It was with much sadness that the Calgary Gay History Project learned Neil Richards of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan passed away last month at the age of 68. Neil was dogged in the preservation of gay history in his Province. A consummate collector he amassed one of the most extensive LGBTQ collections in the country – over 6000 book titles, including ephemera, artefacts, and serials that reflect various aspects of queer existence.
I met Neil on a research trip in April 2016. He introduced me to the collection at the University of Saskatchewan accessioned and named after him. He was also very generous with his time. I spent days trawling through his personal papers housed in the Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan for references to Calgary’s historic gay community – and there were many. Copies of early Calgary publications included: Carousel Capers, Gay Moods, and Camp 181 newsletters, as well as many details about the CLGRC conference, hosted Calgary in 1980. Even more valuable than the papers were his personal recollections of early gay rights events on the Prairies he actually attended.
Neil seemed bemused by life and laughed easily. We ate many nourishing meals together, and I was surprised at the instant sense of camaraderie we established – queer historian being perhaps a niche corner of human endeavour.
Although he confessed to not having ever spent much time in Calgary, the amount of Calgary materials in his archive collection was a testament to the closeness and cross-pollination between gay communities on the Prairies.
On my final research day with Neil, I had my suitcase with me, as I was going right from his desk at the University, (which he still occupied – although retired) to the aeroplane. He handed me a going away present: a duplicate of a 1968 pulp fiction novel in the collection – A Queen’s Fury. I treasure it as a gift. Loving the title, I am inspired to be a fierce queer historian, worthy of its name. I cherish it even more now, as it was in pure kindness given, and given to me by Neil.
Rest in peace.