Church-Wellesley Gay Village Walking Tour winds through historic sites, tracing echoes of party culture and advocacy | New

An August 23 walking tour of Toronto’s gay village took a deep dive into the history of the area near Church and Wellesley streets.

The series of village walking tours began on July 19 and have been running every Tuesday since, with walks scheduled until October 18. From August 30 to September 27, the event starts at 6 p.m. at the Paul Kane House Parkette, while the Marches from October 4 to October 18 start at the same location but earlier at 4 p.m.

“We ask different members of the community and people with different lived experiences to show us around the village,” said Caitlin Fairbarns, marketing coordinator for the organizing group Church-Wellesley Village BIA. “They tell us about local places you may not know and their history, and it’s about telling queer stories and queer stories of the people who have had those experiences.”

The August 23 tour leader was historian Adam Wynne, while others like trans activist Patricia Wilson, who led the march at past events, were on hand.

“Adam is our architecture and our history (guys),” Fairbarns said. “At Patricia, it was more about partying and partying… we just try to do that to hear everyone’s different points of view.

Although the advocacy still exists, part of the village is now dedicated to partying, filled with gay clubs and annual Pride celebrations.

“You can still celebrate and you can still honor the struggles,” Fairbarns said.

Wilson did just that during the August 16 walk where she spoke about the safe spaces they provided for sexual and identity exploration before acceptance was more widespread. She started the walk with a quick shot of pickleback (a shot of Jameson whiskey followed by a shot of pickle juice).

“I think (partying here) is like being able to live authentically without being afraid that someone there will hurt you,” Fairbarns said. “You’re going to be loved and respected for who you are and that’s kind of honoring history.”

She said she hoped the tour would help remember stories from the past.

For Jim Cheung, a participant who recently arrived in Canada from Hong Kong, the cheeky rainbows and symbols of pride scattered throughout are a stark contrast to the more conservative culture, sometimes plagued by subtle discrimination and a lack of legal protections, to which he is accustomed.

“Canada is one of the most pioneering countries in the world when it comes to LGBTQ rights,” he said. “And I want to understand how people get to this point from where they are and how they did this and see what they have for me to bring back to Hong Kong one day, maybe.”