When the first Armenian Community Center at 18 Dupont St in Toronto was purchased, it was in a depressingly bad condition. Apart from being in very bad repairs and needing a major renovation, but also, the previous owner who used it as a workshop/warehouse, left it “half full” with wooden skids and unwanted, and unusable materials. It was a BIG mess.
We had to rent the largest waste container available to get rid of the mess. The ARF Executive, (Gomidai), with the help of the building committee members, worked very hard to clean the mess and put the place in a “half-decent” or less depressing shape before letting other ARF, ARS, and AYF members see the place.
We had to ply open the windows with a screwdriver and hammer for fresh air, changed all the bulbs with higher wattage to brighten up the place, and used a few bags of nice smelling sweeping compound to broom sweep the place. Even we had to fumigate the place for cockroaches, especially in the damp and musty-smelling basement.
On the “open house” day for the members, we again opened all the windows, front and back doors for fresh air, and even sprayed the place with nice smelling air freshener, and had a great laugh when one of the members said, “even the cockroaches might like this scent, and come back”.
We also had to build a temporary wooden fence around the big opening at the back part of the first floor for safety. Compare to what condition it was on the first day, the place looked relatively speaking less depressing. We felt good and ready to face other members but were not ready for the negative reaction we got from them.
It was shocking, to say the least. Everyone had a complaint and was talking about their much better “agoomps” (Clubs) back in their home countries where they came from. It was Mrs. Keleshian (Dr. Arsen Keleshian’s mother), who summed up the feelings of the majority when she said “Դուք այս ախոռին արժանի կը տեսնեք մեզ?”. In loose translation, it reads (Do you see us worthy for this stable?).
Mrs. Keleshian who had come from Cairo was right. Compare to their much talked about, and luxurious ARF “Housapair” agoomp in Cairo, with a roof garden “Դալար տանիք”, this sure looked like an “ախոռ”. (The opponents of the ARF in Cairo called the “Դալար տանիք” as “Տոլար տանիք” (dollar roof) implying that it was built with dollars sent from the United States). Needless to say with our meager financial means, and after seeing many other buildings that were way beyond our ability to afford, we were lucky to find a place like this that we could afford.
It took a lot of explanation to calm the feelings and start talking about the renovation and raising the funds for it. Credit goes to all members who worked hard, very hard, to make the place a second home for the new immigrants from the Middle East especially so for Mrs. Keleshian who as an ARS member, and a very detail-oriented person if I may say so, worked very hard to make the place look more appealing for the newcomers.
I recall the night before the opening while everyone was working out the last details, and the time was way past midnight, someone said “Mrs. Keleshian you are tired better go home and rest”, and she replied “Դուն քէզի նայէ երեսդ գույն չկայ դուն հանգիստի պէտք ունիս”. In loose translation “You better look at your tired face, you are the one who needs the rest”. Mrs. Keleshian was a fine representative of our first and greatest post-genocide generation, and the embodiment of altruism. Աստուած հոգին լուսաւորէ.
We had to face many challenges to obtain a permit to operate the place as a Community Center. One of them was the lack of parking space. We had none. The parking was a neighborhood problem, and neighbors complained about it to the City Hall. Kourken Magarian, with the help of the City Comptroller Mrs. Margaret Campbell, managed to get an agreement signed with a parking lot owner on Bay St just north of the Bloore St. It was not only a “none binding” agreement, but also it was ridiculously far from the club, but it worked and solved the problem.
ACC at 18 Dupont St, truly became a second home and social hub for many newcomers and served the Armenian Community rather well. It paved the way for the current and much larger ACC and ARS Day School at 45 Hall Crown Place that not only expanded its activities but today is one of the busiest Community centers in Toronto. There was one program, the Caravan, that we could not succeed to continue at the new ACC at 45 Hall Crown Place.
The caravan was a city-wide Multi-Cultural initiative sponsored by the City of Toronto with the participation of most of the organized ethnic communities of Toronto. Each participant community had its pavilions named after the capital city of its origins. Ours was named Yerevan Pavilion. It was a great multi-cultural program that lasted probably more than ten days, that included at least two weekends. With art exhibits, history, dance, songs, ethnic food, etc, it was great entertainment and very affordable as well.
With the purchase of a passport at a very affordable price, you could have visited all the Pavilions free of charge, and as many times as you wanted, and also used the passport for free rides on special City buses that connected all the Pavilions. Yerevan Pavilion was very conveniently located on that bus route, which contributed greatly to its success.
The adjacent small Public Park that the City of Toronto allowed the Yerevan Pavilion to use, helped greatly for its success as well. The big rented tent in the middle of the Park also helped make the place look very festive. It was long and very time-consuming work. Everyone worked hard, very hard to make it the success that it was. It continued at the new ACC at 45 Hall Crown Place for a few years, but unfortunately, it was discontinued mainly because it was off the bus schedule and we could not attract the non-A Armenian crowds.
Now Caravan is replaced by the “Summer Fest” just for a weekend, but we do not have the none Armenian public to attend it. Although the Community is grown and the “Summer Fest” is attracting large Armenian crowds but not the Canadians at large. Maybe it might be worth studying and seeing if the Caravan could be revived at least in the north end of the city, where there are many new ethnic Community Centers that could be interconnected with special City buses and thus help introduce the Armenian and other ethnic cultures to the Canadian public at large.
Zohrab Bebo Sarkissian