The 519 Community Centre
The heart and soul of any neighbourhood is its community. For decades, the people who call the Gay Village home – and the LGBTQ community at large – have been served by The 519 Church Street Community Centre. Supporting over 80 different programs, The 519 (as it’s commonly called) is actively involved in creating healthy, welcoming spaces and activities for people of all genders, sexualities, ability levels and ethnicities.
Whether you’re in town for a weekend or a week, the best way to begin a trip to The Gay Village is with a visit to The 519. Drop by for a meal, a meet-and-greet, information about the neighbourhood or simply to hang out. Gay or straight, tourist or local, everyone is welcome at The 519.
History of the 519
The 519 Church Street Community Centre was founded in 1975 to service members of the Church and Wellesley community. At the time, Yonge and Wellesley (one block to the west) was recognized as the centre of gay subculture in Toronto, with bars like St. Charles Tavern being a popular meeting place for gay men. Although The 519 was not initially founded with a queer mandate, many of the people it served were gay men and women living in the closet for fear of arrest.
In the late 1970s, a group of young gay men approached the Board of the 519 Community Centre with a proposal for Gay Youth Toronto meetings. The proposal passed by a single vote, opening the door for members of the LGBTQ community to feel at home at The 519.
Following the 1981 Toronto bath house raids, the city’s first major queer public demonstrations were held at Yonge and Wellesley. These demonstrations are now recognized as the first Toronto Pride event, and as a turning point for LGBTQ rights in Canada. That same year, George Hislop became the first openly gay man to run for Toronto City Council, with his campaign headquarters located at Church and Wellesley.
In the 1980s, The 519 Community Centre became a safe meeting space for numerous gay rights and gay community groups, including the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights in Ontario and Canadians for Equal Marriage. Several gay bars opened along Church Street and many LGBTQ people rented or purchased housing in the area, giving birth to the modern Gay Village.
More than thirty years later, The 519 remains an essential part of the Church-Wellesley community, organizing numerous events and services for underprivileged and underserviced groups including at-risk queer youth, recent immigrants and parents, trans sex workers, homeless individuals and people living with HIV/AIDS. Several outside groups use The 519 as a base for LGBTQ community-led programs such as peer support meetings, sports and recreation leagues, and arts and culture clubs.
Events and Activities
With everything from dance classes, to AA meetings, to book club discussions, there’s always something going down at The 519. Every year, the community centre receives over 160,000 visits by more than 30,000 unique individuals – including out-of-towners looking to connect with the local community.
If it’s your first time in the Village, the staff at The 519 will be happy to help you get your bearings and point you toward whatever you’re looking for. Interested in local activities? Depending on the day of the week, you can drop in for a swing dancing lesson, yoga or life-affirming meeting.
If nothing else, drop by for a meal at The 519’s restaurant, FABARNAK. One part eatery and one part social enterprise initiative, FABARNAK offers a diverse range of culinary dishes prepared and served by members of the LGBTQ community who face barriers to employment. Most of its food is locally grown and produced so you can feel good about what you’re eating while also helping at-risk community members.
No matter how long you’re in town for, The 519 is a great place to get information, make new friends and have fun. For more information, visit The519.org.
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