British Columbia

After decades in boxes, Vancouver's LGBTQ archive now has a home

The collection, which includes 5,400 photographs, 2,000 posters and 140 audio-visual works, spans from the 1940s to the 2000s, and exists thanks to four decades' of work by archivist and librarian Ron Dutton.

Ron Dutton, 72, spent 40 years building a treasure trove of thousands of photos and documents

"It was palpable in the air that things were changing," said Ron Dutton, who spent 40 years building the archive out of his home. (City of Vancouver archives)

Vancouver's LGBTQ archive now has a home online, after years of collecting in files and boxes.

The collection, which includes 5,400 photographs, 2,000 posters and 140 audio-visual works, spans from the 1940s to the 2000s, and exists thanks to four decades of work by archivist and librarian Ron Dutton.

Now 72, Dutton became deeply involved in Vancouver's gay liberation movement in the early 1970s. 

"It was a very politically adventurous time. We were moving at a heck of a pace from one political activity to the next. And I began to become concerned that there was nobody actually documenting this history being made," said Dutton.

"It was palpable in the air that things were changing. So I just started collecting everything that came past my hands, whether it was political writings or newspaper articles or handouts and brochures or posters."

Ron Dutton, photographed in 1995. (City of Vancouver archives)

Soon, Dutton had three boxes of material, then five. Word of Dutton's project began to spread, and people began showing up at his house looking for information.

"When they arrived at my place and found a thick, juicy file folder full of exactly what they'd been looking for for half a year they'd be pretty impressed and pretty pleased with what they found," he said.

"It seems a little obsessive perhaps or just kind of strange that a guy would do such a thing, but the people did fall in love with the material pretty quickly."

The Out for Laughs comedy troupe, taken at some point in the 1990s. (City of Vancouver archives)

The thousands of photos and posters in the collection have somewhat of a family album feel — intimate moments spanning several decades, capturing friends at concerts and theatrical performances, political demonstrations and fundraising events, as well as sombre moments at Vancouver's AIDS memorial.

In 2013, nearly four decades after he began his original project to document the fight for LGBTQ rights as it played out in the streets of Vancouver, Dutton donated the collection to the city of Vancouver archives.

The city of Vancouver received $71,000 from the National Heritage Digitization Strategy to create an online database for the works.

Kira Baker, the reference archivist for the city of Vancouver archives, said Dutton's collection has "enormous research value."

Many of the people in the photos remain unidentified, and the city is hoping more people will come forward with information about the events. (City of Vancouver archives)

Over the summer, the city held a number of events where people could come browse through the archives, to identify people in photographs and provide more information about the events recorded in them.

Baker recalls one day, at Sunset Beach Festival when a man came up and recognized himself in a photo from the mid 70s.

"We had someone come up to us and recognized himself as quite a young guy. I think he was still in high school and ... and had sort of a flashback. He had no idea that this photo existed and it was a demonstration — and be protesting in 1976 in Vancouver had a lot of meaning behind it certainly," she said.

Baker said the city is still hoping people will comb through the archives and come forward with more information. There are still 1,000 photographs depicting people and events that have yet to be identified.

Dutton said he hopes the resource will be useful to researchers, filmmakers, and also young, queer people.

"Young [queer] people are really fascinated by where they've come from and want to know something of that story and realizing that the story came out of a lot of adversity. So there is that need to supply the material that is going to tell them the story and honour those people who did all of that work."

The collection includes 5,400 photographs, 2,000 posters and 140 audio-visual works which can now all be viewed online. (City of Vancouver archives)

About the Author

Michelle Ghoussoub


Michelle Ghoussoub is a journalist with CBC News in Vancouver. She has previously reported in Lebanon and Chile. Reach her at or on Twitter @MichelleGhsoub.