Chris Wilson

Chris Wilson, 1932–2021: A beautiful, powerful and meaningful life

Remembering a queer pioneer who lived a very queer life.

Those who met Chris Wilson, even fleetingly, will never forget him. He was a beautiful man, incredibly gregarious, witty, highly intelligent and with a great appreciation for culture.

I met him in 1995 at a benefit for the Gay Line (a help line and information service for the Quebec LGBTQ community) and we laughed at each other’s jokes — the best sign of a possible friendship. Chris spent a great deal of time in Montreal, but lived outside of Cornwall, where he had transformed a chapel into his home. Known simply as “The Chapel,” the two-storey house contained both his elaborate toy train network of tracks and his epic vinyl record collection. He hosted legendary parties there, which included performances (he’s dressed up as a nun in this photo, taken at one of his birthday parties).

Chris Wilson obituary LGBTQ queer Canada Cornwall Montreal
Chris Wilson at home. Photos by Gregg Blachford

Chris loved reading, listening to music of all kinds, and going to the theatre, cinema, the symphony, opera and festivals. He was a total culture vulture, constantly curious about everything that he could take in. And he loved to talk about it — it was part of what made him an amazing conversationalist and raconteur.

Chris also loved sex. He delighted in meeting up with guys and getting into whatever trouble he could. And then he loved to regale his friends with his naughty antics. He was pretty hilarious.

Chris had faced discrimination in his life, both in his native England but also in Canada as an out queer man. But in the end, he told me keeping things secret was not worth it. “At some point in the ‘70s,” he recalled, “I realized being closeted was simply not an option for me, and I was honest.” This led to occasional trouble for Chris, but he said being honest was worth the price.

Chris told me that he was finally going to come out to his elderly mother when he was 67 years old (she was in her late 90s). He went over to Britain for a visit and came back with the whole story. I asked him if I could write up the story of coming out to a parent at such an old age and Chris was totally game for it. So I wrote it up for the 1999 Montreal Mirror queer Pride issue. I gave the headline a National Enquirer sheen: “Gay Man Comes Out to Mom — and he’s 67!” It was a fun story.

Chris Wilson
Chris Wilson as a nun at a costume party

Years later, Chris told me about being active on gay hookup sites like Grindr and Squirt at the age of 82. His stories were really entertaining, but I was also amazed (given how ageist so much of the gay milieu is) that he was so active. He agreed to let me interview him for VICE; I was a bit worried about the tone of the article, not wanting to make it seem like I was mocking Chris for an instant. But his clear comfort with talking openly about his sex life made any possible mockery impossible. He was too damn proud and courageous.

When Chris died after various age-related health issues a few weeks ago, I was saddened that I would never see him again, but tried to take solace in the fact that he had lived such a beautiful, powerful and meaningful life. When I think about him, I realize he personified everything that queer liberation was supposed to be about: he lived without shame or fear, he loved people unconditionally and without prejudice. He accepted people for who they were and was never judgmental. I’ll miss going to the movies with him, I’ll miss the sound of his laughter, and I’ll miss him eagerly telling me about his latest hookup. You rest in peace, my friend. ■

For more, please visit the Arts & Life section.