Major's Hill Park, nearby Nepean Point, the Canal and many other locations were well-known cruising spots for decades. The park offered a fair amount of privacy in bushes and shrubbery while also being conveniently located to a variety of secret queer hangouts, and is bordered in part by Mackenzie Avenue, the main male hustler cruising strip.
Cruising was an important and often only option for men seeking sex with men that would allow for complete anonymity, as being openly gay before and even during the early liberation movement of the 1970s and 1980s could put a person's career or relationships at risk. Being seen at a known gay hangout or bar could out someone before they were ready to be known as queer and could also be dangerous and people could be jumped and assaulted entering or leaving.
On the other hand, many gay men just enjoyed the thrill of cruising, even if they were otherwise openly gay. At the time, it was cheap and easy sex and of course underage men could meet others outside of a bar setting with an age restriction.
But as Major's Hill Park became known as a gay cruising area, it also became a potentially dangerous game. Police officers could try to entrap you, for example. David Pepper talks about how it was common practice for Ottawa police to go to places like Major's Hill Park or the Canal to round up gays in what they called a 'Fruit Patrol'.
The other danger was with assault and robbery—or worse—typically perpetrated by young straight men, who saw easy prey in a community that wished to remain anonymous. Even when assaulted, most gays didn't report attacks to the police whom were unsympathetic to the victims, and word could get out what they were doing in the park. The lingo for these crimes was to 'roll a queer'.
Although these assaults and robberies were going on for decades, they escalated in the late 1980s to a breaking point. On July 1, 1987, Martin Mallon was thrown off the cliff at Major's Hill Park and died two days later. Peter Vainola, a plumber and singer in a local band, was murdered in the same spot on June 18, 1989.
On July 1, 1989, three people 'fell' off the cliffs—Norman Chenier who was taken to intensive care, Phillip Jennings who was in serious condition, and Sandy Davison, a woman, in what could have been an unrelated accident.
July 15 that year, another man, Charles Papps, suffered multiple injuries that were not life threatening. On July 31, a third death occurred at the cliff, a man named John Richard Miller. Meanwhile, the police were treating all these incidents as unrelated and as accidents, and the NCC cleared some of the shrubbery near the cliff in an attempt to make the area safer.
The night of August 21-22, 1989 was a night of terror. Alain Brosseau was walking home after a shift at the Château Laurier through the park to his home in Gatineau. A group of six youth, two of them minors, and led by 18-year-old Jeffrey Lalonde, chased Brosseau and caught him on the Alexandra Bridge, killing him by dropping him into the river below [see Alexandra Bridge entry for more info on this incident].
But the youth weren't done yet. One of them had stolen the wallet and keys of one of two men earlier that month and they decided to go attack them in their Orleans home. At 3:45am, they broke into the home of Alain Fortin and Wilfred Gauthier and vicious attacked them with weapons including a knife and screwdriver. Gauthier was slashed across the throat; Fortin was stabbed in the eye and hand. Miraculously, both men survived the attack.
For a further two years, despite the overwhelming evidence of homophobia being the direct cause of these incidents, the police did nothing to protect the community. Pierre Beaulne, Ken Gallager and Pepper start a 'Blow the Whistle' campaign to educate gays on safety and protecting themselves in known cruising areas, but some in the community object, saying they should be discouraging public sex instead.
Pepper, along with Carroll Holland, Barry Deeprose and Judy Girard, begin training the police on LGBT issues and a police liaison committee is formed that exists to this day.If you know more details about this place, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to share dates, facts, images or more.