This week we celebrate National Volunteer Week! Be sure to check out our video about volunteering at The ArQuives, now on instagram. In this post, Michael Ott covers the history of our building and how you can help us as a volunteer manage it’s upkeep.

One of the most important — but often overlooked — parts of any archival organization is the physical locations where its materials are kept. For The ArQuives, this is primarily a beautiful heritage building at 34 Isabella Street — and you could be instrumental in preserving it. Facilities volunteers are the backbone of The ArQuives’ grand collection, and vital to keeping our community histories alive.

Located on Isabella in the Church-Wellesley Village, the Italianate-style building that The ArQuives calls home was built in the mid-1800s, making it one of the oldest buildings in the City. Completed in 1860, the home was commissioned by Jared Sessions, a partner in a shoes and boots wholesale company at the time. Since then, it has been passed to the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto, and eventually, to The ArQuives. It has also been declared a heritage building by the city, protecting it for generations to come.

How the building came to be passed from the Children’s Aid Society to The ArQuives is a fascinating story.

When the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto wanted to construct a new tower next door, it needed to have a rezoning proposal approved by the City. To do this, it was required to negotiate a Section 37 agreement — a rule requiring developers to compensate the City for rezoning a property. The first gay City Councillor in Toronto, Kyle Rae, helped negotiate this agreement between the organizations. To meet its Section 37 responsibilities, the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto committed to preserving the heritage building at 34 Isabella, its former office, and selling it to The ArQuives for a nominal fee. The ArQuives (then called the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives) now had a new home.

Unfortunately, the building needed a ton of work and repairs. Councillor Rae helped broker another Section 37 deal with Cressford Developments, who were also planning to put up a tower nearby. Councillor Rae worked with the developer to come to an agreement, and the company paid for about half of the repairs that needed to be done (The ArQuives raised the other half via donations!)

Today, 34 Isabella Street has been the primary home of The ArQuives for 50 years, housing much of its materials and serving as the center of operations. Students, researchers, and community members come from all over the world to visit The ArQuives and spend time digging into its many, many materials, covering decades of LGBTQ2+ history, activism, and culture.

Materials at The ArQuives cover a fascinating list of categories, which include photographs, books, zines, documents, audio tapes, video recordings, bags, badges, balloons, diaries, pins, outfits, clothes, paintings, protest signs, pamphlets, cards, sketches, trophies, whistles, buttons, artifacts, newspapers, banners, bracelets, poems, plaques, and much, much more.

Volunteers and staff at The ArQuives have worked diligently for years to recover and preserve our histories. But now, we need your help.

An archive like this cannot survive without a physical location, and 34 Isabella is a place The ArQuives is proud to call its home. But, a physical location comes with challenges, including upkeep, maintenance, and other tasks. This is why The ArQuives is seeking new facilities volunteers, who are looking for a rewarding and engaging way to contribute to their community.

Whether it’s helping tend to The ArQuives’ gorgeous gardens (pictured above) or waterproofing in the winter to protect sensitive documents, volunteers on the Facilities Committee engage in a variety of tasks and are vital members of the organization.

The history of the LGBTQ2+ community is rich and diverse, and it needs to be protected. If you’re interested in helping to do just that, please consider volunteering for our Facilities Committee. You can be a vital part of keeping our history alive.

Find out more about volunteering and submit your interest here:

Dennis Findlay, President of The ArQuives Board of Directors
Robert Windrum, former General Manager of The ArQuives (then called CLGA)
Toronto City Clerk. (2004, January 29). Alterations to Listed Property and Authority to Enter into Heritage Easement Agreement – 33 Charles Street East; 26, 32 and 34 Isabella Street (Jared Sessions House) (Toronto Centre-Rosedale, Ward 27). Toronto, ON; Toronto South Community Council.
Watkiss, U. S. (City Clerk), Bussin, S. (Speaker), & Pritchard, F. (Secretariat) (2007, December 17). IN THE MATTER OF THE ONTARIO HERITAGE ACT R.S.O. 1990 CHAPTER 0.18 AND 34 ISABELLA STREET (Jared Sessions House) CITY OF TORONTO, PROVINCE OF ONTARIO NOTICE OF PASSING OF BY-LAW . Toronto, ON; Ontario Heritage Trust.
TOBuilt. Architectural Conservancy Ontario (2022, October 22). The ArQuives.
Chandra. (2012, June 15). Trials and titillation in Toronto: A virtual tour of the Canadian Lesbian & Gay Archives. Autostraddle.
Applicant: Frank Lewinberg, Urban Strategies Inc., & Architects: Pellow + Associates Architects Inc. and Young + Wright Architects Inc. (2004, January 23). Final Report Rezoning Application 03 035171 STE 27 OZ. Toronto, ON; Toronto South Community Council.

By Michael Ott