The Woman’s Common

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Screen-Shot-2016-05-11-at-10.52.39-AM-300x271The idea for a club owned by women for women germinated with a small group of women who eventually became the first Board of Directors. After many years of work, we developed a fund-raising strategy using a video of women in various unusual work environments. A marketing booklet was created which contained the goals of the club, and financial projections. A team of women went to individual women’s houses. The hostess would invite her friends to listen to the presentation, encouraging them to sign up and/or invest. This strategy was very successful, raising enough money to buy a building in down-town Toronto.

“A club, a restaurant and a place to hold cultural events, The Common is thought to have been the only fully women-owned and operated cooperative of its type in the world. (Certainly women from all over the world wanted information about it, hoping to replicate it in other countries.) An amazing 200 women invested $1,000 each, knowing very well that they could lose all their money, and another 250 women bought $100 memberships all this just to get the idea off the ground! Established with the dream of a home of our own and the hope of providing a calmer alternative to the existing bar scene, The Woman’s Common opened at 580 Parliament Street. At its height it had 1,600 paid members, but after years of tumult and burnout it closed its doors” (Heather Ann Brown, http://section15.ca/features/reviews/2004/06/15/toronto_dyke_history/

Sadly, owing to economic times and the increasing availability in 1994 of other lesbian-only spaces, The Woman’s Common had to close its doors.

The club provided a safe, harassment-free environment for lesbians, and a space that was owned by us where we could create our own cultural environment without the danger of being evicted. In addition to the restaurant, we held movie nights, readings by writers (e.g. Jane Rule), and jazz concerts and performances by other popular artists such as Holly Cole and Loreena McKennitt. We had a sliding scale for membership in order to make it available to women of all economic backgrounds. As well as cultural activities, The Woman’s Common organized dances, singles’ nights and day-care for single moms. Downstairs was a bar and upstairs a smoke-free restaurant space for the performances.

At that time, it was so important to have a women-owned and women-controlled space. In 1988 when The Woman’s Common opened there were very few lesbian-only spaces in Toronto. Those that did exist were unstable, usually owned by men, unsavoury and not very safe. In contrast, The Woman’s Common was safe, welcoming, and attractive. Our vision was that it would be a home away from home for women in Toronto.

Caroline Duetz, founding member
Val Edwards, founding member
Kye Marshall, founding member

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