Over the past two weeks Toronto’s Church and Wellesley neighbourhood has played headquarters and host to an unforgettable “rainbow high” party. This year the city had the esteemed pleasure of hosting World Pride, encouraging folks from around the globe to pitch a tent on our porch and party in our parade.
Each summer I look forward to the city’s annual LGBT extravaganza, an important celebration that promotes diversity and acceptance in Canada’s largest city. I’ve called The Village home for the last three years and at the end of each June, welcome the shimmer and shake, that pulsating bass which jolts through my bedroom into the wee hours of the morning.
While many associate Pride with sun-soaked beer gardens, a gong-show parade and late night bacchanal, my goal this year at World Pride was to create a diverse agenda which showcases the festival’s vibrant colours: from drag vogue ball to Madonna homage theatre hilarity, al fresco circuit party to star studded Drag Race Cruise.
My Toronto Pride experience was made extra special this year as I had the opportunity to act as an Ambassador for Stolichnaya Vodka. Internationally distributed Stoli vodkas are produced and bottled in Latvia, located in Europe’s Baltic Region (south of Estonia and north of Lithuania). I visited Latvia’s capital, Riga on a press trip in the summer of 2012 where I had the opportunity to sip and nibble through the city’s most celebrated restaurants. Flashback: sweet memories of Stoli muddled cocktails on a pretty patio in Riga’s famous Art Nouveau quarter.
Stoli Vodka’s LGBT Support
- Stoli has been involved in LGBTQ advocacy since they set up operations in North America.
- Pledged $300k over the next three years to the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Centre and Leadership LAB Initiative.
- Pledged $150k to the Russian Freedom Fund.
- Sponsored a documentary series called Be Real: Stories from Queer America.
- For World Pride, Stoli and OUTtv are working together to donate $10k to Toronto’s 519 Community Centre.
World Pride Toronto Launch at the Hilton Hotel
On Friday June 20th the festival officially launched in the ballroom at the Hilton Hotel on University Avenue. Media lined up to grab their festival press passes under a halo of rainbow umbrellas before sip and nibbling their way through a colourful reception. Politicians Olivia Chow, Karen Stintz, Kristyn Wong-Tam and Glen Murray offered enthusiastic smiles and their support for Toronto’s LGBT community. Once announcements had wrapped the crowd skipped over to Nathan Philips Square for the official WorldPride kick off where thousands congregated to enjoy a concert featuring Deborah Cox, Steve Grand and Melissa Etheridge. A blast of fireworks was a cherry on our sundae.
Drake General Store Pop Up
Toronto’s favourite boutique hotel Popped Up at Pride in the centre of The Bay’s cosmetics floor at Yonge and Bloor. The Drake General Store prettied itself for Pride, selling a broad rainbow of gay collectable nick nacks perfect for bedazzling your space. My must have item of the season, the “Shared Pride Tank” featuring vintage maple leaf with a flamboyant rainbow streak.
The Bizarre Ball at Buddies
Toronto’s vogueing sensation, The House of Nuance, brought the bizarre back to Buddies for a spectacular Pride Ball. This year’s World Pride theme: Rainbow Warriors. The Ball took place in Buddies main theatre and featured an homage to the vogue culture made popular by the cult classic Paris is Burning. DJ John Caffery spun disco diva drama as members of The House and brave folks from the crowd strutted their stuff to categories such as Best Dressed, Realness, Virgin Runway, Sex Siren and Hairography.
House Tea Pride Launch Party at Soho House
Soho House, Toronto’s favourite private club hosted its second annual Pride party, House Tea the Sunday before the festival bonanza. Guests were welcomed with a fizzy cocktail and entertained in the helium balloon adorned Club Floor with DJ sets by Phil V, Kris Steeves and Aural. Tynomi Banks made a surprise appearance in the early evening, dancing up a sweat before her queer crowd sauntered over to the petite patio for a breath of fresh air.
Truth/Dare A Satire at The Citadel Theatre
An official WorldPride extravaganza! TRUTH/DARE: A Satire is a live performance project inspired by Madonna’s 1991 cult classic documentary Truth or Dare – combining memorable text from the film with photography, original video, and dancing to the infectious music from the Blond Ambition tour.
I saw the shows first iteration in December 2012, an enthusiastic experience and packed house at Videofag. Much like the Rocky Horror Picture Show, the spirit of TRUTH/DARE: A Satire is participatory; the audience is encouraged to dress up in their finest early 90s street wear, echo favourite lines from the film, and join the cast in dancing to the music of Madonna. This time around creators Adamo Ruggiero and Salvatore Antonio perform alongside a cast of notable artists, including Damien Atkins, Keith Cole, Chy Ryan Spain, Kyle Travis Young, Nick Green and DJ Konstantine Kurelias.
Stoli Pride Party at Pravda Vodka House
I zoomed down Church Street on my bike Thursday eve, swerving around throngs of tourists who stumbled through The Village, home of Toronto’s best gay bars. I arrived in the St. Lawrence Market hood around 10pm and locked up in front of Pravda Vodka Bar. Skipping over a Stoli rainbow welcome mat I hustled up to the second floor, past a massive mural of Russian Legend Vladimir Lenin (sweet memories of Moscow). That evening the team at Stoli hosted a Petite Private Pride Party, welcoming guests with an ice cold shot of premium vodka, chased with rye toast and pickle. At the back of the bar a VIP lounge featured Stoli bottle service (my go to is a synergy of cranberry, soda and squeeze of lime) and fromage adorned charcuterie board. At midnight the crowd was entertained by a Russian folk trio who hopped up on the bar with drum, trumpet and fiddle.
RuPaul’s Drag Race Celebrity Cruise
Fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race descended on Queens Quay on Friday evening dressed for the festivals ultimate White Party. At 8pm the crowd boarded Mariposa Cruises Northern Spirit, a 140 foot yacht which would spend the next four hours sailing across the Toronto skyline. Throughout the evening hilarious performances were offered up by RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 6 favourites Adore Delano, Courtney Act, Darienne Lake and Bianca Del Rio. The CN Tower was lit up like a rainbow all evening and as the twinkle of stars cast themselves across Lake Ontario I felt the need to pinch myself, Sashay You Stay!
Prism Aqua Party at Yonge and Dundas Square
Prism is North America’s largest gay circuit music festival (organizers anticipate over 35,000 attendees for World Pride) which include six events throughout Pride week. One of the festivals most popular events is the all day dance splish-splash Aqua party which this year took place in the heart of the city at Yonge and Dundas Square. From noon to 8pm a gaggle of gays dressed in nothing but tiny speedo’s danced through 22 water fountains while an army of over 20 dead sexy go-go dancers sweat themselves silly in the hot afternoon heat. Performances by Chus & Cebellos, Carmen Carrera, DJ Aron, DJ Kitty Glitter and Sofonda Cox.
Saturday Night Dance Party at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre
Each year I make a point of heading to Buddies in Bad Times Theatre on Saturday night with my friend Jonathan for their full facility After Hours Party. The place gets packed and offers a nice cross-section of Toronto’s queer community. The main theatre was a mad house with beats and performances by by DJ K-Tel, DJ Triple-X, Fay Slift and Diana Lopez Sotto. Escaping to the cabaret lounge offered a breath of fresh air before diving back onto the disco dance floor.
Treehouse at Ryerson Quad
Over the last five years, Green Space Toronto has evolved to become the not-to-miss festival during the city’s LGBT pride celebrations. Green Space offers high caliber productions that feature national and international artists, providing amazing outdoor shows free of charge, in gorgeous tree-lined venues. Beyond a celebration of diversity, Green Space parties are an essential fundraising activity for The 519 Church Street Community Centre. This year a record breaking 46,000+ attended Green Space parties in Cawthra Square Park and the Ryerson University Quad raising over $400,000 in support of the 519’s year-round programs and services for Toronto’s LGBTQ community.
From 1pm to 1am on Sunday the Ryerson Quad thumped massive bass for the annual Green Space Treehouse Party. The afternoon was hot as hell and tan fans got a serious lick of heat stroke before a sprinkle of rain cooled down the crowd before the dinner hour. Beats courtesy of Isaac Escalante, Alain Jackinsky, Deko-ze and Cindel.
Business Women’s Special and Soft Serve Farewell
I bid farewell to World Pride on Sunday evening at Business Women’s Special in Kensington Market. Hosts April Wozny and Michael Yerxa served up a hipster friendly dance floor for the zombie gays. I can’t quite recall the last time I’ve felt so exhausted, on minimal sleep I clutched a can of cider and realized Pride this year had officially smacked me across the face under a disco ball. Hilarious performances by Igby Lizzard and Judy Virago of the House of Filth with beats by DJ Nino Brown and Sammy Royale.
I peaced out of the party with Jonny shortly after 2am, bound for those Golden Arches where I apparently fell asleep while trying to lick soft serve on a cone. Some might be embarrassed by this McD’s final chapter but I can’t help but laugh and smirk, “my lord that manbun is certainly big hair!”