Loading Dock to Farm Pasture: The Annual Flashback to Tofield Migration

Author: Ron Byers

Flashback opened in November of 1974 and over the next few years quickly became the hottest space for the LGBTQ+ community with lineups regularly forming to get in every weekend. 

That began a search for a new place where it could expand significantly. At that time John Reid – one of the original owners – had lost almost all his partners and needed a new source of money to build a new club. 

He reached out to a friend of his named Brent Earl who had made the decision to buy an acreage just north of Lindbrook, Alberta and about 12.5 km East of Tofield, Alberta. Brent started building his log cabin in the woods in the mid-70’s around the same time as his neighbours and friends Rae Hunter and her husband David Belke built theirs right next door. 

Brent Earl in his Greenhouse/Shower
Courtesy Sam Pipke/Facebook
Rae Hunter
David Belke

Brent quickly jumped at the opportunity but lacked the funds so he turned to his neighbour Rae Hunter and borrowed the money so he could buy into Flashback. She secured her money by holding onto Brent’s shares in Flashback until he paid her off… making her a secret partner for a while. 

Brent came with some excellent carpentry skills and ended up doing most of the woodwork throughout the place. As we got to know this new husky, striking man he began to invite a few of us that had become close to him out to his acreage, where we sat around his big kitchen table in the expanded part of his log cabin. Showers were taken in the makeshift shower he setup in the attached greenhouse utilizing the shedding water to nourish the plants. Winters saw us enjoying his built-in sauna then throwing our naked bodies into the fresh snow outside. 

The start of Brents home. The log cabin.
Courtesy Sam Pipke/Facebook

At some point in 1978 through my friend, Andy Northrup, I met two delightful ladies named Christine Z. and Alice V.N. Their friendly personalities and love for each other came across as the perfect lesbian couple, Christine – the perfect image of a “lipstick lesbian” and Alice the “butch dyke”. 

One day Brent Earl mentioned that the acreage across the road was up for sale. That sparked the interest of the three of us so we asked for the owners contact information. Between us we had saved up a few thousand dollars from a “side business” we were doing at the time. We met with the owner and discovered he was a local bootlegger that lived in the area just east of the Old Timers Cabin on Scona Road. 

At the time I owned a small wartime bungalow in King Edward Park that I had bought off a guy that came to Flashback using my credit card for the down payment. I got to know him as he would ask to check his hand gun into the office safe while he partied in the club. 

I rented out my house and Christine and Alice gave their notice at their apartment in Strathearn Heights and on December 1st, 1980 – in the middle of a blizzard – we loaded up both places into a rental van and headed out to our new adventure. 

We enjoyed our first Christmas with Brent Earl and our families showing up for the day. 

Lee Denning
Courtesy Dana Denning/Facebook

A few months later the reigning 4th Mz. Flashback – Bianca Bang-Bang (Lee Denning) and Mr. Flashback – Mr. Vera (Daryl Broyles) were watching the TV and on the sports channel, they ended up on was an actual drag race with cars. According to Mr. Vera some older drag queens were in the audience and one of the broadcasters turned to the other and said something like “Now that’s a different meaning for a drag race” and Bianca and Mr. Vera’s silly minds went with it.  

Mr. Vera is NOT in this pic but his name is!
Courtesy Vala Grenier/Facebook

They pitched the idea to John Reid for the Sunday of their step- down weekend where the new Mr. and Mz. Flashback were to be crowned. The first Flashback Drag Races were born on the May Long Weekend in 1980. 

By then I had acted as MC for the ISCWR Coronation Balls in 1977, 1978 and 1979 so I was asked to MC this new event called the Drag Races. The races were held on the alley outside the club and consisted of events such as Waiter Tray Races, Tug o’ War, Dunk Tank and Mud Wrestling – which had become quite popular in the late 70’s in Edmonton. Then to end the event was the “Drag Race”. With a box of wigs, a box of dresses, one of purses and one of high heels – contestants grabbed one item then ran around the block coming back to grab another item until they had all 4 items on and the first one back was proclaimed the winner. 

The events in the Drag Races would often change with the mud wrestling changing to Jello Wrestling, Cream Corn Wrestling and just about anything else that was gooey and messy and could be bought in bulk was used. 

I believe it was later that night – somewhat drunk while MC’ing the Mr. and Mz. Flashback show and crowning – I blurted out to the crowd that they should come out to the farm after the show since it was a long weekend. When the girls and I got back home sure enough about 75 people came out, staying up all night partying in our pasture huddling around a big campfire that was built. 

At some point in the evening the new Mz. Flashback closed their eyes for a few moments (ok… maybe passed out is more appropriate). Someone decided it would be fun to take heir crown and hide it. Looking around the farmyard they selected a pole with a light at the top and metal rungs up the side and carefully placed the crown at the top where it sat until morning and Mz. Flashback 5 Gracie went looking for it. This began a tradition of the new Mz. Flashback losing their crown every year and then having to climb the pole to retrieve it so John Reid wouldn’t get mad that they had lost it. 

We decided that since folks were asking all the time when the next one was that we would hold a party at the farm every long weekend during the summer. 

We would get 75 – 150 people showing up the Sunday of the long weekends and staying until Monday or even Tuesday. Back in those days we never locked our doors so we often had someone staying there. 

Ticket for Canada Day 1984
Map to farm on reverse side of ticket

1984 was the year we went all out. After the May long weekend event and the largest crowd to date we made the decision to go all out and hold a huge July 1st Canada Day Barbeque and Beer Bash on the Sunday, July 1st. We never invited folks out on the Saturday as we did not want to affect Flashback’s busy night. We still had a few folks show up though just to get away and camp… which we welcomed. 

For this event of the ages we were going to offer free beer, barbeque steak, entertainment, show, brunch, music and camping. We set prices to attend at $10.00 for the Beer Bash only and $15.00 for the full deal. 

A couple friends came out a few days earlier that week to cut trees down for our 2 large fire pits. One in front of the house and the other north of the house behind a small hill in a clearing past the treeline. One of the guys went back into the city on Friday and picked up a young hitchhiker on Highway 14. As they spoke he found out that the guy was in a rock band so he asked if he wanted to bring the band out on Sunday evening with only free beer as payment. 

That meant we had to find a place to put them so we approached the Hokanson Family who lived just North of us and raised horses so they had a huge horse arena. We arranged for a stage and power and let them play. 

To house our 10 kegs of beer we bought several sheets of Styrofoam panels and built a beer cooler in the barn where folks could top up their beer cup anytime they wanted. Another friend was a long- haul trucker and brought out a 20-foot flat deck trailer with a wood surface for a stage which we put just east of the barn. 

Back in 1977, when Flashback 2 was being built, the bay that was the entrance had a huge wooden garage door that Brent Earl ended up taking back to his acreage for storage. We had tracked down 6 steel 45-gallon drums with lids and mounted them under the door then floated it on our dugout pond in front of the house.  

This became our “stage” for the drag shows over the years leaving many queens covered in green algae. We still kept this stage but thought the flat deck trailer would be better. It was a good decision as Myrna Greene from Greene’s Artists – an Edmonton strip agency popular at the time for booking acts – brought out some of her strippers to perform so they had the luxury of the flat deck to work on. 

With the good size Harmon Kardon amp that I had purchased several years earlier and a pair of Altec Lansing Voice of the Theatre speakers we inherited from someone, we pumped the best of Flashback and Mikee’s hottest music put on cassettes for us to the entire county. Since our neighbours couldn’t sleep, they just came over and partied with us. Our neighbours to the south included two young guys and their single Mom. Murray was a scruffy lean 18 year- old with a cute smile and Sean was a 16 year- old with a weightlifter body who enjoyed the attention he was getting from folks. 

The next morning some of our guests offered to make brunch for everyone left. We had lots of eggs from our chickens and ducks but needed meat. So, we went over to Rae and David’s and she cleaned out her freezer of goat meat which we fried up and feed to folks without telling them they were eating goat. No one really complained so we didn’t worry. 

Before the weekend was over the walls of one of our outhouse’s had become the repository of a mind – creative, rambling and euphoric (perhaps from LSD or MDA) of an up-and-coming artist, playwright, actor and drag queen extraordinaire – Gloria Hole – aka Darrin Hagen… “it would take a moment to realize that the tiny marks covering the walls are not bugs or dirt but, in fact writing: dense, confusing writing in Jiffy marker covering all three walls and the inside of the door” 

Excerpt from The Edmonton Queen:
The Final Voyage
Darrin Hagen

And the infamous purple sequin gown that I had worn that first year of the drag races back in 1980 and has been the centrepiece of many Flashback tributes was last seen in the hands of “Trash” aka Terry Robison – who was the first gay Sunshine Boy in Edmonton back in the early 1980’s. 

As I watched him wrangle the sparkling gown across the farmyard and behind the granary he emerged carrying it into the field at the front where we kept our calf – a small Holstein we had bought from our neighbours Clarence and Vera Tiedemann. As the young calf eyed this odd character heading toward him with the sparkling purple sequins sending shimmers of light off to the universe – one could see in Trash’s eyes the glint of mischief. 

Sunshine Boy Terry
Rhoda B (Ron Byers)
Courtesy Mikee

Moments later and without warning, Trash took the stretchy, tube-shaped dress and quickly pulled it over the calf’s face and head – then stretching it as much as possible down his back fitting the purple sequin gown – that just a few years earlier was just a length of fabric sewn up the back for the cheapest and easiest dress made – onto the calf.  

It only took a moment for the calf to bolt across the field wearing the gown eventually losing it in the dirt and finally trampled in disgust by the calf. That gown, that has managed over the years to have the most visual impact in Edmonton’s Queer History, met its demise in the cow patties, dirt and grasses of the small farm near Tofield. 

This was definitely the party of the ages for Edmonton’s Queer community as about 350 people came out to our place. 

Then on the August long weekend we held our 2nd Annual Lil Abner Ball. The year prior we held our first one and declared Alice’s horse that she had bought from our neighbours and named Africa as the first Baroness Regent 1 of Tofield. We didn’t go as big as the previous July weekend but still lots of people came out and enjoyed their time. 

I also recall one year that we were invited to Mr. Vera’s annual Grey Cup party and looking for something to bring with us we brought in a couple of our wild ducks that called our dugout pond home. They enjoyed the attention but were happy to get home that night. 

Lil Abner Ball leaflet
Artwork James Arthur Ross (Twiggy)

In 1985 I took a chance and borrowed on my share of the equity on the farm and opened The Almonds Cafe at 10132 – 102 Street where Commerce Plaza is now located. Sadly, my business partner was charged with over 50 counts of fraud by Revenue Canada and jailed. I had invested all the cash I had borrowed against our mortgage with the bootlegger in putting the restaurant together and my partner was to infuse cash for operating costs until it could stand on its own. 

East side of 102 street, north of Jasper Avenue, in 1987, now the site of the Commerce Place complex. Ken Orr, Edmonton Journal

For the next while I went into hiding having lost my share of the farm, my house in the city and the business I felt embarrassed and ashamed that I had let the girls down and my friends. 

Christine and Alice continued to manage the farm for another few years and the annual Mz. Flashback still had to climb that pole to retrieve their crown. In 1986, Mz. Flashback 11 Twiggy (James Arthur Ross) with the support of Mr. Flashback 11 Terry “Neon” Grieve, made the final climb up that pole – retrieving it from the perch it had sparkled from every May Long Weekend since that first time years ago. 

Soon the girls decided to sell the farm to a mutual friend of ours and the Tofield parties were no longer. Their memory remains in those fragments of our youth that come back putting a brief smile on our faces as we remember when – even though we still had to fight for our rights – we could always take a few moments to revel in silliness in a field, drag shows on swamps, camping a bit stoned under the stars and share joy in the sheer wonder of watching a cow in a purple sequin dress disappear into a pasture. 

I continue to hear from total strangers how much they had fun at these Tofield Parties after being at Flashback and it warms my heart.  

Thank you to all the amazing friends, acquaintances and total strangers that came out to visit us – be it once or many times – you made the time the three of us spent on the farm a joy and a home.  

Sharunho Farm – Circa 1982
Courtesy Homestead Aerial Photos Ltd.

Our thanks to:

Facebook Flashback Group

The over 1300 members of the Facebook Flashback Private Group that continue to remember, pay tribute, share stories and photos from the many days and bights we spent in North America’s best bar for “gay people and their friends” .. EVER!

The Edmonton Queen: The Final Voyage
Darrin Hagen

The Edmonton Queen: The Final Voyage

Written by Darrin Hagen who captured the many stories of the folks who were the life and color of Flashback.

Darrin is a playwright, actor, sound designer, composer, performer, director, TV host and film producer.

The book is available on Amazon

Homestead Aerial Photos Ltd

Aerial farm photos dating back to the 1950’s covering Alberta, Manitoba, Sask, and B.C.
Thank you for capturing our place way back in 1982 and I am sorry I said no to your salesperson when they came to our door so many years ago.

John Reid
Courtesy Patrick Monaghan

John Reid

Without the struggle you faced finding a place to belong, without your outrage at friends being shut out, without your vision of a place for “gay people and their friends”… no matter whether they be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer or straight – Flashback would not have existed.

Funding for this story made possible by the Edmonton Heritage Council and the City of Edmonton

For more reading on Flashback:

Edmonton City As Museum Project (ECAMP) – Flashback and the Gay Drag Races

Edmonton City As Museum Project (ECAMP) – History of Edmonton’s Gay Bars, Part 2: A Flashback to Flashback

Edmonton Queer History Project – Flashback

TELUS Originals documentary film – FLASHBACK (2024)

Why Edmonton – Mapping Edmonton’s Queer History

Rainbow Story Hub – The many evolving stories that capture Flashback in some way or another

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