MONTREAL – The Negro Community Center has a rich past. It’s a staple part of Little Burgundy.
It was a comforting home away from home for many in the black community, but now the Centre is just a dilapidated shell.
Now, some are hoping to get the public to march to the beat of restoring the NCC and save the crumbling historic building.
“This community centre has been very instrumental and a lot of great people have walked past here including Oscar Peterson and all the rest,” said Russell Thompson, a Little Burgundy resident.
“You want to keep that legacy alive.”
The Centre was abandoned almost 20 years ago, and drew headlines in April when its western wall fell down, causing the evacuation of nearby apartments.
Organizer Michael Farkas says he hopes to turn the NCC into a mixed-use building that would include a museum subsidized by commercial office space.
“Maybe it’s too late in the game but we want to be heard,” he said.
“We just don’t want a parking lot and we just don’t want condos to be built there. Anything could happen, we just want to be heard at this stage.”
The organization that was based in the building filed for bankruptcy protection in early May, but it’s still clinging to hope it can save the place it called home for most of a century.
“When blacks came down here it was the one place they could congregate they were practically, as Rev. Gray has mentioned, imprisoned in this community at one time,” said Rosemary Segee of Tindale St. George’s.
“A lot of those people have either passed on or moved on.”
The city of Montreal is debating whether to demolish the NCC.
The issue is more complicated than simply sparing a cultural treasure.
Some residents say they’re worried that having such a large building crumbling to the ground could be dangerous.
“We are scared,” said Faujia Tarafde.
“Any time the building can fall. We’re wondering when they can repair. Or what is the solution.”
In many ways, the Centre is a reminder of what this neighbourhood used to be.
Gentrification is changing the face of Little Burgundy and the NCC may become the most recent casualty.
“There are very few people who are original,” said Paul Froio, who grew up in the area.
“They seem to have died off and the houses were sold by their families. I mean it’s a magic street.”