian Girl Guide troop. Over the years, it was festooned with badges and pins from her guiding days, various volunteering activities and lesbian-activism related pins

8.     Photo of Maureen Irwin

9.     Framed copy of Because We Are Women, a favorite poem of mom’s by Joyce Stevens, International Woman’s Day, 1975

10.                         Lesbian Fiction Sign from Common Woman Collective and Book Store, which mom was a member of

11.                         Mom’s Come Out Come Out Wherever Shirt. Michael Pair believes that Mom wore this at one of the first Edmonton Pride Parades

12.                         Certificate of Appreciation from the Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual and Transgendered Community & families for Mom’s support in the matter of Vriend, G.A.L.A. et al vs. Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Alberta at the Supreme Court of Canada May 1, 1998

13.                         Various Pins with a gay/lesbian activism theme

14.                         Mom’s purple (her favorite color) Woman Tee Shirt

15.                        Mom’s Womanspace Tee Shirt

16.                        1999 Womanspace Calendar

17.                         3rd & 4th page of Mom’s memorial Service Program, August 7, 2002 (Mom passed July 30, 2002) Page 4 is a copy of Jenny Joseph’s Poem Warning – When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple… Mom’s favorite poem


IRWIN – Maureen Estella Ruth

Maureen Irwin’s life was hallmarked by two qualities: love for and service to others.

Maureen was born in Windsor, Ontario on October 7, 1934. Being the eldest child, she spent a great deal of her childhood helping her mother and aunt look after seven children from two households that had come together as one, when their fathers went to serve their country in World War II. She left high school early to help support her family by working as a live-in housekeeper for a local family and then as a clerk for an insurance company in London, Ontario. In 1953, she joined the Air Force where she subsequently met and married James Ronald (Ron) Warren in 1956. Their four children were born between 1958 and 1965 when they lived in several locations throughout Canada and Europe. In 1965, the family moved to Canadian Forces Base Cold Lake, Alberta where they lived happily for 9 years. It was during this time that Maureen began her life of community service.

While living in Cold Lake, Maureen taught Sunday School, was a choir mother and vice-president of the local Protestant Women’s Guild. She volunteered also at the local base library, an experience that would prove to serve her well later in her career path. She coached several girls’ softball teams and umpired as well. Maureen was very active in the Girl Guide Movement holding several leadership positions culminating as a District Guider. In 1974, her volunteerism was recognized with an Award of Merit from the Base’s Community Council and a Silver Thank-You Badge from the Girl Guides of Canada. Later that same year Maureen, Ron and their family moved to Edmonton. Four years later, in 1978, Ron and Maureen separated and finally divorced in 1984.

With all her children now attending school or university, Maureen returned to the work force taking a librarian position at the Edmonton Journal Newspaper where she worked from 1974-1982. She enjoyed her time at the Journal, especially the opportunities to conduct research work for the newspaper’s reporters and some famous authors. In 1982 Maureen came to a decision to combine her career with her desire to serve her community and began working for the Boyle Street Community Co-operative finding housing for inner city residents. There she remained until 1986 when Maureen was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. This, coupled with her diabetes and angina, led to her going on long term disability.

In 1981, Maureen ‘came out of the closet’ and openly lived her life as a lesbian. The decision to be true to the self she had to that point repressed charted a path for the rest of her life. Over the next few years, Maureen became a driving force for advocacy within the gay and lesbian community in Edmonton. She was an early member of and councilor for GATE (Gay Alliance Toward Equality), later GALA (Gay and Lesbian Alliance). She was also a volunteer member of Common Woman books, a feminist book collective; and helped establish Womonspace, a recreational and social organization for lesbians. Womonspace exists to this day, stronger than ever.

Part of her advocacy work also included accepting invitations to speak about gay and lesbian issues in university and college classrooms. She participated in a number of media interviews on the subject of human rights, particularly with regard to gay and lesbian rights. She participated in whatever community events and advocacy efforts she could as her health allowed. She contributed, in thought and in deed, to a number of court decisions related to definition of family, same sex spousal rights, and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

During the 80s and early 90s Maureen’s history of community service was also added to by her work as a founding member and board chairperson of Urban Manor (formerly Urban House), a shelter offering overnight accommodation and support to alcoholics and other difficult-to-house inner city residents. She was active raising funds for the Canadian Diabetes Society, serving as a board member and client services committee member for the Multiple Sclerosis Society, and serving on the Edmonton Social Planning Council. In 1992 and 1995, she was the campaign office coordinator for Edmonton City Councillor Michael Phair’s election and re-election campaigns.

1993 was a significant year for Maureen when her lifetime of volunteerism and activism were formally recognized by several awards. Maureen was the first openly lesbian woman to ever be granted with the Government of Canada’s Volunteer Award Medal and Certificate of Honor. She was nominated for the YWCA’s Tribute to Women in the category of Public Affairs and Communication. Also in 1993, the Pride Committee of Edmonton created the Maureen Irwin Award for Community Service. Maureen was the first to receive the award, which was presented to her by her daughter Pat who was then serving as the Pride Committee Co-Chair.

In the early 90s, Maureen met Sheryl McInnes, with whom she shared a love of advocacy, politics and debate. Maureen and Sheryl shared their lives for six years before Sheryl’s sudden death in the fall of 1998. After Sheryl’s death, Maureen lived with her eldest daughter, Pat, in Edmonton until Pat moved to London, England. Shortly after, Maureen moved to Calgary to live with her two sons. It was there she was diagnosed with cancer and lived out her days, surrounded by her children and grandchildren.

Maureen was a force. She had a lust for life, a nose for good times and a big heart. Though her health gradually declined in the years that followed her MS diagnosis, she continued to be an advocate for change — even if it only meant sending e-mails or answering questions from the media. She was articulate and had unrelenting clarity of thought. In the late 80s, a reporter told her the public opinion was against having rights for homosexuals written into the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Maureen replied, “Human rights are not an issue of public opinion. If they were, women would still be fighting for the right to vote, Black people would still be drinking from different fountains and Jews would still be the targets of genocide. Human rights are what guide public opinion, not the other way around.”

Maureen was loved and admired by literally hundreds of people, but by no one more than her children. Our country and our communities are better because of Maureen Irwin.





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FlashBack – (Gay Bar)


FlashBack was one of the iconic Gay Bars of Edmonton. Patrick Monaghan emailed us “I wanted to mention that flashback has a facebook page with hundreds of photos, resources, some of the clips from the shows, etc.  Flashback along with The Roost really set the tone for a particular kind of affirmation and liberation in the late 70’s into the late 80’s. A *lot* of “creative water under the bridge” would be the way I would describe it.”

To see the FlashBack memories on Facebook, check out: https://www.facebook.com/groups/2405027346/

What did FlashBack mean to you? Send us your stories: edmontonqueerhistoryproject@gmail.com 

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GLCCE – The Gay Lesbian Community Centre of Edmonton

Do you know about the Gay Lesbian Community Centre of Edmonton? What did this organization mean to you? Send us your stories edmontonqueerhistoryproject@gmail.com

“For many years there has been a community centre organization in Edmonton.  It has had its good times and some dark times.  It was called GATE for a period of time before I had anything to do with it. The name had been changed to GAY AND LESBIAN COMMUNITY CENTRE OF EDMONTON some time before I was involved for approximately 5 years (about 1995 to 2000).  When I became involved GLCCE was located in the basement below Buddys Restaurant and Bar when it was located on 124 street just north of Jasper Ave.  It was a dreadful location so after a few months I negotiated a new space which was in the Bill McCulloch Building 106 ave and 124 street.  I was at the big campout near Red Deer doing the final lease stuff long distance and Princess Diana was killed.  We moved to that location effective September 1997. Later the Pride Centre moved to that building on 111 ave and 95A street.”

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Contribute to the Achives

West Jasper Place Variety Night. Men dressed as women. March 16th, 1950

Do you have information or material you would like to contribute for future generations?

Email us at edmontonqueerhistoryproject@gmail.com and we would be happy to assist you in contributing your material to the historical Record. We are interested in what you are donating for educational and display purposes.

There are already extensive donations available at the City of Edmonton Archives from Michael Phair’s collection as well as other contributions.

City of Edmonton Archives


10440 108 Avenue
Edmonton, Alberta
T5H 3Z9








Provincial Archives


Cathy Roy, Curator, Western Canadian History






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Thank You for Contributing to Edmonton Queer History Days

Thank you to all of those who participated in our “Edmonton Queer History Days” at the Edmonton Public Library January 11th, 18th and 25th. Many moving stories were shared and video recorded and treasure was collected for the city and provincial archives. Our “35 years of pride” exhibition at the Art Gallery of Alberta (June 5th – 19th) will be richer because of you.

Did you want to share your story but were unable to attend? Do you still have material that you would like to scan or share? Stop by the Makerspace at Stanley Milner Library during library hours and the librarians would be happy to assist you.

Do you have material that you would like to contribute to our exhibition or to the city archives? Email us at edmontonqueerhistoryproject@gmail.com and we will work with you to arrange pick-up or delivery.

Here are a few of the treasures that were shared:


Photos and Material from the Maureen Irwin Collection. Her Son was kind enough to stop by and show us a few items. We hope to have a more comprehensive entry on Maureen compiled by her family and friends.


Team Edmonton was kind enough to share some of the medals and material celebrating sport. Team Edmonton was a key inclusive space for many and contributed to building friendship and community through the love of sport.

First Mayor's Pride Brunch QC Gu, Phair, Blakeman, Sam, Jill Delarue, Carl Swanson, Emily Johnson, Mayor Mandel

This Photo was taken at the First Mayor’s Pride Brunch. Today, the brunch is a jam-packed event filled with many politicians and business leaders. First Mayor’s Pride Brunch QC Gu, Phair, MLA Laurie Blakeman, Sam, Jill Delarue, Carl Swanson, Emily Johnson, Mayor Mandel

Cards (Here is a link to many membership cards from clubs and meeting places of days past)

Newspaper (here is a scanned copy of a newspaper article from 1997 where the Alberta Government was resisting the inclusion of gay rights)

We hope that many more stories will be shared and this site will become a wikipedia of knowledge for future generations of authors, historians, musicians, or curious citizens.

Is someone or something missing? Let us know! Got a story? Write it up and we will share it!

Contact: edmontonqueerhistoryproject@gmail.com

Thank you again to the Makerspace staff and the EPL team for their assistance in making this event a success! Thank you to all those who came and contributed and shared their stories!