FAB – The Early Years
Author: Rob Browatzke
FAB – The Early Years
Fifteen years ago, Aaron Granley and Daren Kavich were sitting at Boots, sharing a few pitchers of beer, and bitching how no one came out. Daren was recently back from Vancouver, where he’d attended one of the successful Bearracuda events that happened regularly there, and they lamented that nothing like this happened in Edmonton. There’d been bear groups before, but nothing was active. As Daren told Aaron stories about what the scene was like at Bearracuda, Aaron got more and more irritated that local bears and bear-admirers and bear-adjacents had to travel elsewhere for a party like that.
Or did they?
Aaron and Daren approached Boots bartender Rob Browatzke with the idea for a bear event, and Rob jumped at the idea, offering them the whole bar for whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, no strings attached. Now, Rob didn’t actually have that level of authority, but luckily, Boots co-owner Ross Correia was also wholly on board, and plans were made for a March 2008 event called BEEF.
It was almost derailed by conflicting events. The bar had double-booked itself with an ISCWR event. Daren and Aaron had no idea what this Imperial Sovereign Court of the Wild Rose was about, but they just wanted a space for their planned party. Luckily, the ISCWR pulled their planned fundraiser, and BEEF could go ahead. Aaron wondered though if there would be problems down the road. “I am certain this is not the last we will here of the court however. I have never known drag queens not to hold a grudge,” he wrote in his blog shortly after the event. And it wouldn’t be the last, for sure.
Aaron and Daren’s expectations were forty to sixty people. It was a brand new event, they weren’t sure how big Edmonton’s bear community even was, and the bar would have been very happy with that number of guys out on a Saturday night. Expectations were exceeded, and then some. That first party, March 1, 2008, about 140 people showed up. Everyone was thrilled.
BEEF Bear Bashes quickly became bimonthly, and word spread fast. The May event broke the 200 person mark, and included a hairiest chest contest. Provincial publications for the LGBTQ community like Outlooks and GayCalgary.com picked up on the event and gave it enough promotion that Aaron began to feel a little famous when he got recognized by strangers at events like the gay rodeo that summer. That summer’s BEEF expanded to include a barbecue that went over really well, as well.
“In those early days,” Daren said, “Aaron was known as the PR guy, the idea man, while I was ‘mister money bags’ and the brawn of the duo… but everything we did, we did together, we always collaborated on how to best put forth a bear friendly experience.”
Over 2009, BEEF continued to grow, but it looked like that growth would be cut short. On May 31, 2010, Boots closed abruptly, leaving BEEF without a home. “It is so strange how the closing of a gay bar really can rip the rug out from under people. Boots being gone has really left me without my gay socializing home base,” Aaron wrote in a blog that Pride, as he and Daren tried to find a way to keep their momentum going. They had a date booked and they were promoting the parties as a whole during 2010’s Pride festivities, but they were without a venue. Briefly.
Tracey Smith and Deborah Chymyshyn, owners of lesbian bar Prism, decided to take over the Boots space and open a new community bar called Junction. New name, new management, but the same venue that had given BEEF at home. Still, it was a mixed bag, because a more mixed space meant less opportunities for some of the sexy shenanigans that had gone on at the bear bashes at Boots.
“What is a bear bash you ask? It’s basically a fun night out with men of similar interests. Some may have misconceptions about the age or appearance of those that attend, but the reality is that the event draws all types – from young hot muscle cubs to older men – just looking to enjoy an evening out at the bar,” Aaron told GayCalgary, but the parties had evolved to embrace Edmonton’s kink and fetish communities, a bit of leather, or rubber, “whatever turns your crank,” Aaron said. That might not fly in a space home to so many of Edmonton’s lesbians. The solution was simple though – enjoy the party at the Junction, and host an after-party at Down Under Men’s Bathhouse. This new “Bear Buns” event could keep the event’s sexier programming in a place where it wouldn’t bother the women who still wanted to enjoy a night at Junction, BEEF or not.
By the April 2011 event, BEEF had evolved again. Its popularity had continued to grow, and for Daren and Aaron and the other organizers they had brought on to help with the expanding enterprise, it was important that they find a way to use the events to better the community too. BEEF took on community partners, such as Queer Prom, which made over $1000 at that April event. “Nothing better than lots of shirtless hot bears raising money for a good cause!” Aaron blogged in his post-event post. Summer 2011 saw programming expand even more, with a BBQ at Victoria Park, the main BEEF bash at Junction, and Bear Buns at Down Under, and this was the second day! A partnership with Edmonton Players in Gear (EPiG) brought the Bear community and Kink/Fetish community in together for more success all around.
By June of 2012, BEEF was ready to dip their toes into Pride programming, with their first “Underbear” Party – including a wet underbear contest! Sponsors like Priape were now on board, and money from the event went to support the “fine charities of the ISCWR: my GSA, Camp Fyrefly, the John M Kerr Memorial Bursary, and Millicent’s Red Diamond Retreat.” Yes, things had sure changed since 2008, when they weren’t familiar with the ISCWR at all; now, they were partnering to make Edmonton better, something they still do to this day!
Later that summer though, the news came: Junction was closing down. Again, BEEF found itself without a venue. This time though, there would be no hero to swoop in and keep a little bar on 106 St open – it had been gay space since 1970, but September 22, 2012, one last party brought forty-two years of parties to an end.
BEEF wasn’t ending though. Far from it. BEEF was now just one party, thrown by the Fellowship of Alberta Bears, a provincial organization that was strong and experienced enough now to strike out on their own. 2013’s BEARacchuss Weekend in Calgary included three days of programming, from a Friday Hawaiian party, through a Barbecue and Toga Party on the Saturday to a Brunch on the Sunday. That June saw the Canadian Bear Weekend in Edmonton, at venues like the Lockerroom bar and the Mercury Room, places that the ISCWR had expanded into as they also sought new homes in the wake of Junction closing.
As the Fellowship of Alberta Bears (FAB) become a registered non-profit with a board of directors governing their ever expanding slate of annual programming, they also codified their core values: inclusive, welcoming, body-positive, community-oriented, and connected. These “Bear Necessities” were a strong source of pride for 2015 Board President Greg Smid. “We strive to be an organization in which everyone who identifies as a Bear or likes to be around Bears can feel included and welcome – no matter if you are smooth or hairy, thick or thin, no matter your race or the gender assigned to you at birth, no matter who you are,” Greg said in his 2015 Wrap-up Letter. The Grand Grizzly Bear went on to say, “our values of Brotherhood, Understanding, Welcoming, Acceptance, Generosity, Kindness, and Protectiveness ensure that we all have a great time at FAB events.”
As FAB is now in its fifteenth year since that first BEEF, it would appear they’ve struck a winning formula. Interested in FAB? Check out their IG @fabalbearta or visit their website albearta.org for upcoming events in Edmonton, Calgary, and more!
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