6 Posters Collected from the Streets of Toronto that Highlight LGBTQ2S+ History

June 14, 2021 | Nicole

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Did you know that Toronto Public Library has collections of ephemera — things like posters, flyers, brochures? These items offer fascinating glimpses into Toronto’s past. Here are just a few that capture community events, rallies, performances and spaces important to the city’s LGBTQ2S+ history. Clicking or tapping on each of the posters will allow you to zoom in on the image.

The posters below come from TPL’s Alan and Thomas Suddon Collection: 5,000 posters, flyers and handbills collected from the streets of Toronto. The Suddon Collection is housed in the Marilyn and Charles Baillie Special Collections Centre at Toronto Reference Library.

This post is part of our Pride Month celebrations for June 2021. For events, reading lists, videos and more, check out TPL’s Pride Celebrations webpage.


Operation Jack O’Lantern 1977

A black and white poster featuring an illustrated carved pumpkin. A black and white poster featuring an illustrated carved pumpkin sitting on a pile of leaves..

Operation Jack O'Lantern Poster Transcription [.txt]

In 1977, Operation Jack O’ Lantern was established to help Toronto’s LGBTQ2S+ community keep itself safe from growing violence at popular Halloween drag balls. Volunteers patrolled the area along Yonge Street, escorted people to and from the St. Charles Tavern and offered legal and medical aid. ArQuives, Canada's LGBTQ2S+ archive, has a detailed history of the Halloween balls, police involvement and community safety efforts. 


The Semi-Annual Transsexual Seminar at CHAT 1972

A typewritten poster with handwritten title on blue paper.

The Semi-Annual Transsexual Seminar at CHAT 1972 Poster Transcription [.txt]

The Community Homophile Association of Toronto (CHAT) Centre opened in 1972. This poster advertises the semi-annual "Transsexual Seminar" organized by The Association for Canadian Transsexuals. CHAT was the hub of Toronto’s LGBTQ2S+ community in the 1970s. These seminars were an important resource for the transgender community to share their knowledge and experiences, gain information, connect with other community members and navigate the transition process. 

Community Homophile Association of Toronto (CHAT) from Queerstory on Vimeo.


Take Back the Streets Rally and March 1992

Photocopied poster on bright pink paper. An illustration shows people with raised fists atop a pink triangle which is smashing glass.

Take Back the Streets Rally and March 1992 Poster Transcription [.txt]

On November 29, 1992, Yves Lalonde was murdered in Montreal by four neo-Nazi skinheads. His killing followed the murders of at least 14 gay men during the previous four years. It led to protests throughout Canada against homophobia and highlighted the Montreal police department’s failure to solve many of the crimes. The Toronto rally organized by Anti-Racist Action was held in Cawthra Square Park. Now known as Barbara Hall Park, the park behind the 519 Church Street Community Centre has been the site of a permanent AIDS memorial since 1993. 


The April 26 Coalition for a Sane Energy Future 1980

Poster printed on yellow paper has illustration of a band performing in hazmat suits

The April 26 Coalition for a Sane Energy Future 1980 Poster Transcription [.txt]

This 1980 concert may have been in opposition to Darlington Nuclear Generating Station, which began construction in 1981. It featured a performance from singer, composer and transgender activist Beverly Glenn-Copeland. Now in his mid-70s, Glenn-Copeland’s music has recently found a global audience after decades of relative obscurity. 


Dance Party Benefit with DJ Denise Benson 1991

Photocopied poster for benefit event shows 5 people from the back, waist-down. They are wearing fishnets, torn jeans, and stockings.

Dance Party Benefit with DJ Denise Benson 1991 Poster Transcription [.txt]

Denise Benson is a DJ, radio host and author of the 2015 book Then & Now: Toronto Nightlife History. From 1991 to 1993, Benson was the DJ and promoter of Dyke Nite at The Boom Boom Room on Queen West. The weekly night featured film screenings, live music, readings, community fundraisers and hot tub parties. Benson also performed at this 1991 benefit event at The Cameron House in support of local bands The Matriphiles and Random Order after a robbery at the bands’ shared studio space. The bands were part of Toronto’s thriving underground LGBTQ2S+ music scene of the early 1990s.  


Newspring ad featuring image of a hand over a spinning record.
Ad for Dyke Nite at the Boom Boom Room from Xtra Magazine. Image provided by Denise Benson. 

Buddies in Bad Times Presents Queer Culture 1991

Poster is shaped like a triangle and printed on bright pink paper. It features people posing within the letters "QUEER".

Buddies in Bad Times Presents Queer Culture 1991 Poster Transcription [.txt]

Buddies in Bad Times was founded in 1979. It is recognized as the largest and longest-running LGBTQ2S+ theatre company in the world. Queer Culture was an annual programming series incorporating theatre, dance and art and photography that ran from 1988 until 1994.  


More about our Alan and Thomas Suddon Collection

Alan Suddon worked as the head of the Fine Art Department at Toronto Reference Library before his retirement in 1987. In his spare time, he and his son Thomas would scour the streets of Toronto for flyers and posters. Thomas Suddon worked at Maclean’s magazine, CBC and TVO. In 1992, Thomas died of an AIDS-related illness. After Alan’s death in 2000, his wife Mary donated the collection of approximately 5,000 posters to Toronto Public Library. The posters were carefully preserved in boxes and organized chronologically by year from the late 1950s to the early 1990s.

UPDATE (December 6, 2021): 

A new virtual exhibit, Post No Bills: Toronto Street Posters from the 1950s to 1990s, launched on December 6, 2021. 

You can also discover over 100 posters from the Alan and Thomas Suddon Collection on our Digital Archive.


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