Calgary’s LGBT community is pushing to save one of three remaining gay bars
The red neon sign for The Backlot illuminates a dark corridor that extends about six steps from 10th Street SW in Calgary’s Beltline neighborhood.
The literal hole-in-the-wall entrance opens onto a gay bar — one of three remaining in the city — that has been in this location for nearly three decades.
“It’s become like a hangout, like a gay Cheers in Calgary,” said Mark Campbell, the bar’s owner. The establishment has been home to countless drag shows, drinks with friends, fundraisers, and other community events over the years.
But the facility’s lease expires at the end of November, and the building’s future is in doubt as developer Truman Homes has proposed an 18-story mixed-use tower for the block.
That’s why Calgary attorney and former leader of the Alberta Liberal Party, David Khan, launched the SAVE The Backlot Bar campaign. The effort invites residents to comment on the redevelopment proposal, which closes on Friday.
“Today there are threats of violence against drag shows in Olympic Plaza and elsewhere,” he said. “So obviously our community is still under threat, and we still need these safe spaces for things like drag shows to happen.”
The campaign encourages the community to oppose the proposal, arguing the community cannot afford to lose another space.
It also states that the building itself has historical roots, having been built by former Mayor Thomas Underwood in 1907 as a workshop for the Calgary Gas Company in the area.
Renderings of the mixed-use tower show the bar’s seemingly historic facade, which will survive, but the rest of the building is likely to be defunct, Campbell said. The builders have offered space in the new build for the bar to move back in upon completion, but he worries about the time in between.
“That’s also three to four years later,” he said. “I can’t just close the doors for a moment and hope I have a community coming back.”
Campbell, meanwhile, is looking for a temporary spot but says it would be best if the bar stayed where it is.
The Beltline BIA says the developer should allow all companies on the block to remain at their sites at least until construction of the development begins.
“To see how we somehow get rid of our art and culture in one of our inclusive venues. That’s silly in my opinion,” said Adrian Urlacher, Executive Director of Beltline BIA.
The BIA will write a letter to Councilwoman Courtney Walcott and the Mayor’s Office to support businesses on the block whose leases have been terminated.
The preservation of such spaces should be included in the development proposals and everything should be done to preserve them, Urlacher added.
CBC News reached out to developers Truman Homes and Walcott, but received no response.