A candlelight vigil marked the addition of 22 names to the AIDS Memorial June 20. The annual event at Cawthra Square once again drew hundreds of people to the park as dusk settled on Toronto.
Volunteers handed out red ribbons and white candles as people filed into the park ahead of the 9pm start time. People chatted with friends or stood quietly waiting for the ceremony to begin.
Claudia Medina, of the Prisoners with HIV/AIDS Support Action Network, and Dr Alan Li hosted the event. The theme of this year's vigil was friendship; it was highlighted by performances of odes to friendship from popular music, including “Stand By Me” and “That's What Friends Are For.”
Medina and Li meditated on the role that friends can play as chosen family and on the friendship offered by staff at AIDS service organizations.
"Without fanfare and photo opportunities, these families, friends and lovers remain the most immediate source of compassion," Li said.
A performance by Naomi Abiola struck a defiant note, calling on the audience to take action on issues from HIV stigma to youth education. The piece was greeted by rowdy applause.
As is customary, friends or family of those whose names are being added to the memorial lit candles after darkness fell and used those candles to light the candles of audience members in a cascading fashion. At the end of the vigil, hundreds of people left their candles burning in the park as reminder of the event.
The Toronto AIDS Memorial is a row of pillars overlooking a garden in the centre of Cawthra Square Park, beside the 519 Church Street Community Centre. The names of 2,500 people who have died from AIDS-related causes are etched onto brass plates on the pillars. The AIDS Candlelight Vigil marks the addition of new names to the memorial each year.
The AIDS Candlelight Vigil took place during Pride Week festivities until 2010. When Pride Toronto organizers moved the date by a week in 2010 — to coincide with Canada Day long weekend, rather than the anniversary of the Stonewall riots — the vigil kept its traditional date. The event now strikes a solemn and serious note each year on the eve of Pride Week.
The vigil is still a Pride-affiliated event.