Toronto AIDS Memorial
by Jack Becker

All images courtesy of Patrick Fahn
Date: 1992

Site: Cawthra Square, in the heart of "gay town" and adjacent to the 519 Center, a social service facility and community center.

Funding: The budget for the memorial was approximately $75,000, with additional funds raised through the city, contributions, and fees requested from those wishing to add a name to the plaques.

History & Description: A committee formed, which including one city council member, an architect, and several folks concerned with the development around the 519 building. After putting together a thorough competition brief, and soliciting proposals, the committee reviewed the submissions and decided that most of the proposals were not appropriate; either they would cost more than the budget, or they would not fit the space. Some proposals considered integrating the names of people who died from AIDS, some did not.

The committee decided to re-open the competition with revised criteria to ensure that every proposal allowed provisions for including and adding to the names, which was deemed a necessity. It also required a cost estimate to ensure that proposed projects would fit the budget. A cost analysis was done as part of their review process as well.

The names policy for the built memorial mandates that each person named need not come from Toronto, but simply be requested by someone who can verify that the person did indeed die from AIDS. (They don't require a death certificate, and if someone with AIDS wants to request that their name not be added they can do so; only in a few instances have people requested that a name be removed.) The panels are easily updated, and arranged by the year of death. Each year during Pride Day, they hold a ceremony at the site and read names and add new names submitted during the year. Since they have a limited number of panels, they have redesigned the panels to be able to hold more names, although there is obviously a limit to the space.

Patrick Fahn was selected to design the Memorial. When I interviewed Fahn, he stated the idea for his design came to him clearly and quickly, and he prepared his proposal in one day (very unusual for such a competition). He has an architectural background and was able to put a drawing together that made it clear what he proposed without much effort. He said his design of a series of triangular columns was partly inspired by art deco styling, and the concept for simple plates to hold the names, plates that could easily be changed and updated for very little expense. He obtained help with landscape design, and planned to include ivy which would grow up around the columns yet not cover the plates. (The ivy is just now starting to grow around the base and it may be a few years before the plant materials achieve the effect he wants.) Still, the project works as a concept; it is used and appreciated by people in the community, although I doubt many tourists seek it out as a local landmark. It has a processional feel, similar to the Vietnam Memorial in DC, and in a similar fashion, flowers and keepsakes are left to be collected or cleaned up. The surrounding park area is a hangout for homeless people (Toronto, I was told, is pretty lax in this manner), and many people walk their dogs here, which happens to do a great deal of damage to the plants and walkways.

The site is clearly off the beaten path in terms of location within the city, and is clearly meant to serve the gay community (Toronto has the highest gay and lesbian population in Canada). This is not a criticism, just an observation that reflects the objectives of the original conception.

AIDS Memorials - Index

Key West AIDS Memorial
Minneapolis/Loring Park
New Jersey
AIDS Monument 2000
National AIDS Memorial
National AIDS Memorial Grove
The Garden (Proposal)
Toronto AIDS Memorial
NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt