By Casey Stepaniuk
If you’re not a LGBTQ+ library/archives nerd like me, you probably don’t even know that nestled in Vancouver’s West End is the B.C. Gay and Lesbian Archives, an incredible resource preserving the history of both Vancouver and the wider province’s LGBTQ+ populations. Late last year, I visited the Archives to do some research on the history of Vancouver’s LGBTQ+ Out on the Shelves Library (more on that in a future post!). I was astounded at the breadth and depth of material and at the dedication of the archivist Ron Dutton, who selflessly runs the archives out of his own apartment!
Here’s a bit of backstory: the B.C. Gay and Lesbian Archives was founded by Dutton in 1976 and continues to be run out of his house in the West End. The items in the archive span from the mid-1700s (!!) to the present, and include stuff like posters, diaries, letters, photographs, films, government and academic reports, DVDs and VHS tapes, past (and present) gay newspapers, meeting minutes and other internal documentation from LGBTQ+ organizations (such as Vancouver’s Out on the Shelves Library), and more! Dutton does all the work himself, from collecting, preserving, organizing, and making these materials accessible to the public. The collection now has about 750 000 items, with Dutton continuing to add all the time. (If you have something you want to donate, look for his contact info below!)
As a young-ish queer person (I’m 32), it was really an honour to visit the archives and to get just a small peek at local queer history. As a brand new (queer) librarian, it was also really inspiring to get to meet a retired queer librarian and archivist who is so committed to preserving queer history for posterity. It’s not that often that you get to meet and talk with different generations of LGBTQ+ folks. Much of what was history for me as I was researching—the beginnings of the Out on the Shelves Library in the early 80s—was part of Dutton’s memory. As my colleague and I went through papers, mentioning people’s names, Dutton would sometimes interject saying, “Oh yeah, I knew that person. I think I’ve still got his phone number in my address book.” It’s really quite remarkable that despite the lack of institutional funding or support Dutton has kept up this incredible act of social justice for over 40 years.
The archive collection takes up a significant amount of the space in Dutton’s apartment’s second bedroom (this is important to note, considering how expensive rent in the West End is!). He makes a special effort to ensure the inclusion of groups that are often left out in the white male dominated LGBTQ+ community, like women; ethnic, racial, and religious minorities; folks with disabilities; seniors; youth; queer and trans people living in rural places; and two-spirit people.
If you’re interested in visiting the archives or if you have any material by/about B.C.’s LGBTQ+ communities that you want to donate and see preserved, you can call Dutton at 604-669-5978 or email him at email@example.com. You will need to make an appointment, so plan ahead! Aware that even in today’s climate some people might want anonymity, Dutton guarantees that will be respected if desired.
Casey Stepaniuk is a writer and librarian-in-training who runs the website Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, where you can find LGBTQ+ Canadian book reviews and a queer book advice column. She also writes for Book Riot. Find her on Twitter: @canlesbrarian
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