MONTREAL — A group of concerned Little Burgundy residents are trying to reclaim a piece of land that was once home to a historic Black community centre that was demolished six years ago.
The former Negro Community Centre was once located next to a park with a popular basketball court on Coursol Street. Now, the site is a vacant lot.
“This was a precious place to us all,” said Little Burgundy resident David Shelton. “A home away from home, it was a safe haven where people could learn and be together.”
The centre called the site home since 1955 and it served as a rallying point for the area’s burgeoning Black community, including jazz great Oscar Peterson.
“It was a place where the community could gather,” said Andrea Este. “A safe place filled with arts and music.”
Neglect led to the stone building falling into disrepair. The NCC eventually filed for bankruptcy and the site was sold for $300,000 in 2014. Six years later, all that remains is some rubble amid the weeds.
Tiffany Callender of the Cote-des-Neiges Black Community Association said efforts are underway to revive the NCC by buying back the land and building a modern community centre.
“We understand that we need to have the heart of our community back,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that this land and this lot was not preserved by our community.”
However, owner Paul Sen Chher said he has plans to turn the lot into a mixed residential and commercial building which would include 50 rental units along with a space commemorating the NCC.
“I’m trying to create a project in between where I could actually commemorate the NCC and create a project that would be available and financially viable,” he said.
His plans would require a zoning change for the lot. A spokesperson for the city declined to comment on what the future of the site could be.
Committee member Victor Paris acknowledged plans for a new community centre rely on rebuying the land and said they would try to block attempts to develop the lot.