Posters at the CLGA

Appx 950 words

Posters at the CGA
Morag Carnie
Gay Archivist, Number 8, April 1990

This article, appearing in the Archives' newsletter, was adapted from the introduction to Posters in the Canadian Gay Archives: An Inventory, produced by Morag Carnie in 1990 (see Inventories).

The article is illustrated by two posters, one a safe-sex message from the Hot Rubber Company in Zurich, Switzerland; the other promoting "Toronto's first gay picnic," Sunday, Aug 1, 1971. This online version includes some minor annotations, in brackets.

Posters are awkward things. Because they're difficult to handle and store, they have a tendency to be put aside into drawers and map cabinets, their origins forgotten, their vivid messages ignored except during an occasional exhibition.

The Canadian Gay Archives has an exceptionally strong collection, amassed in the first instance from the walls of the Body Politic offices, and greatly increased over the years by generous donations.

With the assistance of a grant from the Canadian Council of Archives, a concerted effort has been made over the past year to put the collection into physical and intellectual order.

As might be expected, the Toronto gay community is well represented on the posters, as are (to a lesser extent) other Canadian centres: Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Vancouver. But the collection also includes items from as far afield as Sydney, Tokyo, and Kampala, not to mention multi- lingual entries from European cities.

The Archives owns complete sets of the posters from Toronto's Lesbian and Gay Pride Day [under various names, 1971 to 1974, 1978, and 1981 to the present] and of the Canadian national gay conferences [1973 to 1980, and 1982], but also significant series from Sweden's Gay Pride Week, and the various International Gay Association conferences.

Theatre, film, and art exhibition posters run the gamut from crude photocopied handbills of the emerging movement to the glossy sophistication of modern-day safe sex campaigns.

The CGA poster project consists of an item-by-item list of the posters, and four indexes to that list. Just over 1,000 posters are included, representing materials received up to the end of 1989. Each entry in the list mimics a library catalogue card [slightly modified from Rules for Archival Description], with details of the poster's subject matter and physical attributes.

Fully three quarters of the posters are not linked in any way to a particular donation, but where they are, we have kept careful note of the fact so that Archives patrons can move easily to related material. The list is designed to be something of a reference source in itself, so certain kinds of information (the dates of conferences, for example) have been recorded in fuller detail than is usual in a library catalogue.

The first and most extensive index is a list of proper names found in the entries. It is not restricted just to the groups issuing the posters, but includes (for instance) actors and playwrights, entertainers at festivals, beneficiaries of fundraisers -- anyone, in fact, mentioned with any prominence on a poster. With the index you can pick out any poster with mention of Anita Bryant or John Damien, can trace the career of a local actor through various gay-related plays, or find out who supported The Body Politic, and how, during its trials.

[For more on the people and events noted above, see the Historical overview and News pages of the Inventory of the Records of the Body Politic and Pink Triangle Press.
(Full address: ]

Theatres, galleries, baths, and bars are also listed here, as are the names of plays, films, exhibitions, and some recurring events like Lesbian and Gay Pride Day. In addition, all designers, photographers, typographers, and printers whose work is credited on their posters have been included in the name index.

The second index provides access by subject: conferences and festivals, dances and parties, safe sex, civil rights, politics, music, theatre.... Because, as is all too often the case, material of particular interest to lesbians is under- represented and easily buried, an effort has been made to bring together lesbian material under a special heading in this index.

Autographed and limited-edition posters are also "tagged" here. Donors to the Archives have, of course, had interests outside the gay community proper, and the collection also contains small but interesting subgroups of posters about the peace movement, labour relations, race relations, and the women's movement.

The third index is a simple alphabetical listing of the posters by that phrase which first catches the eye: the caption. A browser's delight, this list contains everything from the Cabbagetown Group Softball League's cheerful exhortation to "Grab your wiener!" to a Baltimore group's sobering observation that "Jenny has her mother's smile and her father's AIDS."

A last, very brief index groups the posters by place of origin, bringing out the international flavour of the collection.

The list and all the indexes were prepared using WordPerfect 5.0. Posters rarely contain all the necessary information for a list like this. Dates are usually partial or non-existent, the place of origin must often be deduced from a street address, and even the agency or group responsible for a poster must sometimes be inferred.

There could hardly be a better place for establishing this information than the [then] Canadian Gay Archives. Not only does it have extensive vertical files and periodical holdings, but a cataloguer can (and frequently did) call upon the long memories and gracious expertise of Archives volunteers, and of the people in the [then] neighbouring Xtra! and AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT) offices. (Any and all howlers remain, of course, the responsibility of the cataloguer.)

Drawn as it is out of the printed records in the Archives, and the living memories of people, it is hoped that this list will make some small contribution to the continuing efforts of the gay community -- in Toronto, in Canada, and around the world -- to reclaim its own history.

[Posters: Inventories] [Body Politic / Pink Triangle Press Inventory]

[List of online documents] [Lesbian and Gay Archivist]