Edmonton Economic Development Corporation

Edmonton Economic Development Corporation

May 22, 2012 16:53 ET

Edmonton Economic Development Corporation: Pride of the Prairies

EDMONTON, ALBERTA--(Marketwire - May 22, 2012) - The "Studio 54 of the prairies" was on 104th Street in downtown Edmonton, in what is now a warehouse district and a corridor of start-up businesses. Thirty years ago, one of today's luxury condo conversions housed Flashback - the wildest and most imaginative gay nightclub in Canada.

It was more than a bar and a dance floor. There were drag shows and fashion nights, theatrical performances, art shows - often unplanned. Flashback was simultaneously gritty and glamorous, and Edmonton's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community grew in its shadow.

"If you were a visiting celebrity and asked your roadie/concierge to find out where the cool people partied in Edmonton, you would be told to head to Flashback," writes Darrin Hagen, an author and playwright and performer in his memoir of the era, The Edmonton Queen.

"If you were anything outside of purely hetero, Flashback was the one place in town to explore the possibilities. If you were a rich young Oiler looking for a place to be simultaneously fawned over and ignored, you would grab your buddies and head to Flashback."

By the late eighties, Flashback was on top-five lists in glossy magazines published in New York and London. The four-storey warehouse had offices upstairs and operated as an unofficial community centre and ideas incubator. A playwright and patron of Flashback, Brad Fraser, wrote the controversial and acclaimed Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love, set in all this northern wildness and imagination. Time magazine called it one of the top five plays of 1989 and it immediately travelled internationally.

Edmonton's Pride Week celebrations started in 1980, with a modest softball game and a barbecue. The festival grew in confidence and sass with the rise of Flashback, and as more and more of Edmonton's gay and lesbian artists and entrepreneurs found success in and out of the city.

In 1991, a lab instructor at a Christian college in Edmonton was fired because he was openly gay. The instructor, Delwin Vriend, fought the Alberta government and ultimately the Canadian constitution all the way to the Supreme Court.

Thanks to his courage and determination, in Canada it is now illegal to exclude sexual orientation in human rights legislation.

In 2012, these battles seem distant. Edmonton's mayor and city councillors dress up and goof off in the Pride Parade. Children line the streets to shout and dance and wave, as little of the provocation and naughtiness of the 1980s and 1990s remains. Major corporations sponsor Pride Week and artists clamor to be part of the festival, which is as wild and imaginative and thoughtful as ever.

Pride Week never did abandon the softball game and barbecue. June 8-17 there will be parties on the city's central square and in nightclubs. There will be theatre and comedy, a Mr., Ms., and Mz. Gay Edmonton Pageant, open mics, a mini-film festival, a bus tour of gay Edmonton history, art shows, a mayor's brunch and, to honour the instigator and cultural memory of where it all began - a goth night. It is, in short, a hell of a good time.

Hagen, the "Edmonton Queen" and former Mz. Flashback, voted one of the 100 most influential Edmontonians of the 20th Century, will be in the parade and at most of the events.

He recalls, in The Edmonton Queen, the first time he took to Sir Winston Churchill Square in the summer - no longer a marginal performer in a nightclub but an unlikely local celebrity, a star.

"[Edmonton] summers are a thing to behold," he writes. "Hour after endless hour of sunlight so bright it hurt. Especially now, at noon, when shadows shrunk from nothing and there was no escape from the heat. Being in drag in heat like that presents as many problems... makeup melts at thirty degrees."

Contact Information

  • Edmonton Economic Development Corporation
    Renee Worrell
    Communications Manager External Relations
    780.932.4865
    rworrell@edmonton.com