ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — An event planned this summer in a small Newfoundland town aims to unite the province’s LGTBQ diaspora and celebrate the lesbian history of the aptly named community of Broad Cove.
“Come Home Queer” is a play on the province’s Come Home Year tourism theme, which invites Newfoundland and Labrador expats to return to the province for a visit this summer. The event, running July 15-17, is set to take place in Broad Cove, N.L., where about 30 lesbians — most of them friends from St. John’s — have been settling or summering for the past three decades.
Organizer Gerry Rogers has planned a performance by Kellie Loder, readings by authors like Eva Crocker, and storytelling events about the province’s LGTBQ history, including the story of Broad Cove, located about 100 kilometres west of St. John’s.
“It’s busting myths, you know? Rural Newfoundland and Labrador is not backwards,” said Rogers who, after 30 years of visiting the town, is now building a house there to retire in. “There are lots of people here now who have children or grandchildren or relatives or friends, people in their own community who are queer. And there is acceptance.”
“The broads came out!” she added.
In a province known for its uniquely named communities, Wanda Crocker says it was purely coincidence that lesbians settled in a town whose name — broad — is an old-fashioned and sometimes derogatory term for a woman. Crocker is said to be the first one to arrive — she bought a home there with her partner in 1989, and they began inviting friends out to stay with them, Rogers included.
Their guests would pitch tents in the yard and spend the weekend, drawing curious stares from residents, Crocker said in a recent interview. “They’d be stopping on the road and they have their binoculars out … we would just tell them that this is the Holy Heart reunion,” she said, referring to the Holy Heart of Mary high school in St. John’s, which used to be an all-girls institution.
She laughs when she imagines what they must have thought: “Like, my God, they were a poor-looking crowd, that class … they all had short hair and glasses!”
It didn’t take people long to figure things out, she said. Nor did it take long for her friends to start buying their own oceanside houses in the town.
Broad Cove has since amalgamated with the neighbouring towns of Small Point, Blackhead and Adam’s Cove, and roughly 385 people live in the area, according to Statistics Canada. The town sits along the northern shores of Conception Bay, on a peninsula home to places like Heart’s Desire, Dildo and Red Head Cove.
In 1985, a Newfoundland town named Gayside voted to change its name to Baytona. Residents of the town, which is about 420 kilometres northwest of Broad Cove, said they were embarrassed by the name.
That kind of homophobia, however, isn’t part of the story of Broad Cove, Rogers and Crocker said.
Of course some residents were uncomfortable at first with the town’s growing LGTBQ population, they said. A knife-wielding man even came looking for Crocker one night, about five months after she bought her house, she recounted.
But key “transformational moments,” as Crocker calls them, made them members of the community rather than outsiders.
The community stood behind Crocker when she charged the man who came at her, and he contacted her years later to apologize. The town hosted a Pride parade last year. Two members of Crocker’s friend group were elected to the town council: Sue Rose is deputy mayor and Katherine Burgess is a councillor.
And then there was Beth Lacey and Pauline White’s wedding in 2008, just three years after same-sex marriage was legalized in Canada.
Many in the town showed up for the ceremony, and even more hit the dance floor with the newlywed couple in their shed, Lacey said in a recent interview. It was a transformational moment.
“People came on their quads with packs of beer on the back; we had a DJ from the community and we had a grand time,” Lacey said. “One of the heterosexual women from the community came over to me and she said, ‘Can we have a dance? My husband doesn’t like to dance.’ It was just so inclusive.”
They brought cards and gifts and food, and the owner of the local transport company hired to bring out the supplies waived her fee as a wedding present, Lacey said.
“And that’s the way it’s been here,” Lacey added, noting that several artists and writers have since bought properties in the town and the surrounding area, too. “We were sort of the start of a boom on this shore.”
Crocker said she hopes people from the town come out to this year’s Come Home Queer celebrations, just like they did for Lacey’s wedding.
“It’s a long time coming, and it’s a good time to celebrate,” Crocker said. “Thirty years ago, I wouldn’t have thought in a million years we’d be having a Holy Heart reunion … not undercover. There’s no cover this time!”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 15, 2022.
Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press