New trolley tour highlights Moose Jaw's 'hidden' LGBT history

Joe Wickenhauser is hosting special trolley tours in Moose Jaw to educate people about the city's 'hidden' LGBT history.

'People aren’t aware that Moose Jaw does have this really rich history of protest,' says organizer

Joe Wickenhauser, a researcher into Saskatchewan's LGBT history, says Moose Jaw has a rich history of protest when it comes to diversity issues. (CBC)

This Saturday, residents and visitors to Moose Jaw are being invited to hop aboard a historic trolley and learn about the city's 'hidden' LGBT history.

Called Hidden Histories — Tales of Imprisonment, Protest and Pride in Moose Jaw, the tour is being organized by Moose Jaw Pride to shed light on the city's connection with LGBT issues and moments in history. 

"You go down Main Street and it's just about every building there's some kind of connection," organizer Joe Wickenhauser recently told CBC Radio's The Morning Edition.

Personal history

Wickenhauser has spent the past seven years working on a master's thesis focused on Moose Jaw's LGBT community and the history of the movement in Saskatchewan.

Since then he said he's been involved with different educational initiatives aimed at educating people about the province's LBGTQ history. 

For example, Wickenhauser has led a walking tour in downtown Saskatoon, highlighting the area's history of activism around LGBT issues.

He said when he was in his 20s, "I was thinking OK, well, I wanted to study aging and rural issues and I also wanted to study sexuality because I had just come out and my friend said, 'Well, why don't you study old gay people and I laughed because I said, 'Well, that doesn't exist.'

"And I thought well, why didn't it occur to me that this could be a possibility, and I realized I didn't know any gay people who were older than 30 years old.

"Once I did, I realized I didn't know the history of this community or where I had come from."

Tours touch on punishment, protest

For this latest tour, people will be taken to sites like the courthouse to learn about how people were punished for expressing their sexual diversity. 

Wickenhauser said gay men in particular faced harsh consequences for being in relationships. 

Joe Wickenhauser is a previous winner of the Saskatoon Heritage Award for his work showcasing the province's rich LGBTQ history. (Rosalie Woloski/CBC)

"There were a few cases where people were imprisoned for up to five, maybe six years and given five lashes immediately after the sentence was handed down, and then another five after the sentence was completed."

But not all of the city's history is dark. Wickenhauser said tour-goers will get to hear about a protest held in 1978 when anti-gay activist Anita Bryant was scheduled to appear in Moose Jaw on Canada Day. 

'Gay rights now'

"People aren't aware that Moose Jaw does have this really rich history of protest."

He said that different counts report 85 to 150 people attended the protest, and a local paper reported the issue was more controversial than the closing of the first school in the province. 

"They marched right down Main Street, carrying banners that said 'Gay rights now.' People were chanting slogans, 'Women, workers, gays unite. Same struggle, same fight.'

"Some people were even wearing paper bags on their heads with signs that said, 'When can I take this off.'

Wickenhauser said the tour is aimed at the city's LGBT youth who don't know about their community's history, and the general public.

The trolley departs from Main Street and River Street on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. CST.

with files from CBC Radio's The Morning Edition