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Preserving history right off the wall

Posters have long been a means of connection within our communities  and a way of making ourselves visible to the wider world. They're an interesting combination of artwork, artifact, and document  sources of often-fleeting historical facts, and evidence of the creative energies of the day.

Our poster collection began literally off the wall  of the various offices the Archives shared with The Body Politic. The magazine received posters from all over the world, but especially from other groups making up the Canadian gay liberation movement.

Many small items (flyers, handbills, etc) ended up in what are now the Archives' vertical files on various groups. Larger posters were eventually stored in map cabinets, joined by others donated over time. By late 1989 there were more than 1,500.

Grants were sought  and received  from the Canadian Council of Archives, and from the Kimeta Society (a funding body for projects in the gay and lesbian community) to put this collection into respectable physical and intellectual order. In 1990, library science graduate student Morag Carnie produced a thoroughly indexed listing of more than 1,000 items: Posters in the Canadian Gay Archives: An Inventory (for details, see Guides).

In her introduction to the inventory, Morag noted the scope of material  from the direct political action of the emerging movement, to AIDS education (the most international part of the collection), and beyond:

"Concerts, dances and parties, bars and baths, particularly (but certainly not exclusively) in the Toronto region, make up a sizeable part of the collection. ... [So do] theatre, film, and art exhibition posters. ... Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, that fixture of the Toronto scene, is particularly well-represented. There are a few posters from the monoliths of Canadian culture (the Art Gallery of Ontario, the National Arts Centre) but many more from the smaller and more independent- minded purveyors of avant- garde art, of video, of performance art.

"Likewise, the film posters include several of Hollywood's ventures into gay themes (Making Love, Desert Hearts), but also foreign films which had limited runs in North America, local films on gay themes (e.g. Track Two), and lesbian and gay film festivals around the world."

In fact, posters and other items from the Archives have even appeared in films, providing the historical backdrop for, among other works, the award-winning documentaries Forbidden Love and Fiction and Other Truths: A Film about Jane Rule.

Posters: Guides

  • Posters in the Canadian Gay Archives: An Inventory
    Morag Carnie, 1990

    A listing of approximately 1,000 posters received by the Archives up to the end of 1989, with four indexes -- by the names of people or organizations named on posters; by subject; by caption; and by place of origin.

    There wasn't time to record all posters held in the Archives, many of which are from outside Canada. This inventory focused on Canadian material.

    Morag Carnie, then a graduate student in the Faculty of Library and Information Science at the University of Toronto, worked on this project under grants from the Canadian Council of Archives and the Kimeta Society. You can find out more about the inventory in an article she wrote for Gay Archivist, Posters at the CGA, available here online.