The city of Montreal began Black History Month with a pledge to restore the Charles H. Este Cultural Centre in Little Burgundy, as well as the Empress Theatre in NDG, also known as the Cinema V.
The initiatives will be financed by the $7-billion earmarked in the recent federal budget for municipal infrastructure programs.
Christiane Loiselle, the Centre’s Project Coordinator, said that governmental funding for the project is critical, partly because so few private investors have shown an interest in restoring the theatre.
“The City has given us amazing support,” she said, adding that the Centre has been discussing the renewal project with Heritage Canada. It is also waiting for a response to a grant proposal made to the government of Quebec.
The Centre, located at 2035 Coursol, was run by the Negro Community Centre (NCC) until a portion of the exterior wall collapsed in 1987. Around the same time, the NCC lost its funding from Centraide, and it has largely relied on private donors ever since.
Lawrence Fraser, who sits on the NCC Board of Directors, said that many members of the black community are excited about the prospect of reviving the Cultural Centre.
“At the present, what we’re doing is contacting all 300 of our members, and determining what programs are needed within the community,” he said, adding that the Centre will probably host a youth hip hop dance class.
The NCC intends to use the building as a museum, in addition to a black community centre, once the renovations are complete. Fraser said that housing for seniors will be created on one of the building’s floors, in order to cover the costs of maintaining the building. The Centre will also run a computer literacy program for seniors.
The Empress Theatre, at 5560 Sherbrooke West, was built in 1927, and attempted to synthesize contemporary art deco with the architectural style of ancient Egypt. It continued operating as a movie theatre until 1992, when a fire gutted much of the inside of the building. It has remained unused ever since.
The Black Theatre Workshop joined the Empress Cultural Centre in 2007, and will be permanently housed at the Empress Theatre once the renovations are complete.
“We were very happy when the Black Theatre Workshop signed on,” said Loiselle. “They appeal to everyone, but they also have a particular relevance to the local community.”
The Empress Cultural Centre, a non-profit community organization, has owned the building ever since it was bought by the city in 1999, but has not yet managed to raise the estimated $9-million needed to refurbish the theatre.