Pride, In Their Own Words: Robert Windrum, Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives
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Pride, In Their Own Words: Robert Windrum, Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives

The Archives recently moved to a new home on 34 Isabella Street. Photo by Jaime Woo/Torontoist.

Pride is a time to celebrate the freedoms and rights we fought hard for in the community. At the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (CLGA), we would like to think of ourselves as a resource for people to learn why they should be proud—why pride and Pride are important. We’re the repository, the records, for the accomplishments to be proud of, from the big scale to the small personal victories. The Archives have those personal stories, as keeping our stories alive is really important.

We have collected well beyond what a normal archive would collect: we have materials that are archival in that they are unique, one-of-a-kind documents, but we also have magazines, books, photographs, clippings, buttons, T-shirts, ephemera objects, and art, all related to queer history from Canada primarily, but also North America and internationally. We have periodicals dating back to pre-20th century, publications originating from Europe, in addition to personal papers and archival accessions starting from the 1930s.

Archives’ president Robert Windrum standing in front of an exhibition. Photo courtesy of the CLGA.

Many people don’t know about us though. We started in 1973, founded by Pink Triangle Press and the Body Politic. We’ve been focused on research: collecting, preserving, and keeping safe materials to become the largest stand-alone archive in North America. So, generally, the people who know about us are the people well-versed in academic research.
We recently moved into our new location, a house at 34 Isabella Street, and now that we have a facility where we can do so much more programming, we have so many reasons to animate and celebrate what we’ve collected. We feel we have more control to present to a broader audience things that engage them. They don’t have to do academic research, but can come to a performance, to our exhibitions.
Pride isn’t our busiest time—people are out celebrating. We love as an organization to be able to participate however we can, and this year we’re offering lemonade to attendees who need a break from the celebrations. People who don’t know much about gay history or about the community can come see exhibitions about what was going on 20, 30 years ago. We have archival materials from Toronto Pride’s early days in the ‘70s and ‘80s on display on our third floor. As Pride has evolved over the years, different generations have different expectations of what Pride should be. The Archives and its displays keep record of the changing nature of Pride as it grows and expands—from times when it had civic support and no civic support. Knowing where we came from, knowing who fought for what we enjoy today, and knowing how they fought for it—what the strategies were, what the engagement was—are vitally important to moving ahead.
We’re kind of in danger of being lulled into a sense of the fight being over, that if we live in downtown Toronto or a large urban center, what’s the big deal? It’s like “I have my partner. I have his benefits. We don’t have to live downtown even: we can live in the suburbs and be accepted. Our folks are open to it. We can start planning a family. So, it’s no big deal.” Unfortunately, the reality is that very few people get to indulge in that privilege, and, in fact, it’s not over. Downtown Toronto is not indicative of the rest of the country. There’s a lot that still needs to happen out in other provinces and within other communities in Ontario.
One of the things that is important to us is that we’re here for future generations. Not having an association with a university or library system or institution presents challenges in terms of funding and survival. If we’re going to survive for future generations, it’s got to be because the community is supporting us. We’re not just here for ourselves to look at our own history and pat ourselves on the back, but we like to think that we will be here for three, four, five, or six generations to come.