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Redevelopment plan for Black community centre to support entrepreneurs, students in Montreal underway

Community activists fought to restore the Negro Community Centre, which closed in 1989, decades after the construction of the Ville Marie Expressway in the 1960s.

Redevelopment plan for Black community centre to support entrepreneurs, students in Montreal underway

The community activists behind The Centre for Canadians of African Descent (CCAD) are working with real estate teams to draw up development plans to rebuild a historic community centre in Montreal's Little Burgundy neighbourhood, according to CTV.

The Negro Community Centre (NCC), which supported Black entrepreneurs and students in the area from 1927 to 1989, was destroyed decades after the construction of the Ville Marie Expressway.

Jared Roboz, founder of CCAD, wants to bring back the NCC to provide after-school programming for Black students and support budding entrepreneurs.

“I grew up in Little Burgundy, so I’m a bit biased,” Roboz told CTV in an interview. “But I always said Little Burgundy has this spirit to it that I couldn't quite put my finger on. I like to believe that it's just remnants of the NCC.

“There's something special about this neighbourhood, and I think this is it,” he added.

Following construction of the expressway in the 1960s, many homeowners left Little Burgundy, crippling the NCC's support base.

The centre was eventually closed in 1989 and efforts to reopen it never materialized. The old building was demolished in 2014, according to CTV.

Historian Dorothy Williams, who attended the NCC in her youth, said the hub represented a sense of community and believes it needs to be re-established.

“When I was growing up, Blacks came in; they took that long trek from the South Shore, from the North Shore, and from the West Island to come into the NCC because they knew it was a place where their children were safe. It was home.”

“We need to re-establish that sense of community. That hub of what the centre represented,” she added.

In December 2022, the city announced it purchased the vacant lot where it stood to help the CCAD redevelop the community centre.

The organization is hoping the centre can be a central hub for the community again. At one time, Oscar Peterson and Oliver Jones, two legends of jazz, learned to play the piano there. A library, a meal program, dance classes, and sports teams were also available for community members and travellers.

The project is expected to take years to develop and build, but the NCC will be renamed the Centre for Canadians of African Descent upon completion, according to CTV.

"To have something material to work towards just goes to show how important community activism is," Roboz told CTV. "You might not be able to change the world, but you can change the world for the people around you."

The city will hold the land until the CCAD has developed a plan that includes social housing too, Benoit Dorais, borough mayor of the Sud-Ouest, told CTV in a phone interview.