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Marching to rebuild Montreal’s oldest Black community centre

MONTREAL (CITYNEWS) – Hundreds of Montrealers took to the streets Saturday afternoon demanding the city rebuild its historic Negro Community Centre, the city’s oldest Black cultural space.

The march coincided with Emancipation Day, which commemorates the day slavery was abolished in Canada in 1834.

“We have to come together as a community to find the best strategy to reach this goal,” said Tiffany Callender, executive director of the Côte-des-Neiges Black Community Association. “To ensure there will be an NCC on that lot for the rest of time.”

Founded in 1927, Montreal’s Negro Community Centre once stood on Coursol Street in the Little Burgundy neighbourhood.

It was the heart of Montreal’s English-speaking Black community. Jazz legends like Oscar Peterson and Oliver Jones honed their skills as pianists at the centre.

“History matters, culture matters,” said Victor Paris, interim chairman of Revive the NCC. “And Black people have a deep and important history in this city.”

Over time, the city’s Black community dispersed and many left Little Burgundy. As a result, the building fell into disrepair and was eventually closed. It was then purchased by a private developer and torn down in 2014. It’s now an empty lot.

“Yeah we’re physically free, but am I culturally free? Am I geographically free? Am I socially free?” said Sabrina Jarfalie, co-founder of the Centre for Civic Religious Literacy. “Not yet. We’re not there just yet.”

With the Black Lives Matter movement gaining momentum in Canada and across the world, Montreal’s Black community say they want their cultural centre back.

“We say we’re a city that respects diversity,” said Callender. “We believe in living together. Well these are elements of tangible actions that make those things real, and not make them surface statements or hashtags.”