Co-founder of iconic Vancouver LGBTQ bookstore Little Sister's dies
Long-time friend of Bruce Smyth says shop, 'was a safe place to go. And it still is today.'
Bruce Smyth, co-founder of Little Sister's Book & Art Emporium on Davie Street in Vancouver's West End, has died at age 63.
Smyth and his life partner Jim Deva first opened the now-beloved Little Sister's in Davie Village in 1983, after becoming increasing frustrated with not being able to find gay and lesbian reading materials at other bookstores.
Smyth died the morning of December 23rd at the St. John Hospice at UBC.
Don Wilson, current owner of Little Sister's and a longtime friend of Smyth and Deva's, says the pair created something very important.
"Little Sister's was definitely a safe haven for people to come there. There's many people that, when they first went to that store, that's where they came out. And they were accepted there ... they were never judged. So it was a safe place to go. And it still is today," Wilson said.
Smyth had polycystic kidney disease, and suffered from macular degeneration. He had recently been in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico for a week before returning to Vancouver, says Wilson.
Wilson says earlier in 2019, Smyth was given six months to live and many family members got a chance to say goodbye before he died.
Deva died due to an accident in 2014. Wilson bought the store from Smyth two years later.
Little Sister's was first opened on Thurlow Street, just half a block off Davie Street. The store moved to a larger location at 1238 Davie St. in 1996, where it still stands today.
Having a queer bookstore in the 1980s was not easy, said Wilson.
"In 1983 it was pretty taboo to be gay," he said.
On a few occasions, people threw firebombs into the stairway of the original Thurlow Street store.
"Some people were against that store being there ... It was a hard time for [Smyth and Deva], but they persisted and were not going to give in."
Little Sister's gained notoriety after the Canada Border Services Agency seized much of its imported printed material at the border in the 1980s, deeming it 'obscene materials.'
This led to a decade-long battle that ended with Smyth and Deva winning with a Supreme Court of Canada ruling in 2000.
"That was a great victory for them," Wilson said.
'He's there with Jim now'
Wilson remembers Smyth as a quiet and unassuming man who loved long walks in Stanley Park.
The two old friends often met at Joe's Grill on Davie Street, Smyth's favourite place to go for breakfast. Wilson says he will greatly miss those moments.
"I live across the street from him … so it's a little difficult to know he's gone," said Wilson.
"He was a really great guy. We had some great laughs. And may he rest in peace and not suffer anymore. He's there with Jim now."