How one corner of Nova Scotia's Eastern Shore became an unlikely LGBTQ haven
Pride festival, more LGBTQ-owned businesses, all signs of growth around Musquodoboit Harbour
When Allan Banks moved from Dartmouth, N.S., to the province's Eastern Shore 20 years ago, he was drawn by the area's ruggedness, fertile landscape and beautiful ocean views.
He was also determined not to shy away from being an openly gay man in his new rural community. In his front yard, he raised a rainbow flag, visible to all who drove by on Highway 7, which snakes through Chezzetcook, Musquodoboit Harbour and all the way to Antigonish.
"We didn't move out and hide," he said last week.
At first, the flag flew high and lonesome at the sprawling garden he built overlooking Jeddore harbour. But these days it has plenty of company.
In the last two decades, Banks has seen a remarkable transformation in his community, with more and more LGBTQ people moving there and opening businesses.
"We moved out, and we became involved in community organizations," he said. "My partner became part of the Lions Club, and I taught adult literacy … and sang in the community choir. People got to see that we're actually normal human beings."
Banks operates a plant nursery, Harbour Breezes Daylilies, in Head of Jeddore. It now houses over 850 varieties of daylilies and at least 60 of Banks's own hybrid creations, including two which have special resonance for the queer community: the Gay Harmony and Pink Triangle.
A 10-minute drive away, in Musquodoboit Harbour, there is Steeple Green Books, Ship Shape Barbershop and the Clipper Gallery, all of them proudly queer-owned.
Ship Shape owner Wayne Collette came to Musquodoboit Harbour with his former partner Ken Vaughn, who runs the Clipper Gallery next door, back in 2015.
Inside Collette's barbershop you can't miss the framed photo of Judy Garland behind the cash register, not to mention the portraits of James Dean, Grace Kelly and Cary Grant hanging around the shop.
"We have a large LGBTQ+ community here in the area," said Collette. "Being a gay man who moved here, I didn't get any hassle."
Further down the road is Steeple Green Books, located inside the former Musquodoboit Harbour Presbyterian Church. It opened in June, but owner Michael Lake said he's already finding plenty of regulars.
Originally from Dartmouth, Lake spent a decade living in Montreal before returning home to Nova Scotia. He was living in Halifax, debating whether he would stay or go, when he stumbled upon a listing for the old Presbyterian church and followed his heart.
"Before moving here, I didn't know a lot about the community, except that it was kind of quaint and there were beautiful beaches and nice trails," he said. "Since opening the shop, so many more people have come than I ever could have imagined possible."
It wasn't long until he realized there were plenty of other queer people in the area, too.
Within one month of arriving, he heard a knock at his door. It was Collette from Ship Shape Barbershop, inviting him to join a gay men's book club in town.
Lake hopes his store becomes a vital space in the community. He's already begun hosting dance parties, author readings and concerts, including one by musician Stewart Legere earlier this month.
Adjusting to life on the Eastern Shore hasn't always been easy, said Lake, but it's been well worth it.
"People want the community to be diverse and to change and to grow and expand," he said. "And people care about what's happening here and want to support each other."
Beginning on Aug. 21, hundreds will congregate in Musquodoboit Harbour and surrounding communities for the 3rd annual Eastern Shore Pride.
The festivities began three years ago after co-chair Brenda Hattie hosted a Pride party at her house and was stunned by the turnout. Speaking with Colette afterwards, the two of them decided the time was ripe for the Eastern Shore to have its own official Pride.
Queer people were already here, said Hattie, but Pride has served as a focal point and brought many people together who might otherwise not have met.
But though plenty of progress has been made, it hasn't been without challenges.
In early August, a vocal contingent of queer people and their allies, led by Hattie, gathered outside Marine Drive Pentecostal Church to stand in opposition to an event hosted by controversial Action4Canada founder Tanya Gaw.
According to the Eastern Shore Cooperator, the church's pastor, Scott Anderson, has since apologized for hosting the event, telling the newspaper he didn't agree with her views on queer people and other minority groups, including Muslims and Sikhs.
Gaw's group has come under fire for pushing debunked conspiracy theories about topics as varied as climate change, vaccines and inclusive LGBTQ sexual education.
The rally Hattie organized acted as a stirring counterpoint to Gaw's message, and proof that despite whatever happened inside the church, it was not representative of the community as a whole.
Outside that day were dozens of people, decked out in rainbow flags, spreading a message that Hattie said was all positive.
In the crowd were Allan Banks, Michael Lake and Wayne Collette, each of whom said it was important to take a stand against the group.
"Our message was about the importance of diversity and inclusion, and peace and love," said Hattie.
Banks, Lake, Collette and Hattie are all looking forward to this year's Eastern Shore Pride. Among other events, Lake is hosting a dance party at Steeple Green Books, while Banks is leading a tour of his garden.
On the highway in front of Harbour Breezes Daylilies, the cars speed by, with more passing through every year.
But lately, Banks said he's noticed an amusing new trend.
Younger gay men are pulling over to take pictures, drawn not to the garden, but to the sign out front advertising "fruitcake for sale."
In a roundabout way, with these photos, they're sending out the same message Banks did when he first planted his own rainbow flag in Head of Jeddore so many years ago: We're here, we're queer, get used to it.