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August 30, 2023

The People – Henry Ding, BArch 2026

by henryding2026

It’s been a while since my last update so I’m just gonna update y’all on the second phase of my fellowship—the hard labour part. In this phase, I began to venture away from The ArQuives’ headquarters into offsite storage locations, exploring a small bit of the true extent of a 100k+ strong collection.

I only accomplished this by teaming up with some wonderful coworkers to search for obscure legal documents and floor plans—who also taught me extensively about the archival process and queer history along the way. I became obsessed with discovering details of historic police raids, government actions against queer individuals, the details of no-longer existing queer infrastructure, and the daily lives of those living in queer collective houses. To truly understand the relationships that queer Torontonians had to community, architecture, and infrastructure, I needed to dig deeper.

After outlining my initial research, I began to become referred to prominent figures and experts in Toronto’s queer community to conduct some of my own first-hand research. Getting connected from one person to another, travelling along a network of connections, I began to learn how truly tight-knit and welcoming Toronto’s LGBTQ+ community is.

I first spoke to Richard Fung, a prominent gay filmmaker, activist, and professor from Toronto. He’s been heavily involved in Toronto queer activism since the 1970s, and we spoke extensively on his life in a queer collective commune, his work detailing queer Asian narratives and his personal life as a Chinese-Trinidadian, and wider activism involving the queer Asian community.

From there, Richard connected me to Alan Li, another prominent gay Asian activist and doctor involved in queer and HIV/AIDS activism in Toronto. From there another connection was made to an architecture professor involved in archival projects focused on Toronto’s Chinese community—and thus I learned first-hand the power of networking.

Photo from my interview with Richard Fung

I then spoke to Dennis Findlay, a longtime activist and the owner of the last known queer collective house in Toronto. We spoke extensively on the impact of queer collective living on how LGBTQ+ people have historically viewed domesticity, relationships, community, space, gathering, mutual-aid, and more. It was a fascinating look at architecture through a lens that I had never experienced before. Someone who viewed the built environment through a radical and innovative lens.

I began to accumulate too many connections to manage (highlights include Beck, a sexual-diversity-studies student at UofT & Charlie, a PhD candidate from Cornell studying Asian queer history in the US). But, I welcomed these interactions with open arms as each conversation I had became an extremely educational and inspiring experience—truly pushing my project with The ArQuives forward.

I’ve come to realize that one of the benefits of archives and archival work, is not just the preservation of the past, but the bringing together of the present. LGBTQ+ people from all over Toronto, old and young, bonded by a collective need to celebrate their shared histories. As Dennis aptly put it when speaking about the queer community in Toronto: “These people are my family… It’s called love. It’s more than just a support system”.

And with that concludes my second post, stay tuned for what my research will culminate in and some more exploring in my beautiful hometown!

Read more from RISD Maharam Fellows
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