The West Island Black Community Association (WIBCA) is marking Black History Month this year with the announcement that it's rebuilding its home from the ground up.
To West Islanders, WIBCA isn't just another building. For the past four decades, the association in Montreal's Pierrefonds-Roxboro borough has been a place to come together, cultivate relationships and acquire knowledge.
WIBCA president Joan Lee, says the upgrade is long overdue and that the number of members — now counting 400 — taking part in activities has significantly increased since the pandemic.
"We decided we have to make space for the needs of everyone in the community, especially for the youth. We need to have our robotics STEM lab. We need space for our Black Girls Gather library," said Lee.
Children from the West Island Black Community Association participate in the robotics program. They won a competition in 2023. (West Island Black Community Association)
"We need a space for our Maasai Boys mentoring program and all the other free programs that we offer," said Lee.
The association also offers tutoring on Saturday mornings, fitness classes for seniors and a pro bono legal clinic.
A girl with the robotics club learns to use new equipment. (West Island Black Community Association)
Due to a lack of space, WIBCA has had to hold its robotics club meetings at the Dollard Civic Center, based in the Dollard-des-Ormeaux suburb of Montreal.
The project will cost up to $4 million, but the timeline to complete it is not yet clear. WIBCA currently has secured about a quarter of that sum from private companies and members, but Lee says talks for the remaining funds are going well.
An experienced hand guides a youth in picking up new skills. (West Island Black Community Association)
As a member of both the book and robotics clubs, 16-year-old Asherah Ramdhan Page says the building's current size doesn't match the impact WIBCA has on its members.
Through the robotics get-togethers on Saturdays, Ramdhan Page and also youth between the ages of eight and 18, have had the opportunity to sharpen their engineering, soldering, woodworking and coding skills. Last year, the team won a robotics competition.
Ramdhan Page says she enlisted in the clubs to "broaden her horizons" and learn new things.
WIBCA president Joan Lee, standing in the middle, says the change has been a long time coming. (Paula Dayan-Perez/CBC)
"It's also allowed me to also network with so many other people, make connections and friends as well," she said.
"Thanks to this, I've received so many opportunities to meet so many wonderful people and experience so many experiences."
Margaret Jolly, one of the co-founders of WIBCA, said the association started as a place for Black children to play basketball in the West Island and quickly grew over the years. The new plans, she says, fill her with pride.
The current building that houses WIBCA will have to be demolished. (Paula Dayan-Perez/CBC)
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.