How Ghanaian Canadians claimed a COVID-19 community center in Toronto

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Just south of where Finch Avenue West meets Weston Road is a tall beige building at the end of an industrial road.Its windows are dusty, the brick veneer is discolored and you can easily tell that it is over 60 years old. Despite its imperfections, it’s the perfect home for a new community hub, according to the Ghanaian Canadian Association of Ontario.

“It would be more or less like a resource center, serving a larger purpose … for the larger community,” said Albert Aikins-Mensah, a member of the association.

But the group learned last week that the site of 160 Rivalda Rd. In North York was taken by the city in mid-April and had to be transformed into a cleaning center for personal protective equipment in order to fight COVID -19.

The association, which represents the thousands of people who came from West Africa, Ghana, to live in Ontario, has expressed its interest in the site since 2015 and has since stated that it has followed all the city’s instructions for trying to acquire the space.

“For five years, they have been guiding us – [saying] that if we are able to meet these requirements, we can get this place, “said Maud Cole Tutu, a member of the association who worked with the city throughout the process.

Members of the Ghanaian-Canadian community in the GTA gather at the site they hoped to be the home of their community center. (Keith Whelan / CBC)

The city and the local councilor’s office said they were both willing to work with the group to help find another space, but it is unclear what the new options might be.

“We were waiting, towing the line”

Emails shared with CBC Toronto show that in 2015, the Ghanaian Association of Canada of Ontario contacted then counselor Giorgio Mammoliti to express their interest in the city-owned building, which housed formerly the Marcus Garvey Center for Leadership and Education.

Association officials eventually visited the facilities and corresponded with city officials.

“We have realized that our population is based here. So this place is going to be very suitable for us, ”said Tutu.

The group was told that the city must first determine if there is a municipal interest in the property and that there may be competition.

A view of 160 Rivalda Rd., City property that was once the Marcus Garvey Center for Leadership and Education. (CBC)

“So we were waiting, towing the line and doing everything they told us to do. ”

The correspondence continued and in 2018, when Anthony Perruzza took over as councilor for the new neighborhood in Ward 7, Humber River-Black Creek, the association again expressed interest in moving forward.

“We entered, we inspected [the building] again. They came with a real estate coordinator who told us what to do with the zoning. We did all of that, “said Tutu, who added that the group had submitted their business plan to the Peruzza office a few weeks ago.

Last week, the association received a letter from the Perruzza office telling them that the city’s property management division had determined that the site should be used by Toronto emergency services in the fight against COVID- 19.

“We are all disappointed that it will be taken away from us, when we have done so much,” said Tutu.

Perruzza said he was also unaware of the city’s plans for the property and that his office was aware of the association’s desire to move forward with the acquisition of the site.

Coun. Anthony Perruzza says he works with the Ghanaian Association of Canada in Ontario and was surprised by the city’s decision to use the facilities at 160 Rivalda Rd. (Farrah Merali / CBC)

“I am somewhat surprised that the facility is now occupied by emergency services,” said Perruzza, but added that municipal services have priority in cases like this.

“If at some point a municipal service requires [a building] for a certain activity, it would be difficult to deny them that. ”

Community needs

The president of the association, Emmanuel Duodu, estimates the size of the Ghanaian community in the GTA at around 50,000 people.

“About 60% of our population in Toronto is made up of young people. And that comes with opportunities and challenges, “said Duodu.

Emmanuel Duodu, president of the Ghanaian-Canadian Association of Ontario, has been fighting for a community center for five years. (Keith Whelan / CBC)

He said that at present activities such as homework programs, language lessons and other events are carried out in small areas of a local church, in rented spaces or even in homes people.

With racism and anti-black identity at the forefront of the mainstream discussions at the moment, those running youth programs in the Ghanaian community say it is more important than ever to have a youth center.

“We mainly focus on culture; identity is very important in everyone’s life. Many young people fall on the wrong side because they feel they are not integrating, “said Mavis Tekpek, who heads the association’s homework club.

“We hope we can have a community center where everything will happen,” said Mary Akuamoah-Boateng, who runs a program for young Canadians of Ghanaian descent over the age of 18.

Mavis Tekpeki, left, and Mary Akuamoah-Boateng, both of whom run youth programs for the Ghanaian community in Toronto, say a community center will help give young people a sense of belonging. (Keith Whelan / CBC)

“People will come to learn about their culture, learn about themselves, be able to connect and communicate with others, build networks, build trust, because this is something that our young people in the community have not really not much.

The group also hopes that the center can be a hub for the elderly to learn English and socialize, some of whom are widowed and isolated.

Other options

No one from the city’s Corporate Real Estate Management division was available for an interview.

But in a written statement, the division admitted that it had met the association and given them information about how organizations can rent urban space for less than the market price. And he confirmed that he started using the site in mid-April as part of his efforts to combat COVID-19.

“The property is unique in its ability to meet the city’s COVID-19 response requirements at this time,” the City of Toronto said in a statement.

Peruzza said his office and the city’s real estate division are both committed to helping Canadians of Ghanaian origin find a new home. Members of the association say they would be open at another location, but wonder how long it will take, given that he has spent five years exploring this site.

“The time has come, with everything going on,” said Tekpek.

” [A community centre] is the place where people feel comfortable, in their own skin and in their own space. ”

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