- Prairie Fairies: A History of Queer Communities and People in Western Canada, 1930–1985 by Valerie Korinek
In Prairie Fairies: A History of Queer Communities and People in Western Canada, Valerie Korinek draws from an extensive array of archival materials and oral history interviews that provide a glimpse into the social, political, and cultural worlds of queer people living in five major urban centres – Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Regina, Edmonton, and, briefly, Calgary – from 1930 to 1985. This study contributes to ongoing efforts to reveal or recover past queer subcultures that may be less obvious or legible as queer, in this case, the histories of gay, lesbian, and queer experience across the Canadian prairies. These prairie cities in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta are not known for being queer hubs like Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal, cities that have long been associated with visible queer communities, "gaybourhoods," political activism, and internationally known Pride festivals. Prairie Fairies refutes the representation of queer community and activism as possible and sustainable only in specific urban centres, and illustrates the ways that gay, lesbian, and queer people have made communities not in spite of where they live, but that were enabled though the realities of prairie life.
Prairie Fairies is a major contribution to Canadian lgbt studies and queer historiography that challenges the "[…] misperception that queer people did not live in the prairies, and that queer communities did not form in prairie cities." (13) Korinek's regional and multi-city approach puts spatiality and migration in the foreground, capturing the "[…] movement from small towns and farms into western cities, as well as the movement and interplay between cities." (9) This approach captures many nuances of movement and migration across the prairies between 1930 and 1985: movements of people, ideas, and politics within individual cities: from informal cruising locations to university campuses; to movements between cities and within provinces, allowing a comparative analysis of queer cultures in cities like Saskatoon and Regina; as well as how the movement of people and ideas on the prairies intersected with and responded to gay, lesbian, and queer politics on a national scale.
Comparable to studies in the U.S., queer historiography in Canada has largely focused on lgbtq communities and political activism in large cities, with rural areas and the 'flyover country' of the prairies and the Midwest equally cast as monolithically heteronormative and therefore devoid of any presence of queer subcultural or political history. While the general lack of scholarship on queer prairie life does not signify its absence, it does, however, require methodological creativity to find nuanced evidence of its existence. This methodological creativity is particularly evident in Part One, where Korinek highlights a range of queer cultural practices in Winnipeg, Regina, and Saskatoon from 1930 to 1969, before the proliferation of visibly gay, lesbian, or queer activism, and before the words gay, lesbian, and queer were widely used as markers of identity.
Evidence for these queer prairie histories – particularly during the pre-war period – are understandingly "fragmentary and episodic," limited by the availability and unwillingness of many gay, lesbian, or queer people of this earlier generation to share their stories. Korinek addresses the ways that gender, race, and class have historically shaped the social mobility of gay, lesbian, and queer people. Women were restricted from many public spaces, many opting for private house parties [End Page 297] and other spaces that are more difficult for historians to access. In Part One we see examples of sexual cultures of white and middle-class gay men during the 1930s, gathering informally in parks, on university campuses, in downtown areas, cocktail bars, and other establishments. While these activities were risky, they also functioned as informal neighbour-hoods that would enable other men to meet one another. These strategies were not necessarily available to women or to people of colour. Informal queer spaces such as the campuses of Winnipeg and Saskatoon were also sites of queer sexual cultures and socializing decades before the student movements of the 1960s and 70s, with cohorts of gay...