NSCAD students recreate historic bar for Khyber’s 125th

To celebrate the Khyber building’s 125th anniversary last week, the NSCAD Queer Collective recreated the historic gay bar, The Turret.

By Steve Large

To celebrate the Khyber building’s 125th anniversary last week, the NSCAD Queer Collective recreated the historic gay bar, The Turret. They hosted a dance and a performing arts night in the bar’s original location, inside the Khyber Building.

The recreation also included a controversial and defaced mural that was painted by Rand Gaynor in the 1970s. The dance held on March 23 was called “Sweet Release Disco” and featured music from the era.

The performing arts event, held on March 27, was called “Resurrection Cabaret” and featured singing, spoken word, poetry and acrobatics.

Beck Gilmer-Osborne and Genevieve Flavelle, two NSCAD students, said they were approached by Emily Davis, a local artist with the idea of recreating The Turret bar for the anniversary. They were happy to see the event was such a success.

“The turnout was amazing for both events,” said Flavelle. “We weren’t sure what the turnout was going to be like, and we’ve had a pretty amazing response from the original Turret members and patrons. We contacted a few folks, and they put us with a few more…and all of a sudden a lot of people are emailing us with pictures and being enthusiastic.”

Flavelle said that it was great to see a cross-generation turnout.

“That was really exciting for us,” she said. “To have it be an actual community event where a lot of different kinds of people came, not just the NSCAD crowd.”

Gilmer-Osborne was also pleased by the turnout.

“That was one of the most exciting parts for me,” said Gilmer -Osborne. “The disco was a nice turnover … everyone seemed respectful of the space we were in. But for the cabaret, I was really pleased to see an almost completely different crowd and everyone seemed really excited about it and the feedback was great.”

Gilmer-Osborne and Flavelle say they’re both interested in doing similar events during the summer, after seeing what kind of support the cabaret had.

“We just put out a callout and we got a pretty amazing response in terms of performers,” Flavelle said. “We didn’t know personally half of the performers; it was just people emailing us and networking in the Halifax community.”

Recreating the Turret in Time and Space

Hosting the events within the space was not enough. The organizers felt that in order to capture the spirit of the Turret, it would need to be as historically accurate as possible.

“An icon of the space was the mural,” Flavelle said. “It was really controversial at the time and it ended up being defaced by some of the lesbian feminist patrons of the Turret. We thought it was an interesting way to recreate both how the space looked visually, but also some of the dialogue that was happening at the time around representations of women and conflicts within the gay community.”

The mural was repainted so it  looked like it did when it was first completed. The artists also included the graffiti that it was vandalised with.

Another challenge in recreating the space was with the structure of the building, which had changed over time.

“The structure of the space has change so much over the years,” Gilmer-Osborne said. “Different walls had been set up, and the space does look different, so to have some the integral parts from the original Turret back in whatever space we could make it work was important.”

Gilmer-Osborne and Flavelle felt that having the mural and other historical memorabilia helped to create a feeling of nostalgia and also helped the space become what it once was.