The management of Montreal’s Negro Community Centre is filing for bankruptcy just weeks after the collapse of a wall at the organization’s historic headquarters in Little Burgundy.

In an open letter dated May 5, the centre’s management said the cost of repairing the damage from the April 13 wall collapse at the abandoned building on Coursol Street is too great and leaves the organization no choice but to file for bankruptcy protection.

“This building of historical significance requires substantial work and restoration and unfortunately NCC’s financial situation, as owners of the building, does not allow for funding of these repairs to fulfill both its short-term and long-term obligations,” the letter reads.

The Negro Community Centre was founded in 1927 to provide social services for members of Montreal's black community. It moved into the building on Coursol Street in 1955.

The centre closed more than 20 years ago and the structure is now boarded up.

The decision to file for bankruptcy comes despite a pledge by councillors of the southwest borough to help find the funds to preserve and maintain the historic building. 

Board members of the Negro Community Centre had long been hoping to restore the dilapidated stone building but adequate funding for the project never materialized.

In 2007, the City of Montreal pledged funding to help restore the building and reopen the centre. The arrangement also called for parallel funding from Quebec and the federal government.

NCC

A section of the old Negro Community Centre on Coursol Street in Little Burgundy collapsed April 13. (CBC)

“Despite the numerous efforts and good faith from many, regrettably all these actions were not sufficient to bring our building to life,” the letter states.

The board has appointed a trustee and is looking for a buyer for the property.

A fresh start?

Tiffany Callendar, executive director of the Côtes-des-Neiges Black Community Organization, said the NCC remained the “cornerstone” of Montreal’s black community long after its doors had closed.

“My work and the blueprint of my work often gets referred back to the NCC in its glory days,” she told Mike Finnerty, host of CBC Radio’s Daybreak on Tuesday.

UMOJA Foundation Chairman Michael Gittens used to do community work at the NCC and expressed dismay that the organization’s management did not reach out to Montreal's black community before filing for bankruptcy.

“It is sad how it was done, that they didn’t come to the community and say, ‘This is the problem that we are having, where do we go?’ and let the community have a say in terms of how we should move forward,” Gittens said.

The UMOJA Foundation has a fund of around $250,000 that it will invest in plans for a new community centre for black Montrealers.

A feasibility study determined that the new centre would cost around $3.1 million and a fundraising strategy for its construction is now being developed.

Callendar said UMOJA’s vision is to create new centre that will once again unite Montreal’s black community.

“I would love to see a building that allows for the diverse cultural communities within the black community to work together,” she said.

“We have so much culture here — the English-speaking community, the French-Caribbean community, the African nations that are here, and we have to learn to share amongst each other our culture and our strengths so that we can develop a desirable future for everyone.”