1981 Pride Parade, Toronto
The 1981 Toronto bath raids, which preceded this parade by several months, were a defining moment (a watershed!) in Toronto LGBTQ history. But the events of that year did not happen in a vacuum. During the 1970's activists had developed a highly politicized network and infrastructure within the community. Without that decade of experience to help foster and steer it, the galvanizing response to the raids quite likely would not have happened, certainly would not have been nearly as successful as it turned out to be. The past was prologue, germane. The future was an increased militancy and an expanded community. (click here for more on the raids protests)
The Pride parade of 1981 fed on all this and eventually Pride celebrations became the behemoth they are today. This inspired and very welcome 1981 revival of Toronto Pride parades of the 1970's was a brainchild and group project of GLARE aka Gays And Lesbians Against The Right Everywhere. According to Gary Kinsman, who was a member of GLARE and worked on the project, it is not attributable to any one person. In any case the parades and celebrations of the 1970's were outstripped by those of the 1980's, and those of the 1980's by those of the following decades, illustrating and tracking our political progress. (click here for more on the 1970's Pride celebrations)
There is a popular notion that the 1981 parade was Toronto's first Pride parade and/or event. That claim is demonstrably untrue and lacks respect for Toronto LGBTQ history. The historical importance of 1981 to Pride in Toronto is in the formation of the Lesbian And Gay Pride Day Committee that year, dedicated to ensuring Pride became an annual event from then on. What can be said is that the roots of the gigantic Toronto Pride celebrations of the 21st century lie in the turmoil of this year and the success of this day.
Contrary to the 1970's parades, held on Saturdays, a switch was initiated in 1981 to Sundays. In addition the 1970's Pride celebrations took place in August to commemorate the presentation of our demands of Canada on Parliament Hill on August 28, 1971. In 1981 the event was changed to June to commemorate Stonewall and to coincide with celebrations in the States. (click here for more on the August 28, 1971 Parliament Hill event)
The day itself included a festival in Grange Park behind the AGO and the parade started from there. Forming up at the park, it moved along Queen St. over to and up Yonge St. That's what the few photos we have left, say. It then turned onto Dundas and went past 52 Division of the Toronto Police, the visible target of the anger of that year.
Balloons, recalling the Gaydays events of 1978, gave the parade a festive nature, a feeling of celebration rather than confrontation. This change of tone was probably the main contributor to the Parade's future success. There were possibly 500-600 people in the parade that day, at that point a record for a Pride parade in Toronto. There may have been more at the festival in the park -- I've seen higher estimates and didn't do a head count myself.
Charlie and I find it hard to separate our memory of the close of the 1981 parade with that from 1983. We conflate them into one quite affecting highlight, probably the main thing that has remained with us over the years. In 1981 the parade flows towards Grange Park as it ends. We're pulled into the empty but quickly filling park by the No Frills band onstage, they're calling to us -- here's home, here we are, for today this is ours. In 1983 the same call. This time it's King's College Circle at U of T, Parachute Club onstage, Rise Up the anthem being born.
Grange Park, behind the AGO
Eilert and Nito
From the side it looks like it might be Eugene Schoentag, but it's hard to tell
The photographer and his lover
Gay Bell chats up the Sisters
Michael Cannon leads the band