It was with much sadness that the Calgary Gay History Project learned Neil Richards of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan passed away last month at the age of 68. Neil was dogged in the preservation of gay history in his Province. A consummate collector he amassed one of the most extensive LGBTQ collections in the country – over 6000 book titles, including ephemera, artefacts, and serials that reflect various aspects of queer existence.
Neil Richards from a feature in Bridges Magazine, June 2014 (a Saskatoon Star Phoenix Publication)
I met Neil on a research trip in April 2016. He introduced me to the collection at the University of Saskatchewan accessioned and named after him. He was also very generous with his time. I spent days trawling through his personal papers housed in the Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan for references to Calgary’s historic gay community – and there were many. Copies of early Calgary publications included: Carousel Capers, Gay Moods, and Camp 181 newsletters, as well as many details about the CLGRC conference, hosted Calgary in 1980. Even more valuable than the papers were his personal recollections of early gay rights events on the Prairies he actually attended.
Neil seemed bemused by life and laughed easily. We ate many nourishing meals together, and I was surprised at the instant sense of camaraderie we established – queer historian being perhaps a niche corner of human endeavour.
Although he confessed to not having ever spent much time in Calgary, the amount of Calgary materials in his archive collection was a testament to the closeness and cross-pollination between gay communities on the Prairies.
A present from Neil
On my final research day with Neil, I had my suitcase with me, as I was going right from his desk at the University, (which he still occupied – although retired) to the aeroplane. He handed me a going away present: a duplicate of a 1968 pulp fiction novel in the collection – A Queen’s Fury. I treasure it as a gift. Loving the title, I am inspired to be a fierce queer historian, worthy of its name. I cherish it even more now, as it was in pure kindness given, and given to me by Neil.
Rest in peace.
Although there have not been weekly gay history posts lately, we have been diligently working on the history project behind the scenes. Kevin Allen has been going through the first edit of his history book manuscript, incorporating suggestions and edits to make the book a better read.
Last week, we were honoured by CommunityWise and given the 2017 Heritage Award at their Annual General Meeting. The award reads that “the Gay History Project continues to enrich and inform our present society and illuminates vital chapters of history in this shared place.” CommunityWise, formally known as The Old Y , is widely recognized as the historical hub of Calgary’s gay community dating back to the 70s.
Erin, Jian, Thulasy & Phil from the CommunityWise Staff Collective present Kevin with the 2017 Heritage Award
We are also grateful to our colleague, Dr. Valerie Korinek, who is a professor of Modern Canadian History at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. She recently wrote a Notches blog piece on the prairie publication, “After Stonewall” exploring the politics and milieu of gay liberation in the late 70s. You can read it: here. Calgary’s Gay Information Resources Calgary (GIRC) was part of the liberation discourse of its day that Dr. Korinek writes about. Furthermore, the problematic National Gay Rights Coalition (NGRC) which is referenced in the article, interestingly sounded its death knell in Calgary when conference delegates in 1980 voted to disband the organization, seen as having outlived its usefulness.
Posted in Gay history
Tagged After Stonewall, bisexual, CommunityWise, gay, Gay history, GIRC, lesbian, National Gay Rights Coalition, Old Y, queer, transgender, University of Saskatchewan, Valerie Korinek
We are travelling to Saskatoon and Regina, August 5-9, to do some research in the Neil Richards Collection of Sexual and Gender Diversity located at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. Check out this recent CBC article which describes the collection as one of the largest of its kind in the country.
CBC image of a poster in the Neil Richards Collection of Sexual and Gender Diversity/U of S Archives.
Not only will be looking for Calgary citations in the collection, but we will also be meeting with Mr. Richards to discuss best practices for setting up our Calgary gay history archive.
Any former Calgarians or visitors to Calgary, who are now living in Saskatchewan, and who may have stories about our LGBTQ history are invited to contact Kevin – we are keen on interviewing you!