Montreal·Black Changemakers

This Montrealer is making sure diverse voices are heard, one book at a time

Gabriella Garbeau opened Racines bookstore in a quaint building in Montréal-Nord, a space where the community can gather and that gives a platform to authors from diverse backgrounds.

Racines bookstore aims to fill a void in the city's cultural landscape

By running her own bookstore, Gabriella Garbeau hopes to introduce Montrealers to a wide range of diverse authors from a much earlier age. (Doro Saiz)

CBC Quebec is highlighting people from the province's Black communities who are giving back, inspiring others and helping to shape our future. These are the Black Changemakers.

Perusing bookstores in Montreal her whole life, Gabriella Garbeau kept seeing the same titles by the same authors lining shelves over and over again. Back in 2017, she decided to change that.

Garbeau opened Racines bookstore, named after the French word for roots, in a quaint building in Montréal-Nord. She had long worked with community organizations in the area, and decided she wanted to create a space that had a dual purpose: to create a hub for the community to gather, while giving a platform to authors from diverse backgrounds.

Racines has since relocated to Montreal's St-Hubert Plaza, but Garbeau's mission remains the same.

"For me, it was important to have a place that showcased the talents and real voices of different cultural communities," said Garbeau.

"I was a bit tired of seeing that it was always the same kinds of stories at the forefront, with very little diversity, leaving very little space for racialized women."

As a child, Garbeau seldom saw herself represented in the books she read.

"Most of the time, we would read authors who were white, and the majority of whom were men," Garbeau said.

It wasn't until much later in life, when a few of her friends and a college professor began lending her books, notably a biography of baseball player Jackie Robinson, that she was finally introduced to Black authors and their stories.

By running her own bookstore, Garbeau hopes to introduce Montrealers to a wide range of diverse authors from a much earlier age.

Authors like, for example, Rodney Saint-Éloi, a Haitian writer who founded his own publishing house, Mémoire d'encrier, in Montreal back in 2003.

Garbeau finds herself inspired by Saint-Éloi and has many of his publications in her store.

"He publishes the works of other racialized authors and it's like he is passing on the torch to others who have many stories to tell," said Garbeau.

Prior to the pandemic, Garbeau also used Racines as a place for panel discussions and launch parties. It served as a safe space where people from all backgrounds could have their voices heard.

While her sales and interactions with the community are largely online these days, she hopes to get back to that eventually.

"My perspective is that all bookstores should be diverse," said Garbeau. "While waiting for other bookstores to make up for lost time and to change the way they do things … we have an alternative in Racines."

The Black Changemakers is a special series recognizing individuals who, regardless of background or industry, are driven to create a positive impact in their community. From tackling problems to showing small gestures of kindness on a daily basis, these changemakers are making a difference and inspiring others. Read more stories here.

Written by Franca G. Mignacca, with files from Rowan Kennedy