This story is the first of a 3-part series on the Pride & Remembrance Run Foundation in celebration of their 25th Anniversary, and to commemorate the donation of their entire collection to The ArQuives. The first story in the series is particularly significant because it chronicles an “origin story:” the individuals in our community who had the determination to respond to the adversity and hardship of the AIDS crisis, to “make something happen” and turn it into a lasting legacy. The second part of the series will be a “deep-dive” into the material content of the Pride & Remembrance collection to map the organization’s contribution over time and highlight the material available to researchers, artists, educators and anyone interested in the history. The third part will be interviews of P&R board members to discuss the Pride & Remembrance Run moving forward. Needless to say, our COVID-19 shutdown has precluded our archivists, volunteers and writers from accessing this vast collection. Once we transition to our post COVID-19 operations we will continue the series.
By: Scott Anderson
One day in 1994, Alan Belaiche remembers going out for a long bike ride – a training session for an athletic charitable event he’d signed up for. On his way home, he stopped by the Cabbagetown art studio of his friend Richard-Robert Leroux for a chat.
Leroux was supportive of Belaiche’s efforts to raise money but wondered why he hadn’t yet done anything to support the LGBT community. Reflecting on how he arrived at the idea for Toronto’s Pride and Remembrance Run, Belaiche says: “I think that’s what planted the seed.”
In 1995, Leroux died of AIDS. The same year, another friend of Belaiche’s died of diabetes-related complications. “Their deaths were really the spur for me to say, ‘OK, I have to do something,’” recalls Belaiche.
He initially planned to set up a bike ride from Toronto to Niagara Falls, Ontario, but that proved to be logistically challenging. So Belaiche settled on the idea of a shorter fun run that would begin and end in the Village. By the start of 1996, plans for the first-ever Pride and Remembrance Run had begun.
Belaiche recalls being advised early on to drop “Remembrance” from the name. “It was too long,” someone said. But to Belaiche it was crucial. “I wanted to remember my friends who had died. And I wanted to remember the LGBT people who came before us – and what they’ve done for us.”
He recruited two fellow triathletes to help him organize the run. They had less than six months to enlist sponsors, designate beneficiaries, draw up the course (5km to be as accessible as possible), negotiate with the city, recruit volunteers, and perform countless other tasks – all at a time the Internet was a novelty. “Everything was done by walking, faxing, and couriering,” says Belaiche.
His legal training came in handy as he tried to persuade companies to support the event. “We had no track record and no reputation. I was cold-calling potential sponsors and asking for money.” For that period, and for the following two years, Belaiche says, his life was all about the run. He even dreamed about it.
Without the Internet, and only a small band of volunteers, promoting the event was also a challenge. Belaiche lucked out when he was able to persuade a marketing director at Starbucks to place registration forms and posters in every Toronto store. Still, “we had no idea how many people we were going to get,” says Belaiche. “We thought maybe 75 people would show up.”
As it turned out, more than 300 people participated in that first race – some in drag, of course, and some in costumes — and raised $8,000 for the Arquives (then the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives) and the AIDS Memorial. Over the years, the event has raised more than $2.1 million, benefiting some two dozen LGBT organizations.
This year’s instalment of the Pride and Remembrance Run, which would have been the 25th, will wait at least a year due to COVID-19, says Belaiche, but he remains “enormously grateful that people have come forward and given up their time and energy to keep it going all these years.”
To this day, what makes the run so special for Belaiche are the participants, and the sense of fun and community. “For a lot of people, it’s become the most important thing they do during Pride,” he says. “For some, it’s the only thing.”