Stephen MacDonald was a quiet contributor to the liberation movement in 1970s and ’80s Toronto and was widely loved for the gracious host and warm friend he once was. He died on May 1, aged 62, after many years of decline in health and circumstance.
Stephen moved to Toronto from Nova Scotia as a young man and was profoundly shaped by the activist politics that swirled around The Body Politic. He was charged, alongside his editorial collective colleagues, after the magazine’s 1982 publication of “Lust with a Very Proper Stranger.” But he was a quiet player more comfortable out of the limelight than in it. He provided a generous welcome to many of the volunteers who showed up wanting to make a difference, among them Paul Hackney, who remained close to him until the very end.
Stephen was a librarian and worked for a time in the City of Toronto’s department of records and archives. He later became manager at the Community Information Centre of Metropolitan Toronto (CIC), a crucial guide to social services that was particularly important for newcomers and all people in difficult circumstances. He played a central role in creating The Living Guide, a major directory of HIV/AIDS-related services in the early years of the epidemic, jointly produced by the CIC and the AIDS Committee of Toronto. As a board member at CATIE, then called the Community AIDS Treatment and Information Exchange, Stephen helped shepherd the organization through a major transition in the early 1990s, on the road to becoming a nationwide clearinghouse of HIV and AIDS information.
In a wide circle that included many early activists, Stephen was famous for parties he would host at the modernist house he rented with Dan Schneider on the Ashbridge estate at Queen Street East and Woodfield. The Strawberry Socials, inaugurated in 1985, took advantage of the spectacular gardens and drew in friends like Gerry Oxford, Gerald Hannon, Ed Jackson, John Allec, Martin Roebuck and Paul Baker.
Stephen also loved music and had exquisite taste. He introduced me to Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs by giving me a recording that featured legendary soprano Lucia Popp, a version I still treasure for her sublime voice and for the memories it carries of Stephen at his best.
Stephen remained in long-distance contact with his family, particularly his mother and his sisters, Marian and Jean. Only his father died before he did, so there is an extended family, as well as a network of friends, Paul especially, who will hold to fond memories of his gracious bridge-building, quiet intelligence and political dedication.