The AIDS Walk Toronto Virtual Museum
In 1982, Canada had its first reported case of AIDS.
In March of the next year, following a call from the Red Cross to The Body Politic office, writer Ed Jackson called a meeting with 9 other community members including doctors, social workers, professors and writers, a policy developer, and an archivist. That April, during a public forum on AIDS and Hepatitis B organized by Gays in Health Care and the Hassle Free Clinic at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute of Technology (which was attended by over 300 people), the group brought forth a proposal to establish a standing AIDS Committee. Following that event, a series of meetings were held at the 519 Church Street Community Centre, which led to the establishment of the AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT) and its 5 working groups: Medical Liaison, AIDSupport (which provided practical support as well as crisis intervention to people with AIDS and their loved ones), Media Relations, Fundraising & Special Events, and Community Education.
In addition to providing year-round support and educational services to the public, ACT organized larger events such as Fashion Cares, Dancers for Life, and AIDS Walk Toronto—the latter of which began in 1988 to raise both awareness of, and funds for, AIDS research. AIDS Walk Toronto followed in the footsteps of other AIDS Walks across Canada which began as early as 1986 in Vancouver, and quickly grew to become Canada’s largest single-day fundraising event for HIV and AIDS.
AIDS Walk Toronto--which began as From All Walks of Life, a name it held until 1996--ran annually in downtown Toronto. Teams made up of community organizations, small businesses, schools, chosen families, and other small groups, collected pledges together leading up to the walk. The route—generally, approximately a 6-10km loop through the downtown core, with Queen’s Park or Nathan Philips Square serving as a start/end point--changed slightly over the years, buts its goals of education, fundraising, and community building remained the same. Within its first few years, the walk was already amassing crowds of over 10,000, and raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to be put towards research on HIV and AIDS. By its tenth year, there were upwards of 500 volunteers involved, and by the early 2000s, AIDS Walk Toronto had cumulatively raised over seven million dollars.
AIDS Walk Toronto received support from dozens of businesses and featured such speakers and entertainers as Moxy Früvous, Kim Stockwood, Nasri, In Essence, and Faith Nolan. Through the fundraising efforts and contributions of community organizations, corporate sponsors, and individuals, they were able to donate raised funds to organizations such as HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario; St. Stephen’s Community House; Holy Blossom Temple AIDS Committee; Africans in Partnership Against AIDS; PASAN; and Immigrant Women’s Health Centre.
The Toronto AIDS Walk--which changed its name again in 2004 to Walk for Life Toronto--happened alongside activism, education, and engagement from a number of other organizations, including (but not limited to) the following.
- The Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention (BlackCAP) was formed in 1989 and is the largest organization in Canada serving Black communities who are facing AIDS. They have consistently provided outreach, education, and peer support to community members in need.
- Anishnawbe Health began distributing information and providing services to Indigenous community members suffering from AIDS in the 1980s.
- Asian Community AIDS Services formed in 1994 as the amalgamation of the pre-existing Gay Asian AIDS Project, Southeast Asian Service Centre's Vietnamese AIDS Project, and the Toronto Chinese Health Education Committee's AIDS Alert Project.
- Voices of Positive Women, an organization by and for women living with HIV and AIDS, was formed in 1991 and ran until 2010.
- The Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention, formerly the South Asian AIDS Coalition, was formed in 1989, and became incorporated in 1995, providing services to community members in their own languages and culturally specific contexts.
- Casey House Hospice, an independently run satellite of St. Michael’s hospital, was founded by the ACT Hospice Steering Committee (of which June Callwood was the chair at that time) in 1986.
- AIDS Action Now! (AAN) formed in 1987 as a group seeking access to life-saving drugs and sufficient medical care and research.
- The Toronto People with AIDS Foundation (formerly, the People with AIDS Coalition) has been serving the community since 1987, and at one point shared space with ACT on Church Street.
AIDS Walk Toronto had its final walk in 2020, and this Virtual Museum serves to commemorate the history of this important fundraiser and annual community event.
This exhibit is also meant to be informed by community. To submit your own photos and ephemera, find the submission form and more details here.
This exhibit was researched, curated, and presented by Matt O'Donnell (AIDS Committee of Toronto), Will Webb (AIDS Committee of Toronto), Lo Humeniuk (The ArQuives) and Ariana Ho (The ArQuives)