Before we were VLSCS …
Sandy McLellan provided this brief note on our early roots–
“The first meeting took place in 1985 at the home of Sandy McLellan and Jacquie Denage. The vision was to provide assistance to lesbians who might need care in their homes or eventually in some type of care setting. Our original group discussed support in the form of grocery shopping, housekeeping and/or home care either for temporary illness or disability or permanent issues.
“We also discussed providing an advocacy role for lesbians in mainstream facilities or using mainstream resources including hospital care. Our concerns were to provide care for lesbians in a setting that acknowledged who they were and to ensure that partners could remain together if one or both should need care. We created the Old-Timers’ Dance to raise money for this project.”
The Old-Timers’ Dances
Margaret Trenchard took a leading role in organizing the Old-Timers’ Dances between 1996 and 2003. A big hit with the ladies, the dances featured rock and disco from the ’60s and ’70s, and that mystery music from the ’80s and ’90s. Held at the old Red Cross Hall, the Fairfield Community Center and the CNIB, the highly spirited Old-Timer Dances were well attended and enjoyed, but they were not the big fundraisers hoped for. They did presage what the Victoria Lesbian Seniors Care Society would become well known for—hosting social events that provide safe, welcoming spaces for lesbians to gather and have fun!
The Gala Gets Going
The Gala apparently had its genesis in the lesbian-feminist experience of the Victoria Status of Women Action Group, aka SWAG. For those too young to know, the Victoria chapter of the Status of Women Action Group (SWAG) was formed in 1971 in response to the 1970 Report of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women.
SWAG was a feminist organization that promoted economic, political and social equality and freedom for women. It may be difficult to remember just how oppressive it was for womyn before the Women’s Liberation Movement began to challenge the patriarchy in the 1970s. And we take for granted today rights and freedoms hard won by the womyn warriors of the 60s, 70s and 80s. In Victoria, SWAG’s several committees worked on specific issues of concern to women. The group was an active member of the BC and Yukon Association of Women’s Centres and the National Action Committee on the Status of Women. But lesbians were not always warmly welcomed to the table. “Those dykes” tended to put off grant makers, such as the federal government.
It was Jan Brookstone, who worked at the local chapter of SWAG, who came up with the idea of a special dance for lesbians after overhearing yet another complaint about “those lesbians”. And not just any dance, but a dressy, elegant display of lesbian presence, a public statement that SWAG included and supported lesbians in Victoria in 1987.
When Jan had to leave town abruptly, the Hot Flashes Coffee Collective stepped up to complete planning for the glossy affair. And so, Debby Yaffe, Wendy Anthony, Elizabeth Duff, Cheryl Lassey, Sharon Wilkinson, Jean Caha, Tamara, Tanya Anderson & others presented that first formal elegant evening of entertainment, dining and dancing for lesbians at the Crystal Garden, one of the most beautiful venues in Western Canada.
The Crystal Garden was designed by Francis Rattenbury. Its structure was inspired by the famous Crystal Palace built for London’s 1851 Great Exposition and the Palm House at Kew Gardens. Opened in June 1925 as the largest salt water swimming pool in the Empire, this conservatory building also housed leafy tea gardens and two dance floors. It was a most popular social centre for the city for decades and a haunt for many celebrities in its heyday—the perfect venue for the Gala to make its first big splash!
For the next 13 years, the Collective planned and presented the Gals’ Night Out, or Gala, as it had become known. Women came from far and wide to attend. It was a premier event for lesbians, and special in a time when clubs and exclusive social venues for lesbians were few to none.
In 2000, after more than a decade of commitment and volunteering, the collective felt it was time to turn the event over to a willing sister organization. The right to present the Gala was bequeathed to the Victoria Lesbian Seniors Care Society along with $2000 in seed money to continue and promote the event.
Renovations in progress below …
If you have stories to tell, pictures to share, corrections for us to make re this brief herstory, please email viola@vlscs. Thanks! Your help is much appreciated.
1994 – VLSCS becomes an official entity
The Victoria Lesbian Seniors Care Society became a legal non-profit Society in British Columbia on December 12, 1994. At that time its stated purpose was: “To enable senior lesbians to live active and meaningful lives through the establishment of housing with various levels of support and community support network.”
1995 – First Annual General Meeting
Members attending the first annual general meeting called on June 1, 1995 were:
Jacquie Denage, Donna , Sandy Mclellan, Lynn Murray, Stefan Carson, Diane Samolesky, Karen Gallagher, Toni Mercer, Milnor Alexander, Robin Durkin, B. Braude, Clarice Dillman, Sally Hamill, Kelevelyn Hurley, Sharon Wilkinson, Reva Hutkin, Tanya Anderson, Margaret Trenchard, Jenny Leary, Heather Young, Elaine Lewis, Donna Vogrig, Elaine McCague, Constance Jansma.
1996 – “Lesbians and Aging: Housing and Services for Senior Lesbians”
A major focus in the early years was the purchase or building of a house for six to nine senior or disabled lesbians. Over twenty properties were considered and housing options explored. A needs assessment survey “Lesbians and Aging: Housing and Services for Senior Lesbians” was undertaken and a report prepared by Helen Durie in 1996. The respondents, mostly in their forties, saw a need in the future for lesbian-only elder housing, while older lesbians preferred independent home support.
A link to the report will be made available here shortly.
1998 – Dream of a Home Let Go
The year 1998 brought the excitement of an invitation to apply to SOW, the Society of Old Women, for a $42,000 legacy endowment for lesbian housing. The excitement collapsed with the decision that a more rural setting than Victoria was wanted.
In the end, the dream of an exclusively lesbian old-age home was let go; the difficulties of fundraising, myriad legalities, changes in government support for co-op housing, and rising real estate costs all contributed to a sea change in focus for VLSCS.
Further investigation of local, existing facilities and resources suggest what is needed and possible is advocacy and education re the acceptance and celebration of lesbian ties, lesbian family and lesbian culture in the wider community.
2000 – Our very own website
Remember Y2K? Personally, I owned a flip phone. Faxes were popular. Facebook hadn’t been invented. But Lois Moon developed and maintained our first VLSCS website.
The Hot Flashes Collective had just bequeathed the Gala to VLSCS. The venue changed to Ocean Pointe.
The Community Care Inclusion Project A government funded community care study “to identify and take action on the needs of senior lesbians” led to the: Poster Project : ‘Everyone Is Welcome Here’ is the theme of the colorful poster developed to advance lesbian visibility.
Focus Group held at Fairfield Community Center. A new logo was designed by Deb Pinard. Also, www.vlscs.ca was launched. The group now had an interactive content management portal, a home on the web for members and the wider community, developed by Cody Gregory.
20th Annual GALA! Held at Harbour Towers. This one was special. Initiatory year for the Rainbow Ribbon Award: The Rainbow Awards are a way of recognizing those women or organizations who enhance lesbian health and well-being in the Greater Victoria area. Three Awards were presented at the 20th Annual GALA.
Health Fund: This fund is an important member benefit. The Health Fund provides reimbursement to VLSCS members living in the Victoria area for the cost of products and services and for health related concerns not subsidized by other resources. A designated amount of proceeds from the GALA and other fund-raising efforts go directly towards our Health Fund.
James Bay New Horizons was the venue for Coffee Talk, Wednesday afternoons in the big front room; Friday night events which provided informal, safe meeting space for lesbians in Victoria, including Movie Night in James Bay; and special events including a Craft Fair, Open Mic Night and a Murder Mystery evening.
The 55+ Group got together for brunches, walks, pride celebrations and activities, including dances organized by members.
James Bay New Horizons continued as the venue for Friday Night Events and Wednesday Coffee Talk. Members in the News Times Colonist.
Visioning Women: Living and Aging Well Visit the full poster here.
In September VLSCS amended it’s constitution to update the Purpose clause. Login and read the Constitution here.
21st Annual Gala held in the new venue, the Harbour Towers Hotel in James Bay. Rainbow Awards were presented to VanCity Savings Credit Union and NiQ. 2008 Rainbow Awards: VanCity and NiQ
The 23rd Gala held at the Edelweiss Cultural Centre.
Cody Gregory and Patti Parkyn reconfigured the web system at www.vlscs.ca from Raven CMS 2.5, first developed and configured in 2004, to WordPress 3.9 and beyond. The newly renovated site was publicly launched for the October AGM. Members received new passwords.
Celebrating decades of lesbian achievements, the 24th Gala is being held at the Gorge Road Legion on Feb 24, 2018. Featuring the hottest lesbian-fronted band in town, the Soul Shakers, starting with fancy cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and belly dancing, and ending with DJ dancing, the evening hopes to recapture some of the old magic that made the Gala so popular.