Canada’s longest running gay organization, SPEARHEAD, celebrates 50 years


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Spearhead Leather Denim  Social Club will be celebrating 50 years this year.  Spearhead is Canada’s longest continuously functioning LGBTQ2 organization.  The club has raised countless dollars for the community and offered a supportive environment for LGBTQ2 individuals to come together and feel a sense of community and purpose.

I had the pleasure of speaking to board of directors member Bruce Eves about Spearhead.

Me: How did Spearhead start?

Bruce: Spearhead was founded in Toronto in 1970, and in the words of our first president Alan MacGowan “The SPEARHEAD is an affiliation of fellows who wish to be recognized with pride, noneand who appreciate the value and privilege of belonging to a group of similar fellows who are all “brothers under the skin”. A fellowship for the purpose of identifying one another, and knowing that you “belong”.

“The affiliation is not an S&M group, not a bike group, not a leather group, not a western-denim group, or any such group. It is all of these groups combined! It is a masculine group that is interested in meeting and associating with other masculine individuals for the purpose of Mutual Identification, Association, and Personal Gratification.

“It holds no personal limitations, no geographic limitations, no specific limitations, other than its Masculinity, Masculine Personality, and Mutual Masculine Gratification. The Spearhead is limited only to those individuals who believe in, and are proud to be associated with an organization maintaining these Principles”.

This makes Spearhead to oldest continuously operating gay organization in Canada. Phalia, our bi-monthly publication (first issue June 1970) has been in print and on-line ever since, making it the second oldest gay periodical in North America. (The first few issues of Phalia are in such bad shape that I think the Magna Carta is in better condition.) At the moment I’m in the process of scanning all of the issues before they move to the Archives of the City of Toronto.

It’s important to remember, I think, that homosexuality was only decriminalized in Canada in 1969. Harassment and entrapment were commonplace, and even entering a gay bar was dangerous, so the types of acceptance we take for granted today was nowhere to be seen at the time of our founding, and MacGowan’s words show a self-assurance that was pretty rare for the time.

Me: What kind of activities does Spearhead participate in?

Bruce: Right from the beginning there was international outreach to other likeminded affiliations and there quickly developed a bond of friendship between us with active participation in each other’s get-togethers. From very early on Spearhead would organized Runs over the Labour Day weekend held at various campsites around southern Ontario. These ran from 1972-2010. These were four day events jam packed with activities beginning first thing in the morning and continuing well into the night including dances, auctions, treasure hunts, theatrical events, with plenty of food and (lots and lots) of cocktails. Each year, the Round-Ups as they were called, had a different theme: 1972 – Round Up; 1973 – Passport; 1974 – Trail Guides; 1975 – Construction Toronto; 1976 – Olympiad; 1977 – The Trading Post; 1978 – Bush It; 1979 – Klondike Days; 1980 – Gladiator; 1981 – Call o’the Wild; 1982 – (No Theme); 1983 – North 40; 1984 – Boot Camp; 1985 – Did It In The Woods; 1986 – Bear Theme, Hollow Log Haven; 1987 – Masquerade; 1989 – Spearhead In Space; 1990 – HMCS Spearhead; 1991 – Escape To Cellblock 21; 1992 – Cum Home For The Holidays—Xmas Theme; 1993 – What’s In Those Overalls; 1994 – Nites of the Roundtable; 1995 – Lucky In Leather 25th Anniversary; 1996 – Men At Work; 1997 – Rumble In The Jungle; 1998 – Platoon 98; 1999 – Behind The Mask; 2000 – Leathermen and Lumberjacks; 2001 – Superheroes and Villains; 2002 – Locker Room – A Salute To Sports; 2003 – Harness Your Fantasy; 2004 – Rawhide; 2005 – Coming Together; 2006 – Construction; 2007 – Under The Big Top; 2008 – Leather Denim Pride; 2009 – An Officer and a Leatherman; 2010 – Return To Oz. 

As is obvious from a lot of the themes there was a great deal of wit involved. However, an application for the 1975 Round-Up perhaps underscores some of the caution we (as a broader community) felt was necessary at the time in stating that “Note: only 150 applications will be considered.” (“Considered” is a revealing word choice.)

Following the Runs were a series of very popular Fantasy Balls, and the highlight of every summer is a boat cruise around the harbour on or around Canada Day. This is when new members would be inducted. They began fairly early in the history of the Club and the one last year was my first. (I learned then and there that I’d make a crap sailor).

Me: How much money do you think has been raised for the community over the past 50 years?

Bruce: The one thing I think that Spearhead is known for is its philanthropic activities. Beginning in 1971 and continuing to this day Spearhead has been raising money for the community and since 1979 and continuing to this day there’s been separate “Toys for Tots” benefits raising cash and toys for service organizations tending to the needs of underprivileged and HIV + kids. Today we focus our activities raising cash and non-perishable food during our Easter and Thanksgiving fundraisers held at Pegasus, Woody’s, and the Black Eagle as well as our July body-painting fundraiser, “Paint Yer Burger” at the Black Eagle for the PWA Essentials Market food bank. What I’ve calculated based on figures published in Martin Roebuck’s “Spearhead: Thirty Five Years of Gay Toronto History” we’ve collected (from 1970-2004) $173,618.82 (adjusted for inflation). 

As archivist, I’ve yet to calculate the amounts from 2005 forward to today, adjusted for inflation; however, as reported in the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation 2016-17 annual report in the last decade “Spearhead has provide financial support to PWA food programs raising over $42,000.00 and collected thousands of pounds of non-perishable food items for PWA’s Essentials Market food bank”. I’m confident to say that the final figure (adjusted for inflation) will be jaw-dropping indeed.

A short sampling of the recipients of our fundraising is I think quite staggering: Children’s Aid Society; Toronto Star Fresh Air Fund; Dade County Fund and John Damien Defense Fund; Right to Privacy Committee and the Rainbow Society for the Deaf; the Rainbow Railroad; Casey House; Fife House; 519 Community Centre; Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives; PWA Foundation; Camp Oasis; Lesbian and Gay Youth Counseling Hotline. . . .

I also think it’s important to point out that Spearhead is entirely revenue neutral – every dime that is collected for charity, goes to charity.

Me: Do you think organizations like Spearhead are as important today as they were 50 years ago?

Bruce: Absolutely! Simply put, because Spearhead has been around for fifty years it is one of the few organizations in the community that offers a cross-generational perspective. It rather easy sometimes to forget that everything that we’ve gained in the last half-century could be wiped out with the stroke of a pen – it’s important to respect the voices of those who remember both how awful things were, but also to learn from the creativity involved in trying to make an awful situation a little more bearable. 

Without the Spearheads of this world, thousands of dollars would not have been raised to help pay for the victories that we, as a wider community, have won. There are still battles to be fought, and rest assured, us guys in Spearhead aren’t going anywhere . . .

 On a personal note, I only became a full-patch member of Spearhead on Canada Day 2019 (although I’d been interested in the Club for years). What attracted me to the Club, beyond the awesome fundraising activities, was the idea of being surrounded by Leathermen; I’ve always liked Leathermen because I’ve been made to feel safe and protected. The men of Spearhead having been nothing if not welcoming to me and exhibit none of the body fascism or ageism that is all too common in a social scene that is often shallow and unfriendly. 

Me: What is one of your best memories from being involved with Spearhead?

Bruce: In 1976 when I was 24 years old I would go to the Parkside Tavern (the building still stands, remarkable unchanged, at the northwest corner of Yonge and Breadalbane) whenever I had the time or money. The Parkside was my most favourite gay bar in the world. I remember that there was this group of really tough-looking guys that had laid claim to the tables along the south wall of the back room . . . but I was too intimidated to ask for a seat among them. 

They were the original members of Spearhead. Had I not been such a chicken they would have become my friends. Forty-three years later, after a very eventful life, I’d finally found the courage to cross the floor and now I’m sitting at their table. 

If you want to make a positive contribution to the community and make friends at the same time, I invite everyone else to do the same as me, because I don’t think you’ll regret it.

Spearhead has planned a weekend full of community events to celebrate its 50th anniversary including fun events such as dirty bingo and a dinner awards night. Come join them celebrate over 50 years of community involvement! 

Visit Spearhead’s website or Facebook page for more information:

Spearhead’s Website

Spearhead on Facebook

 

 

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