How It All Started ...

In 1927, in the living room of Reverend Charles Este, eleven members of the congregation of Union United Church met to create a community centre. The Negro Community Center's purpose was, "to alleviate social and economic conditions among Blacks in Montreal."

Originally supported by the Canadian National Railway and after successful negotiations, the group was accepted into the Council of Social Agencies in 1928 and then received its initial funding from the Financial Federation of Montreal, in the fall of 1929.

Moving from various rooms and rented halls in the St. Antoine Street district, in 1930 the NCC took over space in the basement of Union United Church, on Delisle Street. Initially, the founders and friends of the organization ran the programs; however, when the complex task of administrative duties became overwhelming the Board agreed to hire an Executive Secretary.

During the early years, there was close identification with national events sponsored by Blacks in the United States and the Center's programming. Most of the NCC's activities were geared toward children and youth but due to lack of space the centre was forced to hold many of its activities at Royal Arthur School. In 1949, the Board incorporated the NCC in order to enable them to acquire adequate property under its control.

That same year, Mr. Stanley A. Clyke, a trained in social worker, began to incorporate the principles of progressive social work into the programming thrust of the NCC. During his tenure, age-specific activities were developed, and health and welfare services were inaugurated to fill the gaps existing in the total welfare scheme: an employment service, school lunch program and a dental clinic, etc. There was even a credit union.

By the end of the Second World War, a large number of Blacks began to move out of the immediate area of the Centre and participation in the children's program diminished. This did not mean however, that overall participation was down; in fact there was a concurrent increase in applications from non-Blacks for membership.

In July 1955, with a serious need for space, the NCC moved into the Iverley Community Centre at 2035 Coursol and merged its 90% Black membership with the 100% White membership of the Iverley. At the same time, the centre encouraged the participation from Blacks living outside the neighborhood. Then, in just one year, participation soared to 65,000 visits.

Between 1955 - 1957 about $50,000 was donated to improve the building and a gym was built on the fourth floor. While still maintaining its strong youth program, the NCC in 1958 received government funding for citizenship education, adult programming and local public affairs issues. The NCC had evolved into a full service community centre, serving a multi-ethnic clientele of all ages.

During the Annual General Meeting in 1965, the Iverley Community Centre, presented the deed of 2035 Coursol to the NCC board and from that point onward, the Negro Community Centre (the community) owned the building. Urban renewal had forced hundreds of Blacks out of the area which affected levels of participation but there was also an ongoing concern about meeting the needs of the increasing immigrant population and the old community members now living outside the immediate neighborhood. By the early seventies Blacks in other districts were being served through satellite offices of the NCC.

In 1987, a portion of the exterior back wall collapsed and fundraising began almost immediately to rebuild the crumbling wall; the reconstruction did not finish until over a year later. This situation created a crisis that lead to the eventual closure of 2035 Coursol as many programs could not operate within the building and were moved out or were stopped altogether. The lack of programs and reduced activity within the building precipitated an operating crisis.

By March 1988, the situation at the Centre became critical when Centraide advised the Board that they could no longer continue funding, as NCC programming had been severely curtailed. The NCC began talks on renewing the structure of their organization. This long-term planning included new staffing needs, programs, and even an architectural program. Most importantly, the board met regularly to determine a new vision for a renewed community centre. As the board continued to deliberate the issues, slowly key functions of the building shut down. After exhausting all financial resources, staff was released and the doors closed on Wednesday, November 15, 1989.

Annual reports of the NCC between 1989 and 1994 show a trend towards fewer programs, building deterioration and concerted efforts to tap into the new needs of the changing composition of the Black community. During this period, such programs as Christmas basket distribution, day camp, the Little Burgundy Festival and French classes were continued with the assistance of personnel and volunteer staff and programs financed through rentals, donations and designated government grants. All energies gradually focused on fundraising to match government allocated funds, but the monies failed to meet the required figure. Efforts to keep the building up to public safety standards were hampered by lack of funding, forcing all NCC programming to cease in 1993.

In June of 1994, the Negro Community Centre was informed that their institution had been chosen by the Federal and Provincial governments, to receive a grant under a program called the Canada/Quebec Infrastructure Program. The centre submitted a renovation projection of three million dollars based on a needs assessment', which was determined by an appointed Task Force. It was accepted under the provision that the NCC (the community) would match equally the contributions of the two levels of governments by raising one million dollars. The NCC worked hard to achieve success with the project; however, in 1997 a number of unanticipated obstacles as well as misunderstandings and constraints pertaining to the repayment terms delayed progress and eventually curtailed the implementation of this project.

A new NCC board in 1998 looked at the mission of the Task Force to "develop activities and services designed to bring an Afrocentric orientation to the Black community... through the promotion of Black art, history and culture." The challenge to realize this vision underlined the mission of the present NCC board revitalization project.

In October 1998, again a new board was created for the NCC/Charles H. Este Cultural Centre. They made a presentation to the City of Montreal Mayor's office, which endorsed the project. The essence of this revitalization project was presented to other Black community organization leaders in July of 1999, who gave their support of the vision.

On December 9, 1999 a meeting was convened by the City of Montreal, where at which time the NCC was the focus of discussion regarding the practical steps for the revitalization of the building at 2035 Coursol Street as a museum and cultural centre. Representatives of the City of Montreal Service for Sports, Leisure and Social Development, Service for Disadvantaged Sectors, Heritage Canada, The Quebec Ministry of Culture and Communications for Montreal, Building Services of the City of Montreal, Intercultural Affairs and the Mayor's office met regularly to assist in the clarification of the mandate and vision, protocol and budgetary reality for the project. Finally, during Black History Month 2000, Mayor Pierre Bourque officially announced a feasibility study, to be funded by the City of Montreal. The study would include recommendations from a project manager, a museum designer and an architect as to preliminary engineering studies and costs; this would comprise the first phase of the project.

In May 2004, a new Board was elected and the members decided to reinstate the building project. A carefully crafted Plan of Action for re-establishing this historic and essential community institution was submitted to the City of Montreal and the South-West Borough on October 27, 2004. Within a few months, the City of Montreal engaged the services of Convercité, an urban planning organization, to help the NCC solidify and to support the building project and the Board in every aspect. Under the new leadership, a Membership Blitz and Fundraising Drive were launched under then a new revitalized directorship.

By 2006, the Board and Convercité modified the plan and in April 2007, the Mayor of Montreal, Mr. Gérald Tremblay and his administration awarded a grant of $2.5 million dollars to the NCC. Five hundred thousand ($500,000) was granted immediately while the balance deemed contingent on the Federal and Provincial Government's respective contributions of $2 million a-piece.

Since 2008, there have been many meetings and discussions and letters of support sent to various officials at the different levels of government. At the end of 2009, the initial plans were once again modified to conform with Provincial guidelines by eliminating the housing element of the project. (We are currently waiting for the funds as the housing portion has been removed and the plans resubmitted to the Provincial Government).

At this point, the members on the Board and friends of the NCC are working to maintain the viability of the organization by rallying support from members in the Black, the wider Montreal communities and government to ensure that the NCC building will reopen and will once again house the many activities that made it a household name and a bastion in the community.

Today, the Charles H. Este Cultural Center houses something much larger than the confines of its walls.  It houses the spirit of the Negro Community Center and the determination, identity, pride, ingenuity and tenacity that have shaped the face of today's Montreal Black Community.  Visitors are taken on a journey of the spirit where they discover and experience the inspiring history and dynamic culture of Montreal's Black heritage. 2010 – 2011 The NCC / Charles H Este Cultural Centre has officially launched the "Help Rebuild the NCC" fundraising and awareness campaign.  All donations will go towards the rebuilding of the NCC's last home at 2035 Coursol. Please contact us for more information regarding donations and fundraising.