There is the little-known story of a French soldier stationed with the French garrison in Montreal back in 1648 who – when he was caught having sex with another man – was sentenced to death by the Jesuits in Quebec City.
Unless, of course, he chose to become the first executioner of New France. And so he did.
This story is one of thousands documented by the Quebec Gay Archives (AGQ), formed in 1983 to document over 300 years of systemic persecution by local authorities. And this weekend the Montreal-based archive celebrates its 25th anniversary.
"We preserve traces of gay history that might otherwise have been lost, particularly gay history from the 1960s and ’70s when we weren’t taken seriously by mainstream institutions," AGQ president Iain Blair told Hour this week. "We’re not missing much stuff from the 1980s but we are missing people. The community was decimated by AIDS during that decade. Many community organizations disappeared during that time as we died. But we are rebuilding now – there’s a much more stable, established community today then there was in 1990."
Despite that stability, though, the archive itself is always scrambling for cash. Expenses in 2006-7 totalled $13,054 while revenues were just $11,953. "There is still a tendency for gay groups to be underfunded by government," Blair explains. "We don’t have the clout that a lot of other communities have."
So the archive is hosting its 25th anniversary blow out benefit on June 12 at Club Bolo. It’ll help pay the rent for its offices on the Main and allow another generation of students, researchers and journalists to dig through the archives, which not only boast 50,000 photos by famed Montreal physique photographer Alan B. Stone, but a wealth of documents of inestimable value.
Some of Blair’s favourite items, meanwhile, are press clippings from the 1940s and ’50s "when the only traces of gay life were sensational and criminal. It’s lurid but intriguing."
Visit AGQ (4067 St-Laurent Blvd.) Thursday evenings 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. or by appointment. Call 514-287-9987. To make a tax-deductible donation, surf to www.agq.qc.ca. The AGQ celebrates its 25th anniversary party at Club Bolo (960 Amherst) on June 14 at 8 p.m. $10 admission.