Great-grandmothers celebrate 50th anniversary as a couple
‘I said, ‘Wanna go for a ride and raise a little hell?’ I don’t know where that came from’: Jean Baker
Jean Baker and Sharon Colter's romance started 50 years ago in a Toronto parking lot, and it's still going strong in a small house in Winnipeg's Minto neighbourhood.
In 1966, Baker was 26 years old, a single mom to two toddlers, and it was her first time visiting a gay bar.
"I sat at the bar for over an hour and a half. Nobody said hi to me. I felt really annihilated," said Baker, now 76 years old. "I backed my car out of the parking lot and was heading out of the street, and I saw this lady, who was walking like John Wayne — she has this big stride on her — and I thought, 'Well, I'll ask her where girls meet.'"
But Baker got cold feet and ended up circling the lot three times to try to come up with something to say.
"I never did any pick-up lines in my life. I was always on the receiving end of pick-up lines," said Baker. "I rolled down the window … I said, 'Wanna go for a ride and raise a little hell?' I don't know where that came from. It was just right off the top of my head.'"
With a little coaxing, Colter agreed, and 50 years later the pair are great-grandmothers living in Winnipeg.
"It's been an adventure, and it's still an adventure," said Colter.
'I always wondered how I would have a family'
The pair had a whirlwind romance, with Colter moving in the day after they met; Baker was working shift work and needed a babysitter and Colter had just lost her job.
"She came to the rescue," said Baker. "She loved kids … After we really got serious, she said, 'I always wondered how I would have a family,' so that worked out really well."
A few years later, the pair moved to a small town in rural Manitoba called Garson, just a few miles from Colter's parents.
But living as the only gay couple in their town meant not talking about it with anyone. They feared the kids would be bullied at school.
"I was 12 years old, and I walked into their room, which, you know, come on, they shared a room … and I walked in, and I said, 'Mom?' 'What honey?' 'Are you guys gay?' and it was kind of a funny moment," said Allison Nelson, their daughter.
Nelson said her parents' relationship was an open secret in Garson throughout the '70s.
"The whole atmosphere was, 'Don't ask, don't tell,' because they knew and they talked about us behind our backs, 'Oh the girls, chuckle chuckle,' kind of thing," said Nelson. "Nobody wanted to say anything about it, but they let us be. There weren't any pitchforks or anything like that."
Nelson remembers her parents holding big parties — both are musicians and dancers — and always helping people out.
"My parents were so great and so giving, and they helped out anyone and everybody, and they were so warm, you know, how can you turn your back on that because of somebody's sexuality? I mean, that just didn't happen," said Nelson. "All the really great things about me as a person are because of those two women without a doubt."
Nelson is now a marketing manager with her own set of kids living in Calgary. She's made helping out at LGBT outreach centres, attending Pride parades and advocating for LGBT rights a big part of her life.
'She is the surprise of a lifetime'
Baker and Colter eventually moved to Winnipeg, and spent decades running a catering business together.
The couple have spent the last 50 years together, virtually 24-7.
They've seen their grandkids and great-grandchildren grow up, battled cancer and danced through nearly every decade.
"We went disco nuts in the '70s," said Baker. That was followed by the two-step and eventually ballroom dancing, which won them a silver medal in New York in 1991.
"Even when we fall apart, not really working in sync, the day we get on the dance floor, we recollaborate," said Baker.
Since Baker beat cancer, she's had leg braces, but they still dance.
"We went to my grandson's wedding a year ago … she dragged me around and we almost had to put my foot on her feet to get me dancing. We still did it," she said. "She is the surprise of a lifetime."
The one thing the couple has never done is get married. By the time gay marriage was legalized in Canada, the couple had already been together nearly 40 years, so they decided not to make it official.
"It's just a piece of paper," Colter said.
The pair celebrated their 50th anniversary with dinner in Winnipeg's Osborne Village, a shopping trip and a movie at home.
"When we were discussing it in the morning, I said, 'Are you kidding me? We actually made it to 50 [years].' It doesn't feel any different," said Colter. "The whole day just went bing-bang-bong. We were so pleased."
The couple aren't done tearing up the country yet. In the spring, they plan to move to Kelowna to be closer to their now very large family.