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Scott Kettles

“We recently had our first wedding at the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives. Two women who not only felt accepted, but celebrated.”

“It started as a single filing cabinet in an office. Now it’s in a house,” says Scott Kettles, general manager of the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (CLGA), on the humble beginnings of the world’s largest community queer archive.

Founded in 1973 by members of the now-defunct Body Politic newspaper, the CLGA is a research facility and gallery space with a massive collection of donated queer newspapers, photos, multimedia, periodicals and artifacts, from queer buttons to board games.

As it celebrates its 40th anniversary, the archives shows no sign of slowing down. “We’ve passed the 9,000 mark in magazines and newsletters,” says Kettles, crediting an influx of newsletters donated by transgender groups in recent years.

Canada’s progress in same-sex equality hasn’t waned people’s interest in queer history either. Research requests from academics, artists and history buffs increase annually, says Kettles.

But running the largest community LGBT archive isn’t easy. The facility, which does not receive any government funding, stays afloat thanks to loyal donors and some 100 volunteers. “Our operating budget is usually in the $175,000 range, which is very low,” says Kettles, the only paid staff member.

It’s one main reason why the archives hasn’t gone digital. “My guess is that it would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. And that’s in administrative costs, staffing and preserving it properly,” he says.

There’s also the issue of space. The CLGA’s collection is divided between a three-story house at 34 Isabella Street and a storage space at 65 Wellesley Street East, with a soon-to-expire lease that costs around $40,000 annually. “We’re out of room,” says Kettles.

Will the archives eventually have to turn away donated materials? “We haven’t had to do that yet,” he says. But he adds it could happen. “Half my office is full of tubs of material that haven’t been catalogued yet.

“Ten years from now I’d like the archives to be financially viable so that our records are available to everyone. We have so many treasures for people to discover.”

The Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives is located at 34 Isabella Street. Its latest exhibit, Gay Premises: Radical Voices in The Archives, 1973-1983, a collection of works from The Body Politic, runs until Mon, Sept 9. clga.ca