Foolscap: The Social Responsibility of Digitizing Erasure

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Listening to the Foolscap interviews, it seems impossible to have been in Toronto in the 1960s without realizing that the St Charles Tavern was a hotbed of gay activity. However, researching press coverage of the bar, it’s clear that this watering hole’s queerness was fairly hidden from most of the public in the 1960s. A brief review of Globe and Mail articles between the 1940s and 1960s rarely link homosexuality to the St. Charles Tavern.

It’s important to expand the scope of your research beyond the secondary-source materials you first encounter, particularly when researching marginalized groups. Deeper research prevents us from reproducing the erasures found in old media. Archival materials pertaining to queer spaces require us to bring in more context in order find the queer people hidden between the lines of these materials; their subtext and the details of their lives.

VandalsWreck Yonge Street Tavern article

Consider the article “Vandals wreck Yonge tavern”, published in the Globe and Mail on February 21, 1966. The article describes damages done to the bar by vandals, including flooding, smashed chairs, cracked eggs, and files dumped out with ink poured all over them. Yet, there is no mention of the impact of this vandalism had on those who patronized the bar. By some accounts, in 1966, the St Charles Tavern was already a shrine to open queerness for many gay men in Toronto. While we cannot know the intentions behind these vandals’ choice of bar, we can imagine that many queer men read this article and felt targeted. Scared, maybe. Reading the stub through the Foolscap oral history interviews, it’s possible to find those whom the article does not describe.