Shedding light on Nova Scotia's LGBT History with new seniors archive

- October 28, 2020

An image of some buttons from the new Nova Scotia LGBT Seniors Archive. (Provided photo)
An image of some buttons from the new Nova Scotia LGBT Seniors Archive. (Provided photo)

October is LGBT History Month, a time when lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender history and the struggle for gay rights are recognized and remembered.

And this year, the launch of a new initiative by Jacquie Gahagan, a professor of health promotion in the Faculty of Health, will help shed valuable new light on this history.

“The Nova Scotia LGBT Seniors Archive stems from conversations with community members about the need to preserve our histories,” says Dr. Gahagan. “This project is also in keeping with Nova Scotia’s action plan for an aging population in that it will build capacity among older adults and the broader community to connect and coalesce in the development of an archive aimed at raising awareness and appreciating the contributions of diverse members of our older LGBT communities.”

This province-wide project will provide a platform to both increase social interaction and community involvement among older populations. It will also create a living legacy through a collaborative development of an open, accessible archive that can be used by community members, which includes seniors and younger generations of LGBT populations, researchers, and students, among others.

Bringing an archive to life

Work began on this project in 2018, just one year after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized in the House of Commons for discrimination carried out by or condoned by the federal government and its agencies against LGBT individuals.

“We know that now is the time to preserve the stories, experiences, and histories of individuals affected by this time in our history,” says Dr. Gahagan.

Dr. Gahagan — whose passion for preserving the history of the LGBT community in Nova Scotia is the driving force behind the archive — is joined by part-time research assistant Dan MacKay, part-time archives assistant Lydia Hunsberger, a community advisory committee, and a group of fifty volunteers to bring the archive to life.

Crafting a collection

Dan MacKay works with the community advisory committee and others from the senior LGBT communities in Nova Scotia to identify individuals who may have materials to contribute to the archive. It’s work he’s already been doing informally for most of his life. Materials that he’s collected thus far include papers, buttons, t-shirts, banners, paintings, audio-visual materials, and more, from both personal collections and organizations.

“It’s been an exciting year. We’ve collected material from about 20 community leaders, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. We have another 20 people who are ready to contribute materials, and we have about 40 people on our list to contact who might have materials. That list is continuously growing,” says MacKay.

Lydia Hunsberger was already working as an intern in the Dalhousie Archives while she was doing her MLIS when the opportunity to work on the LGBT Seniors Archive arose. “My main role was processing and describing the collection,” says Hunsberger. “Processing the donated materials is a very big task because everybody has a different way of organizing their collections.”

Collaborating with community

This initiative marks the first true collaboration between the Dalhousie Libraries and any community archive. The Dalhousie Archives is actively working with the community to create a foundation for the Nova Scotia LGBT Senior Archive, deciding together what is retained and developing a profile for the collection.

“It is an honour to be entrusted with the stewardship of this valuable collection and we in the Dal Libraries look forward to sharing it with the community here in Nova Scotia and around the world,” says Donna Bourne-Tyson, dean of Libraries.

“Our commitment for the LGBT Seniors Archive is to provide curation and preservation services that follow national and international standards. We are committed to preserving these items in our secure, locked facility in the Killam Library, monitored for humidity and temperature, with dedicated and highly skilled staff,” says Bourne-Tyson.

Care to contribute?

In addition to working with the Dalhousie Libraries on this initiative, the Nova Scotia LGBT Seniors Archive is working in partnership with Halifax Public Libraries, the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project, and the Elderberries.

If you have materials to contribute or want to get involved, visit the archive's website. The team is actively accepting donations of materials and financial donations to support the work of the archive and they are urging people not to wait to donate their materials. Some donations of materials may qualify for a charitable donation tax receipt. For those with privacy concerns, the archives has a number of options they can discuss with donors.

“Several of the collections that we received are from people who have passed on — people that gave their materials to someone else to be donated when an archive was created. Now that the archive is a reality, don’t worry about organizing your materials before you give them to us. We prefer to get them from you so you can tell us stories about the materials. We’re collecting the stories that go with these materials too, which is exciting for future researchers,” says MacKay.

If you missed the launch, you can watch a recording of the event.


All comments require a name and email address. You may also choose to log-in using your preferred social network or register with Disqus, the software we use for our commenting system. Join the conversation, but keep it clean, stay on the topic and be brief. Read comments policy.

comments powered by Disqus