Edmonton Queer History Project looks to grow

· The Pulse

After selling out all of its downtown tours this summer, the Edmonton Queer History Project (EQHP) is looking to expand to different areas in the city, starting with Old Strathcona.

"The success of the tours shows a thirst and a hunger for this information," said project co-founder Kristopher Wells. "The queer community has been here and visible for a long time in the city and has made some important contributions. It's time we recognize that."

The downtown map includes 27 sites, starting from Michael Phair Park, named after Edmonton's first openly gay city councillor, and winding its way through various bookstores, night spots, institutions, and meeting places to the story of Wallbridge & Imrie Architects. Tours have been led by Phair himself, as well as playwright, composer, drag artiste, and queer historian Darrin Hagen.

But there are more stories to tell, some of them on the south side of the river. The Old Strathcona Business Association approached the EQHP about expanding southward, Wells said.

"Part of our mission is fostering an inclusive and welcoming community, and part of that includes celebrating LGBTQ and that whole community," said Cherie Klassen, executive director of the association. "So it just made sense when we saw the queer history project for us to connect with them and see what we can do."

Among the sites to be included are Orlando Books, an activist bookstore on Whyte Avenue from 1993 to 2002. There's also a long history of queer participation in the Edmonton Fringe and the relatively new history being made at Pride Corner, where community members have gathered to drown out a homophobic street preacher.

"Pride Corner is an excellent story of community activism," said Wells. "When the laws fail you, right? What do you do? It's a beautiful story about people in the community wanting to do something to ensure safety and inclusion. Also, it's about saying, 'We belong here too."

A crowd of happy people stand in front of a bus, one holding a rainbow umbrella aloft

Michael Phair (third from the right) and Darrin Hagen (sixth from the right) have led several sold-out tours of sites significant to LGBTQ2S+ history in downtown Edmonton. Now the Edmonton Queer History Project is looking to expand to the south side. (Supplied)

Another extension of the project is happening in the virtual world. One of the walking tours of downtown is part of the next release of Edmonton stories in the Story City app, slated to go live on Aug. 5; the other will be available in the coming weeks.

"We're honestly just really delighted to be able to give a voice (to the project) — a lot of it has been really hidden," Story City CEO Emily Craven told Taproot. "We've been talking about how even now, some quotes and stories that they have in the walk are attributed to anonymous people because those people still feel that they can't speak about it publicly."

For now, Story City will guide participants through two downtown walking tours. One loops down to the legislature and up to the former Pisces Health Spa before visiting a cluster of sites along 104 and 105 streets. The other one travels as far east as the Edmonton Police Service on 96 Street, with stops at places like the King Edward Hotel and The Hill.

That's just the beginning, said Craven, who donated the use of the app to the project. "They're hoping they can tell more immersive, fictional stories of history as well, with some games," she said.

The partnership between EQHP and Story City has been collaborative, with the history project sharing its maps with some of Story City's creators to develop choose-your-adventure games incorporating the sites.

Correction: This story has been updated to more accurately reflect the release dates of the walking tours in Story City.