I don’t have an exact official figure but in talking to church officials, various other organization members and seeing the big wave of new Assyrians arriving in Toronto lately, there must be at least 10 to 15,000 Assyrians living here in Toronto. The good news, we finally have an official and a beautiful big church (in addition to the various other smaller churches for other Assyrian denominations.) The bad news, we still lack a unifying community center where our people can come together, socialize, learn, debate and more. Almost every ethnic community in the diaspora has an official community center, or various smaller ones. It is almost a necessity more than just an option to have.
In Toronto, we are not so lucky. Or maybe just not hungry and passionate enough. Sure, we have a place called ‘Assyrian Society‘, but that unfortunately has been losing its lackluster and appeal amongst our people, given its distant location and relative inactivity as of late. So if the Assyrian Society of Canada is no longer gathering our people in one place, shouldn’t we think of an alternative? Where should it be located? Who will own and control it? And most importantly, what what can it do to appeal to people so they come and use the place?
Location is key to any new and future Assyrian community center in Toronto. It must be close to where most Assyrians live. One area, where it is close to most Assyrians, is Woodbridge. It is new, beautiful and close to most of the areas where Assyrians live. Woodbridge itself has a significant Assyrian population numbering in the thousands. The reason why the Assyrian Society of Canada is losing people, has a lot to do with where it is located. You need to drive close to half an hour from where most Assyrians live, to get to it. Not to mention, it doesn’t have a clear program for the community (although it looks like that could be changing with a new committee)
Who should own or control the new community center? It does matter that the committee or body that will be in charge of any future community center, will have the trust of the Assyrian people, as well as the experience needed to run such a place. Trust is important, so we know our money are being managed properly. Experience is also needed so that we can be sure about the sustainability of this place for the short and long term.
Building an Assyrian community center is not the main and final objective in and of itself. What it does, and how it helps our people, is the real objective. In other words, what activities and programs should it have to ensure that people come and support such a place? The key is to have a variety of programs, be it educational, cultural, social and other fun activities. It is a place where you can go to experience different things, and not the same thing all the time. It is a place that should host Assyrian bazaars, food fairs, history lectures, kids activities, movie shows, cultural events, political debates, bingo nights and more. In essence, it is a place that will offer something for everyone.
As we have seen, it is not a question of whether we should have a community center in Toronto or not. That is a forgone and assumed conclusion. It is more about where this center should be located, who will manage it, and most importantly, what can it offer to keep people interested and coming. It is all about being close to where most of the Assyrian population lives and offering programs and activities that caters to everyone.