The story of the JCA Cultural Centre

By Nicole Georges 

The JCA Building

On August 6, 1962, a group of Jamaican-Canadians, celebrated the independence of Jamaica from colonial rule. The patriotic fervour of this group led to the founding of the Jamaica Canadian Association, and the desire to have a Centre – a physical space which would act as a hub for its social and advocacy activities. In 2019, on the celebration of Jamaica’s 57th Independence, and the JCA Anniversary, Philanthropist Denham Jolly donated more than $300,000 to pay off the outstanding mortgage of the JCA Centre. A long cherished dream, over fifty years in the making, was realized.

Roy Williams

The first President of the JCA, Roy Williams, recalls the early days of the association, and the struggles to secure a space of its own, “The numbers of people of colour in Canada at that time were small due to the anti-black immigration policies. So we discovered early in the game that one of our functions was advocacy, speaking out against the discriminatory policies in housing, employment, education etc, and the JCA helped to change laws affecting exclusion in those areas. We needed a hub whereby we could deliver programs and services and so the JCA secured 65 Dawes Road, but it was lost in a mysterious fire. We used borrowed or rented premises for some years.”

The Association purchased another property at 1621 Dupont Street and occupied it from 1985-1986, offering social and community services. Williams says that before long the JCA outgrew the property and the search was on again. “We had to adapt our services to cater to a rapidly growing, diverse population, so we sold that property and bought the current building at 995 Arrow Road, renovated it and opened for business in 1999.” The property was bought with a mortgage of $360,000 plus a renovation loan in 1998 for $980,000.
It was this financial burden that captured the attention of retired businessman and philanthropist Denham Jolly. Jolly decided to set an example through a substantial donation of $314, 000 to pay off the Centre’s mortgage. Jolly said he had several reasons for the magnanimous gesture, “The first reason I did it is because I thought it would free them up to do other things in the community such as set up more programs for the Youth. I also thought that it would probably be a catalyst for other people to be philanthropic to organizations within our community. I also hope that it could serve as an inspiration for the 2nd and 3rd generations, so that they can aspire to doing things of that nature, or at least aspire to be in a position to do it.” Jolly, who sold off the last of his businesses in 2012, has committed his retirement years to volunteer work and sponsoring community programs both in Canada and Jamaica.

JCA President Adoma Patterson

Current president of the JCA, Adoma Patterson, believes Jolly’s benevolent act, will resonate for years to come, “Ownership of property is critical to the community’s growth and says we are here and matter. Over the years, many JCA members contributed their personal funds to support the Centre. Mr. Jolly’s donation to pay off the balance is powerful and will have ripple effects for many years. The JCA Centre is a model of economic power as it illustrates the impact we have when we come together. Each year thousands of people attend events at the JCA Centre and support charities, caterers, DJ’s, artists and other small businesses.”

Patterson outlined future plans for the Cultural Centre, including upgrades and renovations to the building. “In addition, we are continuing to implement initiatives and activities that align with our five strategic priorities: youth, culture, education, community hub and advocacy. Among the priorities, we are excited to expand our Saturday Morning Tutorial Program, implement outreach activities to international students and increase use of space for community programs.”

Ms. Patterson conveyed her thoughts to the Caribbean Camera, while on a trip to Jamaica: ”More than 50 people are currently on a JCA trip. We visited the Liberty Hall, the Centre that documents the life and legacy of the Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey. Mr. Jolly and the hundreds of individuals who contributed to the purchase and sustainability of the JCA Centre exemplify the purpose and vision of Mr. Garvey. I am so moved to be part of what is a historic year for the JCA.”

Consul General for Jamaica, Lloyd Wilks, pointed to the Donation as a seminal moment, “This gesture helps to change the narrative that Black people cannot work together, or only fight each other. In fact people of colour have been collaborating successfully in Canada; the JCA has been a point where people of various backgrounds coalesce and find a space for education, social and entertainment purposes. Now that we celebrate this singular act of a generous donor paying off this mortgage let us use this as momentum moving forward together for social gain, and to build a broader economic base.”

From left: Denham Jolly and past presidents of the JCA: Miah Bailey, Roy Williams (first president of JCA ), Herman Stewart, and current president Adaoma Patterson proudly display the big cheque.

For inaugural JCA President Roy Williams, it was a poignant moment to be one of almost 400 persons to witness the Donation ceremony, “Most of those who were there in 1962 are no longer with us so it was exhilarating to be there to witness this moment, I was thankful to be their representative. I am hopeful this shot in the arm will renew the zeal and energy of the JCA to go on to do even better things, having survived over 50 years, in the future.”

Responses to Denham Jolly’s generocity

“Out of Many One People”

 The Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA) delivers programs and services, provides a physical hub at 995 Arrow Road, and advocates to improve the well‐being and equity of Jamaican, Caribbean & African‐Canadian communities within the Greater Toronto Area. A cross section of Jamaicans shared their response with The Caribbean Camera, to the Denham Jolly donation of over $300 000 to pay off the JCA Cultural Centre mortgage.

Past JCA President Herman Stewart: “It brings pride and joy as I doubted when we started the ‘Burn the Mortgage Campaign’, and hoped to see we would be Mortgage free. Since we purchased the building this is the most significant accomplishment.”

Past JCA Board member Francella Moore:” Magnificent! We have something to call our own and that is great for the Jamaican and Black community. Now we are open to assisting more people who require it.”

Past JCA President Audrey Campbell: “We are an example of ownership on a grand scale. If you look at the initial purchase, and the members putting up their personal funds so we could have a collective home, it is a true demonstration of the commitment of our community and an example to young people of what can be achieved when we work together.”

JCA member since 1962 Gifford Walker: “We know for sure we have left something for the next generation to build on. We can now concentrate on creating a members lounge for members to get together and as a benefit to members, friends and special guests.”

JCA member Sandra Whiting: “It’s fantastic and I acknowledge the many hundreds of people who contributed with big and small dollars. We can concentrate on programming and fixing the building. Still much work to be done.”

JCA member of Board of Directors Michelle McKenzie-Dolly: “It’s liberating and opens up opportunities for future generations.”

Dr. Sylvanus Thompson former JCA Vice President and current Jamaica Diaspora Advisory Board Member: “This most generous contribution from Mr.Jolly will allow the JCA to focus on needy repairs and maintenance of the building and will also allow the organization to implement more programs for its members and the broader community.”  

Ivan Dawns

JCA member Ivan Dawns: “It was very exciting to know that the JCA is now mortgage free. Moving forward they need to do some renovation, and other plans that they can now do that funds are freed up.”

JCA member Chris Campbell: “I have to commend Denham Jolly for stepping up to the plate and assisting. It gives you a sense of pride when somebody from your community takes care of things as a parent cares for a child, as versus getting a hand out from someone outside or government.”

Chris Campbell