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Dragaholic on Queerty: WATCH: The untold story of Canada’s first Pride parade, through the eyes of a legendary queen

Canadian queen Oliv Howe in a still from "Empress Of Vancouver'Image Credit: ‘Empress Of Vancouver,’ Lantern Films

If you’re a Drag Race fan, surely you’re familiar with “Queen Of The North” Brooke Lynn Hytes. But have you met… The Empress?

Yes, well before the Canada’s Drag Race host was even born, another queen was paving a bold new path forward for the queer community—literally—leading Canada’s first official Pride parade ever back in 1981.

Her name? Oliv Howe, the Empress Of Vancouver. Bow down to Canadian royalty, eh?

Oliv is the at the center of a gorgeous new documentary called Empress Of Vancouver from filmmaker Dave Rodden-Shortt, which tells the story of our queer sisters to the north and their LGBTQ+ civil rights movement through the eyes of a local legend.

Born on a farm in New Brunswick Canada to a family of devout Jehovah’s Witnesses, Oliv fled home as a teenager, arriving to New York City where she performed in drag for the first time at just 14 before relocating to Montreal, where the nightlife scene was booming in the ’60s.

Eventually, she found herself in Vancouver, which would become her home. Over the years, she became a staple of the community and one of Canada’s most famous queens, chosen to lead the country’s first-ever Pride parade and crowned its official drag empress.

Canadian queen Oliv Howe in a still from "Empress Of Vancouver'Image Credit: ‘Empress Of Vancouver,’ Lantern Films

Forty years after her coronation, the documentary catches up with Oliv, reflecting on a life from the fringes of society to the frontlines of activism. Frank and funny as ever, the queen looks back at the high highs and low lows, surviving the AIDS crisis and addiction, but also sharing the story of her transition that saved her life.

“As a female of this ‘type,’ I don’t give a f*ck if you like me, or approve of me, or think I’m real,” Oliv says. “When people used to say, ‘Well, you’re very real,’ and I would go, ‘Well, I’m a bit surreal.’ I prefer that.”

Told through Oliv’s words, beautifully filmed performance pieces, and rare footage from 1980s gay cable TV, queer history comes to life in the genre-bending Empress Of Vancouver.


That time Brooke Lynn Hytes toured Canada’s drag scene with Rita Baga, Tynomi Banks, & Scarlett Bobo

We can’t wait until we can visit our neighbors to the north again.

The doc made its world premiere at Canada’s own Victoria Independent Film And Video Festival in February before playing the BFI Flare: London LGBTQIA+ Film Festival the following month.

Next, Empress Of Vancouver premieres stateside on June 14 at the inaugural Virginia Queer Film Festival, the first fest of its kind in the state of Virginia. Herstory-making queens at a herstory-making festival—we love to see it!

Check out the excellent trailer below, and stay tuned for further film release details:

255834 Dragaholic on Queerty