The ArQuives Digital Exhibitions

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Halloween Balls at the Letros and St. Charles Taverns


The Letros and St. Charles were two of the first popular gay bars in Toronto. These spaces were a safehaven for drag queens and genderqueer people, as until 2017 in Canada there was no protection for men who dress in women's clothing.

Due to the lack of protection under the law, drag queens were regularly arrested and harassed by police. The exception to this rule was on Halloween, when men dressing as women was considered socially acceptable.

In the '50s, '60s, and '70s, the Letros and St. Charles Taverns would host annual drag balls, which attracted huge crowds. These crowds eventually became violent towards the drag queens and other patrons to the gay bars, making this gay-bashing an annual Halloween ritual.

The violent behaviour of Torontonians, the degree of police involvement, and the participation of the queer community in protecting their peers is very reflective of the politics and climate of Toronto during the height of the gay rights movement.

Language note: The terms to describe the patrons and performers at the St. Charles and Letros Taverns include folks who wear clothing that is gendered to the opposite of their sex assigned at birth. Additionally terms such as 'drag queen' and the act of cross dressing.

The ArQuives is committed to preserving all aspects of LGBTQ2+ history in Canada and beyond. Given that language is a constantly evolving construct, terms used in this exhibit may be considered offensive, inappropriate, or unacceptable by contemporary standards. 

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