Tamil Community Centre and ‘hub for Tamil Canadian heritage and histories’ to open in Toronto

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A ground breaking new Tamil Community Centre (TCC) is set to open in Canada, home to the largest Eelam Tamil diaspora in the world, to act as a multi-purpose space, with aims to provide vital community services benefiting both the Tamil and non-Tamil community in Toronto.

The TCC facility will serve to “enhance the quality of life, health and wellbeing by providing equitable access to community services” said the City of Toronto, adding “it is intended that the TCC be a dynamic, innovative, multi-purpose, and nondenominational facility incorporating spaces and services to help address the current and growing needs of the diverse Canadian Tamil community, as well as Black, Indigenous and other equity-seeking groups by acting as a community hub”.

Toronto City Council recently unanimously passed a vote to approve state property 311 Staines Road in Scarborough as the future location for the TCC, with a land lease approved in October at the Government & Licensing Committee and City Council.

Tamil, Indigenous, Black and Caribbean communities, single parent families and individuals with socio-economic hurdles in the area face difficulties including accessing essential services and a shortage of leisure services, neighbourhood development plans and affordable locations for community and cultural events.

The opening of the TCC will be the result of “decades of hard work,” Neethan Shan, member of the TCC Steering committee, told Tamil Guardian.  

“The next generation of Tamils will have a place to go,” he said, adding that it will be a “hub for Tamil Canadian heritage and histories” and a “one stop place providing socio political and economical support particularly to oppressed and marginalised communities’’.

The TCC will aim to assist the Tamil community in particular, by addressing the lack of services accessible to local Tamils as well as the broader Tamil community which includes Pickering, Ajax and Markham.

Consultation surveys run by TCC with stakeholders, community members and community organisations identified the needs of the community and the priorities of the stakeholders. The community needs survey identified that ”North East Scarborough had the most densely populated Tamil community and was in need of neighbourhood and human/cultural services,” Nedra Rodrigo, member of the TCC steering committee, told Tamil Guardian.

“The working poor slip under the radar when gathering data,” Rodrigo stated, highlighting the need to access other marginalised groups that are usually left aside when conducting surveys. Second phase consultations are currently being carried out in order to refine the needs and wishes of Tamil and non-Tamil communities in the area.

A range of programs have been envisioned for the TCC including an auditorium for cultural performances/forums/seminars, an indoor gymnasium, mental health services, history and archival space/museum, a library, language services, meeting rooms, recreational/educational space, women’s services and disability programming.

“The TCC is one of the biggest dreams for the Canadian Tamil community,” Shan continued. “It will bring a sense of belonging, a sense of identity and connectivity to the land that we are in. The TCC will be a signature of growth as a community in this ‘identity as Tamil Canadians’ and a way to give back to the region.”

Shan added the TCC is possible thanks to the willingness and capability of the community; highlighting the many pledges received in just a few weeks for the community share of the funding close to 11 million Canadian dollars.

“The community will be actively engaged in the project,” said the steering committee. “We want to make sure the community is included and has a say in all steps.”

They also stated that the blessings of the native Huron-Wendat and Indigenous communities are important for the project and that discussions with the communities were ongoing.

Speaking to the Tamil Guardian, local Canadian MP Gary Anandasangaree stated “the TCC will bring the Tamil community together”.

“It will be a secular centre where people can express themselves; which doesn’t pre-define the Tamil identity and will allow the Tamil diaspora to grow into a very dynamic group. The centre will look at differences as strength (e.g. nationality/generation) and will be an essential location to gather in urgent situations e.g. during the Tsunami and the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka in the past. The TCC will be a welcoming space for men, women, the LGBTQ community, disabled persons and for all generations from toddlers to seniors and everyone in-between.’’

Toronto’s Mayor John Tory has said that  “the City has been working hand in hand with the entire Tamil community to help find a suitable space for a future community centre’’ and that “these initiatives take a lot of hard work and dedication to not only find a space but for it come to life”.

“I fully support this effort by our Tamil community and I am confident we can work together to move this centre forward,” he added.

Local Tamil residents have also expressed their excitement for the project. Jesi Sadayar, a member of the local Tamil community said “I’m really looking forward to it.” “Ever since I can remember it’s always been a struggle to use a community space or even a university space for something as simple as a dance practice. I’m hoping these spaces include dance studios because there’s a huge community of Tamil dancers who desperately need it, that’s definitely what I’m most looking forward to.”

“As a community, we need a space for ourselves,” Sadayar added. “It’ll definitely be a game changer. Whether you’re an artist or an athlete, just having a space to culturally call home feels exciting and will definitely give us a better sense of home out here.’’

The TCC steering committee has said that the next steps for the project included working on the funding required to build the TCC and early consultations about governance of the future TCC.
Courtesy: Tamil Guardian