1982 sees the first cases of HIV in Ottawa. On August 24, 1982, over seventy people attend a Gays of Ottawa talk on ‘gay cancers’.
In August 1983, Peter Evans comes out as Ottawa’s first AIDS patient. Evans participates briefly in the first AIDS Walk-a-thon on October 1, 1983, with a route from Ottawa to Kingston that raises over $5,000. He dies months later on January 4, 1984.
As the epidemic grows, Barry Deeprose proposes an AIDS Committee of Ottawa, which holds its first meeting in August 1985. He runs a Buddies program to help those who are neglected by families and the medical profession, and the late Bob Read works on education and prevention.
As more people contract the disease, with deaths occurring nearly every week at its peak, Bruce House opens in September 1988 to offer housing help and hospice care. Virtually everyone who comes to the House in its first years dies. Richard Naster worked tirelessly there for 20 years as a caregiver to dying men who often had no other support. Others, like Tony Boghossian, Catherine Bouchey and Bruce Roomey as an early ED offer vital support as well as financial stability to this important small agency.
The epidemic takes its toll on those who survive and are seeing their friends and loved ones perish. Some, like Kevin Hatt and Jay Koornstra say they lost so many of their friends they lost count and couldn't attend any more funerals.
The NAMES Project AIDS Quilt is unveiled at Lansdowne Park in June 1989. 268 of the 1,200 panels on display were Canadian. The Quilt returns to Ottawa-Gatineau at the Museum of Civilization (now Museum of History) on November 28, 1996.
André Lemieux forms the Bureau regional d’action SIDA (BRAS) in 1990 in Gatineau. The Snowy Owl AIDS Foundation is formed in 1995 in memory of Louis Turpin.
While more people were living with HIV thanks to new medications, the stigma of the disease, and the criminalization, lingers. People raping with violence are getting lesser jail sentences than those charged with HIV non-disclosure, even if there is no real risk and no actual transmission occurs.
Some who survived the worst still suffer today from what they call a post-traumatic stress disorder, as the epidemic attacks an entire generation. But for all the loss the epidemic brings, our community grew stronger together and those who lived through it have gratitude.
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