From a distance, The 519 community centre here in Toronto looks like a little square box with newly-built condos rising to fill the sky around it. This would be a misconception. The 519 is actually huge, offering over 130 programs within the building, and an extra 25 or so led separately by staff.

The 519 is distinguished by two pedestal-mounted Tuscan columns holding an ornate arch over the front door. The columns have had so many excellent colours over the years that they always look freshly painted. Inside the building, there are many architectural features. In particular, an ornate staircase alternates wooden balusters with ironwork, and the large ballroom space on the second floor is vast and elegant. The energy shifts considerably depending on who is present, who is chatting in the lobby and who is actively using the rooms, but it’s always somewhat politically charged. The building’s new Salal J. Bachir wing provides three much-needed floors of extended space for meetings and events with a small restaurant, Fabernak, creating opportunities for the underemployed.

Bring your respect for the positive intention of this historic place. On the outside of the building is a mural by Christiano de Araujo commemorating Pride. Next to the building is the beautifully-lit and landscaped Barbara Hall Park. The park is pleasantly designed with space for performances and gatherings, benches for day use, fountains and green slopes for play. The memorial in memory of friends lost to AIDS, designed by Toronto-based architect Patrick Fahn, is present as are formal and informal memorials to violence against marginalized communities around the building and park.

The history as a community centre began in the 1970s when local people first protected it from demolition and started it up as a place with a priority to help the homeless. In the early days, LGBT services became included, and the first Trans programming spans back over two decades. The place has been wheelchair accessible for over three decades.

Today, the mere scope of the 519 community centre’s extensive mandate is awe-inspiring, yet somehow the place does manage to successfully reach thousands of vulnerable people and do what community centres are there for. It has a history timeline posted on the official 519 website with some pretty cool facts representing the efforts of community activism and the work of a number of notable fighters for human rights through the years.

Also on the website you will find the strategic priorities and, there are schedules of all the fantastic life-changing things you can sign-up for. There is everything, from a long-running daycare program that opens out into the park behind the building in summer, to dozens of self-help, LGBT, legal, arts and culture, new to Canada, housing, counseling, training and other programs and services.

Walk in, take a course, attend a group, join a class, volunteer if you can and support this amazing organization. You’ll feel great about participating in the activities of a celebrated building larger by way of significance and importance than many of the buildings in Toronto.

About the Author

SK Dyment has been a cartoonist and illustrator for many years and has been published in over two dozen Canadian indy magazines and journals. SK loves sketching passing interpretations of intriguing people in pen-and-ink, and is often seen attending various activist-oriented events around Toronto. He is also available for quick illustrations of all sorts as well as more serious forms of illustration. SK Dyment maintains a website @