Calgary, the largest city in the Canadian Province of Alberta, flies under the radar for a lot of world-hopping queer travelers, but the city has some unique charms that are sure to tickle the imagination of LGBTQ visitors. While Alberta is known as the most conservative province in the country, the city is proudly an accepting one.
Lindsay Gallant of Tourism Calgary explained that: “Calgary is a welcoming, accepting place full of warm-hearted locals who embrace diversity. From the stunning vistas of the Canadian Rockies only a short-day trip away to the bustling vibrancy of the province’s biggest city, Calgary is a place that pulses with energy and life for all travelers.”
While the city doesn’t contain a “gayborhood” type area, the LGBTQ community can be found throughout the city and its neighborhoods. Popular gay bars include:
Twisted Element is Calgary’s largest gay nightspot. This club features fun regular events that include a Tea Dance, amateur strip night, drag shows and karaoke.
The Backlot, circa 1996, is a laid-back bar and proud to be one of the oldest gay-owned and -operated establishments in Calgary. Entrance is through a very narrow alley, and you feel like you’re heading to a secret place few people know about. When I wandered in, “Goodbye Earl” was blasting and guys were enjoying the small patio area.
The Texass Lounge is the oldest gay bar in Calgary, tucked behind the storefronts of 17th Avenue. Someone in drag was doing karaoke to “Looking for love in all the wrong places” when I dropped by. I found a slightly older crowd here, and the establishment is connected to a local bathhouse.
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Hot Mess is an LGBTQ+ dance party that happens about once a month at a variety of local venues. Everyone is welcome—except no jerks.
Eric Ashton, General Manager of the brand new (and stunning) Residence Inn by Marriott Calgary Downtown/Beltline District, said that he thinks Calgary is one of the world’s friendliest places.
“The city has evolved from hosting one large Pride parade each year to really embracing the culture, with new organizations and events popping up all the time,” he said. “The Cowboys tent at Calgary Stampede is Millennial-focused tent/club and embraces the LGBTQ community, hosting events like the Drag Me to Brunch event. Pride Lawn Bowling is not only one of Calgary’s oldest and most established lawn bowling leagues, but it’s fun and inclusive—and how many cities have an LGBTQ focused lawn bowling league?”
Ashton said that Calgary Pride and Centre for Sexuality are constantly working to bring awareness to gay culture, as well as creating wonderful environments and events for the LGBTQ community.
He also said queer visitors should consider a visit to the Badlands Amphitheatre—a natural amphitheater where concerts are held. Also on his list would be a trip to Big Rock Brewery to see a great craft beer company and enjoy a pint, and some amazing restaurants like the highly awarded Pigeonhole.
“Take in breathtaking, 360-degree views of downtown at the Calgary Tower near our hotel. Explore Calgary’s most unique performance venue, Stampede Park, and enjoy concerts and events. Attend a conference, corporate event, tradeshow or exhibition at the Telus Convention Centre. Take a short day-trip and enjoy nature with postcard-perfect mountains or the badlands all within a short drive. Calgary truly has something for everybody,” he said.
The city is well-known for its huge Calgary Stampede each July—sort of a combination rodeo and enormous country fair. The Stampede grounds are located almost in the shadow of the downtown skyscrapers, making for a unique venue.
Ashton said that although Calgary Pride is an event unto itself that draws a broad audience, Pride Day at Stampede celebrates the LGBTQ community within the context of Stampede.
“Both are terrific events, and excellent reasons to visit Calgary,” he said.
Tourism Calgary noted that Pride Day began as a group of about 30 and has grown to well over 1,300 attendees, with expectations of gaining further popularity. During Pride Day they award the Annual Western Trailblazer Award is given out.
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Ryan, a 23-year-old accountant from Red Deer, about two hours north, said he comes down most years for Stampede or Pride.
“The parties are fun and the people are great,” he said. “Folks here are supportive of us, too.”
Other Calgary events for the LGBTQ community include:
August 2-4, 2019
For more than two decades, competitors and spectators filled Strathmore for the events. Now the group, under a new name, has partnered with the Stampede to host events at Nutrien Western Event Centre Stampede Park in the heart of Calgary.
Fairy Tales—Calgary’s Queer Film Festival
Over the last 21 years, Fairy Tales, Calgary’s Queer Film Festival, has grown from a fledgling, volunteer-run off-shoot of The Calgary Society of Independent Filmmakers, to become one of Canada’s largest LGBTQ2A+ film festivals.
Carly’s Angels at Lolita’s Lounge
Carly’s Angels drag show has been entertaining Calgary audiences for more than 15 years. Shows run almost every Saturday from September through July.
Tourism Calgary hosts an online LGBTQ guide here: visitcalgary.com/things-to-do/stories-from-calgary/lgbt-travel-guide.