After 1,000 events, activist hub Beit Zatoun forced to close

Toronto’s rampant development is claiming another casualty this week: community space Beit Zatoun will host its final event on Wednesday.

Mirvish Village development means the end for Annex community space

Long-time volunteers Nida Marji (left) and Andrea Meeson stand in front of a wall of memories people have written at Beit Zatoun. (Laura Howells/CBC)

Toronto's rampant development is claiming another casualty this week: community space Beit Zatoun will host its final event on Wednesday.

Tucked away in the Annex neighbourhood, Beit Zatoun has become a hub of social justice and activism in the city.

In its nearly seven years, the Markham street location has hosted more than 1,000 events — everything from poetry readings to film showings, meetings, lectures, art and music.

Annex activism hub and community space Beit Zatoun is hosting its final event on Wednesday. 0:42

But like its neighbour, Honest Ed's, Beit Zatoun will soon be demolished to make way for the Mirvish Village development.

"It has blazed a path for the grass roots community," said founder Robert Massoud.

"And now in its leaving, it leaves a hole. And so hopefully people can recognize the need to fill that hole in a different way."

Robert Massoud founded Beit Zatoun in 2010. (CBC)

'Our roots are in Palestine'

Massoud started Beit Zatoun, which means "house of olive" in Arabic, partly to connect Toronto and Palestinian culture. But he said its broader aim was for all people from all backgrounds to share ideas and gain new perspectives.

"Our roots are in Palestine but the tree is global justice," he said.

"Beit Zatoun is a space where communities come together and create mutual awareness of their situations, because I truly believe that what ails the world is the same thing."

The final art showing at Beit Zatoun is an exhibit of infographics called Visualising Palestine. (CBC)

Massoud started Beit Zatoun in 2010; it was a way of broadening his organization that sold fair trade Palestinian olive oil.

The community space is run by volunteers and does not receive any funding.

'This is a special place'

On one of the walls, people have written tributes to Beit Zatoun.

People have scrawled tributes and memories to Beit Zatoun on one of the walls. (Laura Howells/CBC)

"Thank you for blessing me with your stories," one person writes.

"This is a special place because of the people and peace, not the walls," writes another.

People have left memories and tributes on a wall at Beit Zatoun. (CBC)
Beit Zatoun has been a place for people to share ideas and engage in socially-minded discussion. (CBC)

Andrea Meeson has been involved with Beit Zatoun for years. She says the space will be missed.

"Beit Zatoun really was a microcosm for throwing out issues of struggle and civic action for change in Toronto," said Meeson.

"I don't think that we have a place like this and it's been a real honour for me to be a part of this organization."

Andrea Meeson has been a long-time volunteer at Beit Zatoun. She says the space means a lot to her. (CBC)

A place to expand

People who frequent Beit Zatoun might remember the snacks at events — there's always bread and olive oil, coffee and cardamon, and tea and sage. Massoud said it helps people have a deeper, more connected experience.

"It's been a place for people to really expand," said founder Robert Massoud.

"Expand their awareness of what they do know and expand their awareness of what they don't know. Because there's so much they don't know."

Steps from Honest Ed's, Beit Zatoun has been tucked away in the Annex since 2010. (CBC)

Keeping online presence

Although Beit Zatoun won't have a physical presence in Toronto anymore, it will still maintain a community online. Massoud said there will also be occasional "Beit Zatoun salons" throughout the year at locations around the city.

You can find a full schedule of Beit Zatoun's final events here.

Beit Zatoun has hosted more than 1,000 events — everything from poetry readings to film showings, meetings to lectures, art shows to musical performances. (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)
Beit Zatoun's final event is on Wednesday, November 30. (Laura Howells/CBC)

About the Author

Laura Howells

CBC News

Laura Howells is a journalist from St. John's who is now working in Toronto and Hamilton. You can reach her at laura.howells@cbc.ca.