Blackhurst Cultural Centre celebrates a new day with a 49-year lease agreement

Mayor Olivia Chow

By Lincoln DePradine

For more than 27 years, husband and wife, Miguel San Vicente and Dr Itah Sadu, have owned A Different Booklist, which also has been a gathering place for social and cultural activities for Torontonians of all ages. The bookstore spawned a meeting place called the Blackhurst Cultural Centre (BCC).

Since 2017, the Blackhurst Cultural Centre formerly known as A Different Booklist Cultural Centre, located at 777-779 Bathurst Street, has operated as a non-profit organization with a Board of Directors led by Chair Judith Brooks. Much of the organization’s focus in the last several years has been mobilizing support, raising funds, and engaging the City of Toronto in the development of a permanent home for BCC in the new Mirvish Village.

Last Thursday, April 25, Mayor Olivia Chow showed up at the centre to announce the finalization of an agreement that grants a 49-year lease for 756 Bathurst Street, where BCC would be relocated after construction work is completed.

In her remarks, Judith Brooks described the long journey to the point where a beautiful space across the street at Mirvish Village will be their new home. Indeed, it took a village to raise the daunting some of money to make it possible. It is expected to open its new digs next year.

Front from left – Miguel San Vicente, Councillor Dianne Saxe, Judy Brooks, Itah Sadu, Louis March, Mayor Olivia Chow and Sandra Whiting

The Blackhurst Cultural Centre will occupy four-floors, and will include amenities such as the bookstore, rentals and retail stores, art and music studios, and facilities for community activities.

Negotiations with the City of Toronto on the lease for BCC began about seven years ago.

Among those present were BCC board members and patrons, donors and other supporters; as well as current and former city councillors.

Mayor Chow, in her remarks, wished BCC “every success’’, saying the centre is a “very important’’ part of the city.

“Together, let’s build a city that’s more affordable; safer; more caring; more understanding of history and culture, where everyone feels they belong,’’ said Chow.

BCC represents “a new beginning’’ with lots of possibilities, which are “going to be for the blessings of all of us’’, said councillor Dr Dianne Saxe.

The city was the first major supporter of BCC, said Saxe, and the lease is “to give Blackhurst some real security of tenure for all the effort that’s going to go into making this wonderful place’’.

It’s “so important’’ to have BCC “for the next many, many years’’, said Bank of Montreal employee Stanley Julien, who is a founding patron and an original board member of the Cultural Centre.

“What I am looking forward to is that years from now, there is a young Black kid who is speaking in front of a crowd and saying how the Blackhurst Cultural Centre impacted them and what it meant to their life,’’ he said.

The obtaining of the lease is a “huge step’’ on the journey to establishing BCC at 756 Bathurst Street, MP and Deputy Prime Minister, Chrystia Freeland, said in a message read at the event.

BCC “will serve as an important gathering place to celebrate the rich history of the Black community in Toronto and to inspire the next generation to carry on that legacy’’, said Freeland, who is also federal finance minister. “I wish you all the best as you move into your beautiful new space.’’

Sadu, described the lease agreement announcement as a “new day’’.

“It’s the next level in the progress of the organization,’’ she told The Caribbean Camera. “It’s a huge day because today is a day where the impossible definitely affirms that it is possible. The mayor, coming here today, was to signal that we have now closed that chapter on the lease and its signing for 49 years,’’ Sadu added.

“Today, for the Blackhurst Cultural Centre, represents the beginning of the next chapter. So, now, we can go to our construction phase,’’ she said.