Whether you’re new to Winnipeg or feeling particularly isolated due to the general state of the world, it can be difficult to find a sense of belonging.
Despite not being a world-renowned queer hotspot, Winnipeg has plenty of 2SLGBTQIA+ friendly offerings. Over the years, the presence of openly queer-owned and operated businesses has waxed and waned, with booms of activity in the 1970s and, well ... now.
Historically, the West Broadway neighbourhood has been the Winnipeg equivalent of a gaybourhood. According to the Manitoba Gay and Lesbian Archives, Winnipeg’s first drag ball happened on Sherbrook Street at the Sildor Ballroom in the late 1960s. It’s also where several of the city’s queer organizations and nonprofits first set up shop.
Around the same time, The Mutual Friendship Society, a group of 2LGBTQIA+ people with a vested interest in creating a space for queer people to gather, faced pushback from the provincial government when trying to open Happenings Social Club in the early 1970s.
Openly queer businesses and explicitly queer-friendly spaces have come a long way. Among the many queer-led initiatives and businesses, here are a few newer or less-heard-of ones to celebrate.
Queer Folks of
Two months into the COVID-19 pandemic, Darcy Gosek and Juan Mohadeb discussed Winnipeg’s 2SLGBTQIA+ Pride festivities being cancelled.
“We got to talking about how we could do something that brought back pride (celebrations) to a more community-focused place, instead of the corporate, rainbow-capitalist way that things have been going with local pride events” Gosek says.
While their Humans of New York-style Instagram account, Queer Folks of Winnipeg, was born out of need for uplifting content in dark times, Gosek says he’s thankful for the experience of fulfilling a need within the community.
“It's been really nice to see people finding connections through the account and seeing themselves represented,” he says. “There are probably so many connections that we’ll never know about that people have made through the account or things that they’ve read or seen that have resonated with them.”
There’s no criteria to be involved or to be featured on the account, and Gosek says they want to represent diversity within the community.
“People say things like, ‘but I’m just me!,’ and we’re like ‘yes, you are just you, and that’s why we want to talk to you,’” he says.
To be featured on the account or to nominate someone in the community to be featured, head to @queerfolksofwinnipeg on Instagram.
2SLGBTQIA+ friendly thrift shop Closet Space has come a long way in its first year.
The first six months of the social enterprise's existence were spent operating out of co-owner/operator Suzanne Reesor’s dining room and doing popup markets at various locations. Since then, Reesor and co-owner Avery Quinn were approached by Revolution Wellness Centre with news of available space in the centre’s Graham Avenue basement.
Alongside offering size-inclusive, gently used clothing, the social enterprise also produces its own line of pride apparel. Also available is an assortment of upcycled and new stock. The majority of the shop’s wares are donations or items found at other thrift stores.
“My hope is to connect with other thrift stores and other retailers and hopefully be able to take some overstock from them,” Reesor says.
Closet Space is open Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., but private appointments and fashion consultations are also offered, giving clients the option to explore gender expression in a way that works for them.
“We’re here literally for anyone. If you’re stealth, or you are closeted with your transness or queerness. If there’s something that we can do to help you, we will honour that at whatever stage you’re at,” Reesor says.
While the Closet Space basement studio is not wheelchair or mobility aid accessible, Reesor says she is more than happy to move garments to the main floor on an appointment-only basis.
The shop is the only local retailer that consistently stocks chest binders in assorted styles, packers and pouches, all at various price points. They also offer gender-affirming gear through an upcycling program that gives gently used pieces another life. Upcycled items are offered at $5 each, or for free.
“We want to have something for everyone, and price should never be a barrier,” Reesor says. “I’m not interested in ever turning anyone away.”
For more style, check out …
Chip’s Vintage is a vintage boutique currently renovating their West Broadway storefront.
To stay updated on the move to their new space, follow @chipsvintage on Instagram.
Jade Rennie-Harper is a queer-friendly tattooer working in the American traditional style, who owns and operates House of the Rising Sun in St. Boniface. Her books are currently closed, but stay tuned for future appointment availability. To see Rennie-Harper’s work or for more information, follow @ferdelanceee or @risingsuntattoo__ on Instagram.
Drag performers Purple Haze and Soleil Midowne are best friends and the masterminds behind Accent’aigu Nails. Operating out of their Exchange District studio, the pair share the fun of designing nails and fulfilling orders for Winnipeg’s drag community.
Winnipeg’s drag scene has been in a constant state of growth over the last several years, with new performers making their debut nearly every month, making a niche business like Accent’aigu Nails viable.
“I was so busy at first. I was doing nails nonstop for a good five months,” Purple Haze says. “After (the pandemic), there’ll probably be a bunch of new baby queens wanting nails.”
While the pandemic changed the flow of business for Accent’aigu, the pair are hopeful for what the future holds.
“My plan is to go to cosmetology school and learn how to do acrylic nails,” Purple Haze says. “I want to take Accent’aigu from not just a local business to maybe a Canada-wide business, and then maybe even international. But for now I’m happy with being local. The community is really amazing.”
While Accent’aigu’s main clientele is drag performers, they also offer custom sets to anyone interested in glamorous nails.
To peruse Accent’aigu’s ready-to-go nail set selection or to order custom nails, head to
@accentaigunails on Instagram or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more drag-related events and content,
check out ...
Drag in the Peg
Drag in the Peg is a podcast all about local drag. There are two seasons to binge on Anchor.fm, Spotify or the Apple Podcast app.
Club 200 at 190 Garry St. is a place for a quiet drink and snack on a Tuesday night, or a lively spot for local drag on any given weekend, pending COVID-19 restrictions and protocol. The kitchen at Club 200 is open for takeout orders.
Slunt Factory is a trio of drag performers that puts on monthly showcases at Club 200. They’re taking a step back from events for now in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, but stay tuned by following them at @sluntfactory on Instagram.
Queer Sk8 Winnipeg
In May 2019, organizer and founder Eight McKay noticed queer-led skateboarding initiatives online and felt the Winnipeg scene would benefit from an inclusive environment for skating.
“My experience skating with non-queer people is that it’s pretty lonely, isolating,” McKay says. “There’s a lot of violence that happens at the skatepark.”
Folks can expect positive vibes and a welcoming environment at a Queer Sk8 Winnipeg event.
“I try to be open and talk to everybody,” McKay says. “We usually have a table set up with zines and resources and stuff like that.”
Queer Sk8 accepts board and hardware donations, which they redistribute with a focus on queer BIPOC youth.
With COVID-19 cases spiking locally, Queer Sk8 Winnipeg is holding off on events for now. McKay says plans are in the works to launch an exclusively 2SLGBTQIA+ weekly skate session at the Edge Skatepark.
Out There Winnipeg
If you’re looking for a means to be active alongside other 2SLGBTQIA+ people, Out There Winnipeg (OTW) is a welcoming place to start. The organization is helmed by interim president Allan Gray, who says they strive to create an inclusive and accessible way for queer and transgender people to play sports together and, most importantly, have fun.
From badminton to yoga, most activities facilitated by OTW happen on a drop-in basis, and up-to-date COVID-19 information can be found on their website.
OTW considers the gendered aspect of sports, and makes a point to let gender non-conforming and non-binary people choose to position themselves where they feel most comfortable.
“With athletics, we often have to check one of those two gender boxes,” Gray says. “We do our best with the limitations that we have, to make sure that non-binary folks feel welcomed and accepted.”
Individuals can sign up for activities on the OTW website. However, Gray encourages people to get in touch if they have interest in a sport the organization doesn’t currently offer.
“We will do whatever we can to make sure that we get you the training that you need, and to make sure that it’s a safe space, and also offer suggestions as far as facilities and things like that. But, ultimately, you have autonomy as far as your sport is concerned,” Gray says.
Lilac Bakery at 920 Grosvenor Ave. offers sweet treats at a picturesque intersection in River Heights.
Eadha Bread at 577 Ellice Ave. has baked goodies galore at their community-focused West End location.
Roughage Eatery at 126 Sherbrook St. offers inventive, colourful vegan food in a welcoming West Broadway space.
Tallest Poppy at 103 Sherbrook St. or by delivery on DoorDash might just have the best fried chicken and Caesars in town. Expect friendly staff and a cozy diner atmosphere.
And Many More!
Invisible Ink, a mobile library stocked with queer and trans Authors of Colour is ready to hit the road. The collection features authors like Vivek Shraya, Audre Lorde, jaye simpson and Joshua Whitehead. Invisible Ink exists within suitcases and is available to borrow from by appointment only. Borrowing books is free, and donations go toward purchasing new titles for the library.
To book an appointment, email email@example.com or follow their journey at @invisiible_ink_library on Instagram.
Monique LaPlante RMT
Monique LaPlante RMT is a registered massage therapist offering sliding-scale pricing for 2SLGBTQIA+ clients. To inquire about location and how to set up an appointment, follow @moniquermt on Instagram.
Sunshine House at 646 Logan Ave. is a resource centre with a focus on social inclusion and harm reduction. Their drop-in programming has changed slightly to account for COVID-19 safety. To learn more about Sunshine House, check out sunshinehousewpg.org. The centre is currently in need of food and personal hygiene donations. To schedule a drop-off time, head to calendly.com/sunshinehouse.
Rainbow Harmony Project
Rainbow Harmony Project is a choral group for 2SLGBTQIA+ folks and allies that has been active since 1999. To learn more about the group or to register, head to rainbowharmonyproject.ca.
Published in Volume 75, Number 04 of The Uniter (October 1, 2020)