Views from Here: A New Negro Community Centre
Published on February 14, 2023
Views from Here is a youth guest blog series featuring voices from youth from our COM-Unity partner organizations. In the series, English-speaking youth share what it means to them to find— and sometimes struggle for— a sense of belonging in Quebec.
A New Negro Community Centre
by Anna Joseph
As a Canadian, but also a second-generation immigrant, I’ve always wanted to know more about the history of Canadians. In the past years, I’ve tried my best to learn more about this land’s history, and specifically Black Canadian history. While I discovered Montreal Black organizations, I learned more about their past histories and the people that came before me and was saddened that some organizations didn’t make it through to our time. A couple of weeks ago, while doing research on the internet, I stumbled upon an article that announced the return of one of the biggest organizations that had made an impact on past generations.
This historic organization that has been confirmed was situated in Montreal’s Little Burgundy neighbourhood [in the 1920s] and was known as the Negro Community Centre of Montreal (NCC). This establishment will see the light of day again, as new land has been acquired on the original site of the NCC and plans to make a new center are on their way, ones that would include affordable housing. The Negro Community Center will also change its name to better adapt to modern times. In the future, it will be known as the Centre for Canadians of African Descent (CCAD) or, in French, Le Centre canadien pour les Canadien.ne.s Afro-Descendant.e.s (CCAD) .
With the amazing news of the resurgence of this gathering space comes the hope that it will be as important and impactful as it was in the past. The NCC was such an essential place for Montreal’s Black communities—so much so that Lasalle and Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (NDG) opened Black associations after a lot of the city’s Black population at the time relocated to those bordering neighbourhoods. The relocation of many Black Montrealers away from Little Burgundy led to the decline in participation and clientele and ultimately was one of the leading causes of the closing of the NCC. In 2014, the building was demolished after part of its wall collapsed months prior in April. However, before its historic role as a center where people of African descent could come together, the edifice had other uses.
HISTORY OF THE CENTRE:
Situated in Little Burgundy (more precisely on Saint-Antoine Street), the building where the NCC once resided was built in 1890. It was a Methodist Church until the late 1920s, when, in 1926, it became the Negro Community Association. This Association, like many other Black associations in Montreal, had ties with the Union United Church; the oldest Black church in Montreal of Christian vocation was founded by railway porters and their families who needed a place of practice. Reverend Charles H. Este and some members of the Union United Church founded the Negro Community Association, which later officially became in 1927 the Negro Community Centre or the Charles H. Este Cultural Centre. As an agent of change for Black Canadians, the NCC was also part of an umbrella organization called The Black Community Central Organization of Quebec that included other organizations like the Black Studies Center, The Quebec Board of Black Education, the Black Community Media Inc. These gathering spaces offered different services to their communities and they dreamed that by putting their forces and resources together, they would be a leading force in the advancement and the fight for equality for Black individuals in Canada. Amongst other things, Negro Community Centre helped create community and cultural space for its clientele. Over the years, the center helped new immigrants with employment council or francization classes and amongst many other programs, it offered classes for children having difficulty in school. Since its demolition in 2014, a group has been fighting for the reinstitution of this historic monument that was a pillar in the Black community for many years.
THE FUTURE OF THE CENTRE
To the delight of people who fought to bring back the centre—by asking, amongst other things, the city to preserve the site—the Centre for Canadians of African Descent (CCAD) will once again see the light of day. Hopefully, plans will be made this decade for the future Centre. The latest plan for recreating the establishment envisions within its walls a Black history museum, a dance or music studio and a banquet hall. Perhaps with the help of public consultations, the centre will be able to better answer the need of Black Canadians in an ever-changing society.
About the Author: Anna Joseph is an undergraduate in literature at the University of Montreal and a published author. She is passionate about history and storytelling. As a second-generation immigrant, she wanted to learn more about the history of Black Canadians and contribute to elevating the voice of the people that came before her.