Street Address : 1 Place D’Armes
During World War II thousands of male soldiers flooded Kingston to work and train at the city’s Canadian Forces Base, still a major presence in Kingston. With them came rich erotic opportunities fostered by the anonymity of being in a male-dominated environment, far from home. In his groundbreaking book Coming Out Under Fire, Alan Berube investigates how social conditions brought on by the war created psychological and physical space for realizations of same-sex desire. Psychiatric screening of recruits for signs of homosexuality and the military’s anti-homosexual policies thrust same-sex desire firmly into public discourse, offering a language for feelings that previously might have been unspoken or even unrecognized.
Henry spent the war years in Kingston working in a shipping depot for the army. He describes this period as “very open”, delighting in the ease at which male same-sex liaisons took place. Men found sex partners at the training camps, during military parades, or while strolling on Princess Street. “I’d just see somebody I liked and talk to them without being too obvious and if they weren’t interested, drop it,” recalls Henry, estimating that at least fifty percent were “interested”. Henry clarifies that this “interest” did not necessarily mean that fifty percent of soldiers were gay. He makes the distinction between ‘gays’, whose gayness was constituted by their gender transgression in combination with their desire for same-sex sex, and ‘straight’ men who were willing participants in gay sex but retained a straight identity through their masculinity.
After the war was over, the military remained a strong presence in Kingston. The passage of men between the base and the downtown transformed a small section of Highway #2 into a cruising area. Recalls Earl:
When I came here [in 1962] there were 6500 men at the military base. The city was loaded with men, just packed, who always wore civilian clothing in the evening. There were a lot of gays in the military. Oh, one of the great hobbies was to get in your car, and say, because the bars closed at midnight or twelve-thirty, and most of the guys had to be back by 12, [you’d] get in your car and drive that LaSalle Causeway. They were short of money, naturally in the military they weren’t paid too well, and they were always walking up the hill so you’d stop and offer a lift and they’d get back a lot later than they should have. It was a real cruise strip in those days, from the S&R [a department store downtown, at the beginning of Highway #2] along there, across the LaSalle Causeway and up the hill. Oh a lot of gays, a lot of gays were in the military.