Stories Behind the 2016 Toronto AIDS Candlelight Vigil
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Stories Behind the 2016 Toronto AIDS Candlelight Vigil

Why these Torontonians are attending and remembering.

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Jesse, Maggie, Michael—these were just some of the names the hundreds gathered in Barbara Hall Park uttered last night for a sombre roll call of those they’ve known who have died from HIV/AIDS.

It was a final commemorative gesture attendees at the 32nd annual Toronto AIDS Candlelight Vigil took part in before the lambent flames were put out for the night.

Most Torontoist spoke to at the vigil say they know someone affected by HIV/AIDS, but the event has other significance as well. Here’s what some had to say about the event.

Ray Love

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Is this your first time coming to the annual vigil?

No, I’ve been here before. Last year was my first time.

What brought you out?

I’ve been coming here and maintaining this [a handmade dream catcher wedged between the forking branches of a tree].

What does the vigil mean to you?

There was no reason that I had to become HIV positive: I suffered mental health [issues], I went through crystal meth, I was 35, I had a career, I couldn’t deal. I know people dying right now, slowly, and they might not make it, and they should, and that’s why I do it, because everyone deserves a chance.


Sister Wanda Wu Mein

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Is this your first time coming to the annual vigil?

My first time as a sister, actually, but I have come to the vigil before, not manifested.

What brought you out?

We’re just here to be there in case people need someone to talk or need a shoulder to cry on. I actually was just holding someone because they were slightly cold.

What does the vigil mean to you?

I think it’s a reminder that this is something that lives with all of us whether we actually have HIV or not. I think it’s a reminder that even though we have come so far in the care of it, we can’t be complacent. We still need to be aware that it is still out there and that anybody can be affected by it.


Alexa Frankian

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Is this your first time coming to the annual vigil?

This is the first time I’ve done the AIDs vigil. I’m actually in the Canadian Children’s Opera Company…this is one of my big events that I’ve done.

So you’re performing here. What made you want to be a part of the vigil, though?

My dear uncle Ron lost his partner a few years ago, and we lost a dear friend.

What does the vigil mean to you?

It’s all about love and caring and sharing and just remembering everyone because we need all to be united and it needs to be a better world.


Jill Robinson

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How many times have you been here?

This is my first time.

What brought you out?

Well, I’m volunteering here with Fife House. They asked me to come out and help out, which I’m happy to do.

What does the vigil mean to you?

It means a great deal because I’ve lost many friends and family to AIDS and HIV, and hep C as well. It brings to mind everyone that we’ve lost. It commemorates their memory, it symbolizes what we as a whole can do. It doesn’t matter what colour, creed, religion that you are, it’s all here in one space, so it’s like a rainbow of people that we’re seeing here today.


Roman

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How many times have you been to the vigil?

It’s my first time at the vigil.

What brought you out?

Well, my boyfriend and I, we’ve recently been diagnosed, so we decided to take part this year.

What does the vigil mean to you?

Well, for me it’s very touching and it’s kind of unfortunate, too. I’m still trying to grasp everything that’s happened, and for [my boyfriend], I’m trying to be strong for him, too, because I know he’s just terrified about it. So coming here gives us a sense that we’re not the only ones.


Morgan and Hunter James

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How many times have you come out to the vigil?

Hunter: Going on 20 years [together].

What keeps you coming back?

Morgan: It’s a chance to remember the community, to honour our past, to embrace the people that are still with us that are living with HIV and AIDS, to look forward to the future. It’s a celebration of life but it’s also a celebration of hope. You know. I look at all the names in the memorials over the years…and then as the years go on the number of names gets smaller and smaller and smaller. The impact of the disease doesn’t get smaller, but there’s more people living longer with this disease.

What does the vigil mean to you?

Hunter: Really it’s a chance to celebrate life well lived and make sure that they’re never forgotten.

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