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Queerstory app maps Toronto’s LGBT history

Surprising tales of hope and resistance come alive on self-guided walking tour

Former city councillor Kyle Rae shares the story of the founding of the 519 Church Street Community Centre in one of Queerstory’s mini-documentaries. Credit: Queerstory

A new app called Queerstory is bringing to life the inspiring and outrageous stories of hope and resistance that shaped Toronto’s queer community. The app combines a self-guided walking tour with 47 mini-documentaries explaining the important events in queer history that took place in downtown Toronto. 

The stories range from the well-known — like Toronto’s first Pride Picnic, at Grange Park, and the 1981 bathhouse riots — to the more obscure. One stop tells the story of a 1979 Freedom of the Press rally at University of Toronto Schools, while several others recount how the community organized at now-defunct bars and clubs like The Letros Tavern or Chez Moi.

“We call it a Jane’s Walk in your pocket,” says Janet Hethrington, one of the coordinators of the project. “At each point of interest is a unique four-minute video that consists of archival information, interviews with people who were part of the event, and interesting hidden stories.”

Hethrington and her collaborator Michael Alstad have been working on Queerstory since receiving a grant from the Trillium Foundation in November. The project also pulled together dozens of volunteers, interview subjects and donations of archival film and photos.

“Here’s a wonderful example of support: we poked and poked and poked Marg Moores for months, and she finally found her canisters of 16-mm film of the ’81 Pride Picnic in her barn, and she got it to us,” Hethrington says.

The team wanted to get Queerstory live for WorldPride as a guide to all the visitors coming to the city, but Hethrington says the project has legs beyond Pride Week. She wants to see it survive and be used to educate new generations of queer people about their history. She says she’ll be contacting the school boards in the fall and can also see the project being used in sensitivity training for police and other city workers.

She says she learned a lot about the community’s history while putting Queerstory together. “I didn’t know about the murders in 1995 that brought on Meal Trans,” she says. “Each one has a little surprise in them.”