Photo courtesy Historica Canada.

Former Comox-Strathcona politician, gay rights activist featured in new Heritage Minute

Jim Egan, who lived in Courtenay in his later years, was a strong advocate for the LGTBQ2 community

A pioneer in gay rights activism who called the Comox Valley home in his later years is the star of Historica Canada’s most recent Heritage Minute.

Jim Egan (born in Toronto in 1921, died in Courtenay in 2000) was an activist, writer, and politician. He was one of the first Canadians to write long-form pieces in the news media from an openly gay perspective and became a grand marshal of the 1995 Toronto Pride Parade after taking a pension fight to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Historica Canada released the Egan-related Heritage Minute on June 13. Heritage Minutes are 60-second short films that highlight an important moment or figure in Canadian history. The minute-long clip highlights Egan’s landmark Supreme Court challenge in 1995, which arose after his partner Jack Nesbit was denied the spousal allowance benefit provided under the Old Age Security Act on the basis of his sexual orientation.

Though the couple lost their court challenge, it paved the way for the Supreme Court to rule that sexual orientation would be protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom — a landmark milestone for the country’s LGBTQ2 community. Egan and Nesbit were subsequently named grand marshals of the Toronto Pride Parade.

Jeff Stickler, one of the producers of the Comox Valley-based Queer Culture organization, said Egan and Nesbit were instrumental in acquiring spousal benefits and pension rights for the LGBTQ2 community.

“That was a part of legitimizing us as real citizens who are not breaking laws, who are just naturally in love with same-sex partners,” he said. “It furthered the legitimization of our way of life and it enabled people to open their minds and the laws eventually changed.”

Historica Canada president and CEO Anthony Wilson-Smith said Egan and Nesbit’s story is the first LGBTQ2-focused Heritage Minute the organization has produced.

“We wanted something that — even though it doesn’t necessarily speak to everyone — is recognizable as a big milestone to people in those communities,” he said. “Certainly, the recognition that sexual orientation should be covered under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a big deal.”

Wilson-Smith said the timing of the Heritage Minute was deliberate, considering June is recognized as Pride Month for the LGBTQ2 community.

“I’d say it’s not only a big deal for people in those communities but for anyone who believes in equality overall,” he said.

A life of activism

Egan was born and raised in Toronto. After four years in the Merchant Navy, he met Nesbit upon his return to Ontario in 1948. The two would remain partners for more than 50 years, until Nesbit’s death in 2000.

As a way to challenge homophobia and misconceptions about the gay community, Egan started penning letters to Toronto-based newspapers in the late 1940s. His letters aimed to counter the negative portrayal of the LGBTQ2 community that still existed in the press at the time. According to Historica Canada, Egan was one of the first Canadians to do so and became known as an outspoken advocate of the LGBTQ2 community.

Egan and Nesbit eventually relocated to B.C. in the 1960s to live a more private life, according to Historica Canada. The pair settled in Courtenay, where they lived until their deaths in 2000.

”I know Jack and Jim had a home here in Courtenay and they used to have monthly socials where they invited gay men from all over the North Island,” said Stickler. “They would open their home, to basically have the time to let their hair down, network, and meet one another. That was back in the time where there was nowhere for us to socialize.”

While living in the Valley, Egan became the Area B director for the Comox-Strathcona Regional District from 1981-1993. The couple also co-founded the Comox Valley chapter of the Island Gay Society and Egan was president of the North Island AIDS Coalition in 1994.

It was while living in the Valley where the couple launched their court case.

“Even though they lost in one sense, the recognition regarding the rights of sexual orientation was a major step forward,” said Wilson-Smith, adding that the scene in which they await the court’s verdict depicts them in their house in Courtenay.

Heritage Minutes were seen over 116,000 times on television last year and millions of times online, according to Wilson-Smith. The clips are also viewed on WestJet flights and Via Rail trains.

Just Posted

Simard guilty in Vancouver Island double murder

Convicted of two counts of second-degree murder in 2016 killing of Courtenay couple

Public’s help needed in tracking fatal bat disease

White Nose Syndrome may affect B.C. bat populations

Sentence handed down for sex assaults committed more than 30 years ago

Man in his 80s will serve a conditional sentence in the community

Simon Keith undergoes second heart transplant

Former pro athlete turned transplant advocate gets another chance

Saanich homeowner scares off cougar taking down deer in Cadboro Bay

Conservation officer Peter Pauwels does not expect the animal to make future appearances

VIDEO: RCMP ask kids to help name soon-to-be police dogs

13 German shepherd puppies will be born this year

Crab poaching under cover of darkness earns 10-year commercial fishing ban, vessel seizure

A Cape Mudge resident involved in poaching dungeness crabs in Vancouver Harbour… Continue reading

Saanich student caddie receives $250,000 scholarship from Victoria Golf Club

Reynolds student impressed the selection committee with her grades, volunteering and poetry

Final Schoolhouse Squat repair bill comes in at $72,000

Rutherford School was occupied Oct. 5-6 by advocates for people experiencing homelessness

Help Shaw Centre celebrate 10 years by naming star octopus

Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea to hold year of celebration as they hit a decade

Watchdog called after man who yelled racial slurs at B.C. vigil hurt during arrest

BC RCMP say man was ‘acting suspiciously’ at prayer vigil for victims of New Zealand mosque shootings

NDP’s Jagmeet Singh steps into the House of Commons, making history

Burnaby South MP becomes first visible minority to lead a federal party in the House of Commons

‘Considerably large’ tractor tire fell and killed 3-year-old girl on B.C. farm

Delta’s deputy fire chief said crews tried to helicopter girl out after a tractor tire leaning against a barn fell onto her

Poison found near Vic West off-leash dog park

Dog owner finds box of poison in bushes at Barnard Park

Most Read