MONTREAL — A backhoe with a reach that spanned four storeys caught a load-bearing steel beam and yanked it off its foundations at the top of the Negro Community Centre (NCC), and the roof over one of the city’s most popular sports courts came down.
“I have tears in my eyes to see this has to happen,” said Caroline Corbin, who emigrated to Little Burgundy from Barbados and sent her children to the daycare in the back of the NCC while she cleaned houses.
“I’m saddened by the whole situation. What can we do? It’s already broken down.”
The demolition started Thursday just after the city lost a last-ditch effort to stop it in court.
WATCH: NCC to be demolished
That effort came at the end of a turbulent year for the NCC. It’s western wall fell down in the spring, and rumours of a sale circulated for months.
According to Craig Sauve, a city councillor who represents the area, the Sen Trust now owns the site, but it’s not clear what will become of it.
It’s current zoning would allow for a similar use, but speculation is rife in the area that the owners plan on putting condominiums there.
Sauve said city officials would likely attempt to block rezoning the area residential.
“We hold the zoning rights, the city, to name what will go there,” he said.
“We’ve said continually, it will have to come from the community if they want any sort of specialized project or zoning change.”
The Sen Trust didn’t return calls seeking comment, no one answered the door at the address listed in its corporate filing.
The NCC was established in the mid-1920s during the day when Little Burgundy was the heart of the city’s black community, taking up residence in an old church.
Oscar Peterson learned to play the piano there on the ground floor where there was a piano and a stage set up. And a basketball court went in on the third floor that was extremely popular.
These places, which were built over years, crumbled during the course of a single day.
“It’s memories. Memories of a people.”
“This is the last trace that’s left. It was able to change as the people of Little Burgundy changed,” said Veronica Lalli, a graduate architecture student at McGill University.
Even younger residents, like 18-year-old Annabelle Irakaza, were sad to see the iconic building fall, especially in light of how the demographics of the neighbourhood has changed in recent years.
“I feel like something is lost from our heritage,” she said. “We don’t have many things here that represent us.”
© 2014 Shaw Media