Edmonton Queer History Project

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

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Women Unlimited by Sheryl Ackerman

Music was a key component of building community and engaging neighbors in fellowship. Sheryl Ackerman has provided us with an account of Women Unlimited- a concert production company promoting music by women and lesbian performers. Click here to download the full submission in PDF: Women Unlimited – submission Revised.

Pauline Bélanger founded the company “Women Unlimited” on March 01, 1986 to produce concerts and promote music by women and lesbian performers. Audience members may also remember her hilarious comedic sketches as she introduced the shows. She brazenly included her partner (now spouse), Sheryl Ackerman, in many of the warm-up acts!

There were very few openly lesbian performers in Canada in those days, Heather Bishop being one of the first. Pauline produced several concerts for Heather.

A memorable event occurred March 11, 1987 at the Edmonton Public Library Theatre. During Heather Bishop’s performance with Kris Purdy, Marilyn Lerner and Sherry Shute, the audience was surprised when kd lang leapt onto the stage to perform spontaneously with Heather. Would it be accurate to say the crowd went wild?!

Women Unlimited

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Lobbying the Alberta Government in the 1980s by Sheryl Ackerman

Changing the Individual Rights Protection Act was a Sheryl Ackerman has provided us with a history of letters lobbying to change the Individual Rights Protection Act and efforts to end discrimination based on sexual orientation. Click here to download in PDF: Letters re lobbying submission Revised

On June 5, 1989, in the Alberta Legislature, MLA Marie Laing introduced Bill 225, an Act to Amend the Individual’s Rights Protection Act. This Act would make discrimination based on sexual orientation or mental disability unlawful.

Many of us, including Pauline Bélanger (my spouse) and I, Sheryl Ackerman, wrote to MLAs in support of this bill. Here are two letters we received in response that summer, plus a copy of the proposed bill. The bill did not succeed, despite the fact that the Human Rights Commission in Alberta had recommended inclusion of sexual orientation as a protected category in 1977, 1981 and 1985. Lobbying continued, but the law did not change until 20 years later, in June 2009.

Note: The letter from Pam Barrett is personalized because she was our next-door neighbour at Sundance Co-op!

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Every Woman’s Place by Sheryl Ackerman

Sheryl Ackerman wrote us an account of “Every Woman’s Place” which you can download in full here (PDF along with attached images: Every Woman’s Place submission Revised.

Touted as Edmonton’s first successful women’s centre, Every Woman’s Place opened on International Women’s Day in 1982. It was located in a lovely older building in the Oliver area at 9926 – 112 Street.

It was operated by a collective non-profit society and run entirely by volunteers (I among them). I remember, almost verbatim, a conversation, which illustrates the sense of common purpose and ownership.


Common Woman Books by Sheryl Ackerman

Queer History Project Supporter Sheryl Ackerman wrote up this article (and provided the attached photos) on Common Woman Books. Please click here to download in PDF Form: Common Woman Books Submission Revised.

Common Woman Books

Common Woman Books acted as a gateway for me, and probably for many others, to feminist and lesbian events, resources, books, records and culture. In its early days, it was the first bookstore in Edmonton that used the word “Lesbian” for its section on lesbian resources and fiction. It also included a section for gay men. I volunteered there in the 1980s.

A little bit of history follows. Common Woman Books was created in 1978 by Mair Smith, Halyna Freeland and Julie-Anne Le Gras, to make feminist literature available to Alberta Women. It was “a whole shelf of feminist books” in Halayna’s basement in Norwood. For a while, it became a “travelling bookstore” until it moved to a real bookstore location on 109 Street above Windsor Bowl. It was now the first women’s bookstore in Alberta, and was run as a non-profit collective. About 15 women were part of that collective.

September 12, 1981 was the big STOREFRONT opening on 104 Street in Old Strathcona, where it really grew, and became a boisterous centre that included books, records, events, a bulletin board always full of fabulous and interesting information, author readings and signings, concerts (such as Holly Near), guest speakers (e.g. Kate Millet, Barbara Ehrenreich), film festivals and so on. It was a hub of activity, centered on the desire for social change.

In 1987, the store moved to much larger premises on 109 Street in the Garneau Theatre Building. Andrea (Harbour) Ansbacher and Halyna Freeland were key in keeping the store running, Andrea as full time, and Halyna as part time staff. There were still volunteers and an 11-member board. The store added to its name, and became Common Woman Books/ the Radical Bookseller. According to Andrea, “Although we branched out into selling socialist and gay men’s books, it was still the feminist theory, lesbian and women’s fiction which paid the rent.”

Andrea also recalls, “Common Woman Books had one more move, back to Old Strathcona on Whyte Ave and 106th Street. But by now, many stores carried feminist books, and even lesbian books could be bought in more ‘regular’ bookstores. I believe Common Woman Books and other ‘feminist bookstores’ led the way for this to happen.”