Montreal: As Little Burgundy changes, a piece of its history crumbles

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This article by Billy Shields appeared in Global News. The piece is accompanied by a video, which you can access through the ink below.

On a small, forgotten street in Little Burgundy, across from a city park and in the shadow of the St-Jacques overpass, lies what can almost be described now as the ruins of the Negro Community Centre (NCC), a relic of a bygone era in the city’s history.

“For many years, we were Little Burgundy, and we did fabulous things there,” said Tiffany Callender, of the Cote-des-Neiges Black Community Association. “So we have to figure out how to keep this place as a vibrant part of the community.”

The NCC was a centrepiece of Montreal’s black community for years after its establishment in an old Methodist church in 1926.

But economics have led the building to fall into disrepair.

On Sunday, most of the building’s eastern wall fell into the alley below, causing officials to evacuate 38 people from an adjacent apartment building, and throwing in doubt the future of the NCC’s longtime headquarters.

“What we needed was a succession plan: how do we engage young people to take the place of our past leaders?” Callender asked.

The neighourhood around the NCC has gentrified substantially since it was founded in 1926.

Notre-Dame Street, the neighbourhood’s most important thoroughfare, is now the site of chic cafes and high-end restaurants.

For years, the neighbourhood attracted blue collar workers, many of whom were persons of colour who found jobs on the railroad in Canada that weren’t available to them south of the border.

“Montreal was an oasis from that standpoint – even though there were difficulties from a colour-line point, it was way better than the States,” said Dolores Sandoval, whose grandfather was one of the founding members of the NCC. Preserving the structure “is so extremely important.”

“Because if you have no roots, you have no trunk, no blossoms, no flowers, no fruit.”
A problem Callender pointed to is an unintended side effect of multiculturalism: cultural amnesia. The subsequent generations of the first group of immigrants from the States and the Caribbean have moved on without due regard of the experiences of their ancestors.

“Now we’re dealing with third and fourth generation Canadians, they are Montrealers.”

“They are Canadian.”

The City of Montreal is still trying to decide whether it will demolish the building.

A group called the Umoja Foundation has been established with the aim of saving it – its first fundraising event is Wednesday.

For the original report and video go to http://globalnews.ca/news/1270671/as-little-burgundy-changes-a-piece-of-its-history-crumbles/

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