918 Bathurst is an eclectic community centre located at--you guessed it--918 Bathurst Street, just a few blocks north of Bloor. Though to some it may be a well-kept secret, the various groups that use this space have helped it grow into a thriving centre for arts, education, and all kinds of different activities.
Formerly the home of the Toronto Buddhist Church, the building was erected in 1955, and vacated by the church when the congregation grew and moved on to a new, larger centre around 2004. The building was purchased and renovated by developers who wanted to turn it into a cultural community centre. In 2008, they realized they needed a full-time staffer, and hired Sean Lehane as the Director and General Manager, as well as a small support staff.
Lehane toured me around the three main spaces that comprise 918 Bathurst: the hall, the art gallery, and the lower-level seminar rooms. Though it's been updated, the building retains a church-y feeling that reminds me of friendly rummage sales. And in some ways, it's not out of place--churches, even ones that still have active congregations, often host dance lessons, support groups, and the like. Although I've yet to hear of one whose activities run such a wide gamut as those of 918 Bathurst.
"Our mandate is really just to be a cultural community centre--other than that it's wide open," says Lehane, explaining that events or activities are vetted on feasibility more than any other criteria. Adds manager of development Jefferson Wright, "Some of the things that people propose, I haven't even heard of until they call us up and ask to rent our space for it. That's pretty cool." Wright and Lehane joke, "Energy healing? A hula-hoop training course? Sure, sounds great!"
Despite this eclecticism, there are a few regularly scheduled rentals that make up the space's bread and butter--the centre operates entirely on rental fees. 918 Bathurst has ongoing relationships with local organizations, such as The Annex Chess Club, Spirit of Math Schools, and Hart House Theatre (who were rehearsing when I visited). Special events in the Great Hall have so far ranged from theatre performances, to launch parties, to art markets. The space has also been reserved for a few wedding receptions this summer. And since so many different people are coming through the doors for one event or another, word-of-mouth has really been helping the 918 grow its audiences.
A sun-filled room adjoining the Great Hall is 918 Bathurst's visual art space, which the staff of Lonsdale Gallery helped transform into an up-to-snuff art gallery. The room boasts skylights and track lighting, as well as regular open hours of Sunday-Friday 12pm-5pm (Wednesdays until 8pm). Dubbed "Gallery 918," the space has so far played host to community exhibitions, as well as the likes of local photographer Osheen Harruthoonyan during the 2010 CONTACT Photography Festival.
It may just be because they're neighbours, but there's a palpable potential at 918 Bathurst that reminds me of the Tranzac. Just like at that venerable Annex institution, I could walk through the doors and see any number of cultural activities going on, although 918 Bathurst is not focused on music. Of course, the Tranzac has more than a thirty-year head-start, but here's hoping the 918 knits together a great community in the same way.
2nd and 4th photos courtesy of 918 Bathurst.