Historically hidden first-known Vancouver AIDS memorial to receive dedication ceremony

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      Shrouded within historical secrecy due to discrimination and stigma, one of the first-known AIDS memorials has been located in Vancouver and will be honoured with an official dedication from the Vancouver Park Board.

      Thanks to research by Be the Change CEO Brandy Svendson during AIDS Vancouver's 30th anniversary project, the location of an AIDS memorial was uncovered at Devonian Harbour Park in Coal Harbour.

      According to a Vancouver Sun article dated October 21, 1985, four cherry trees were planted near Stanley Park in the memory of four men who died of AIDS.

      Indicative of the homophobia and AIDS/HIV stigma prevalent at the time, particularly during the onset of the AIDS crisis that ravaged LGBT communities, the men were only identified by their first names—James, Ivo, Gino, and Randy.

      Furthermore, an AIDS Vancouver spokesperson at the time requested that the location not be revealed in order to prevent the trees from being vandalized.

      Four additional trees for four more men were expected to be planted after that, according to the article.

      A dedication ceremony will be held at Devonian Harbour Park (at West Georgia near Denman Street) at 10 a.m. on September 4. In attendance will be representatives from the City of Vancouver and Vancouver Park Board; AIDS Vancouver original staff and volunteers Michael Welsh and James Johnstone, who helped plants the original trees; and Svendson.

      A plaque was installed on a large boulder in July that dedicates the site as the first-known AIDS memorial in the world.

      The dedication was formally approved on October 21, 2013, by park commissioner Trevor Loke.  

      This ceremony coincides with the City of Vancouver having declared 2018 as the Year of the Queer, due to numerous LGBT organizations celebrating significant or milestone anniversaries. Much attention has turned towards LGBT history in the city this year, and gay-liberation archivist Ron Dutton relocated his B.C. Gay and Lesbian Archives, which he began in the 1970s, to the City of Vancouver Archives in March.

      The memorial is separate from the Vancouver AIDS Memorial located on Sunset Beach at the foot of Broughton Street that was launched in 2004.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook. You can also follow the Straight's LGBT coverage on Twitter at @StraightLGBT or on Facebook.