Gambians in T.O. mark independence


Though relatively small, the Gambian community in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) achieved quite a sizeable feat eight years ago by acquiring a place of their own in the city’s west end.

The Gambian Cultural Association of Canada’s (GCAC) centre is a meeting place for the nearly 900 West Africans in the GTA to congregate and host cultural events to celebrate major milestones in their nation’s rich history, including the 45th independence anniversary which they celebrated last Saturday.

Gambia, which shares historical roots with many other West African nations in the slave trade, achieved sovereignty on February 18, 1965.

“We don’t have a large community here as the Nigerians and Ghanaians, but we are very close and we take pride in coming together as a family to celebrate events like our independence,” said GCAC public relations officer Malamin Barrow who works in the University of Guelph’s laboratory services division. “Being the smallest African country and the last of the British West African colonies to gain independence also are achievements worth celebrating with delight.”

Independence brought an end to 300 years of colonial rule in the first African nation conquered by the British. Except for one military coup 16 years ago that toppled Dawda Jawar’s elected government, Gambia has been one of Africa’s most stable countries.

Established in 1987, the GCAC was registered five years later as a non-profit organization.

“We have been very active over the years,” said Barrow, a British-trained laboratory scientist who worked for 12 years in Saudi Arabia before coming to Canada in 2001. “The funds for our unit were raised through our members’ financial contributions and we have already paid off a significant part of the mortgage. It’s our intention to own the unit by 2015.

“At the moment, the building is primarily used on the weekends for cultural shows and meetings. We are in the process of trying to identify how we can access government funding so that we can make more use of the facility and run programs during the week for our young people and seniors.”

The organization supported the Gambian Under-19 soccer team that participated in the International Soccer Federation’s (FIFA) World Cup in Canada in 2007. Gambia defeated New Zealand 1-0 at Toronto’s BMO Field and upset Portugal 2-1 in Montreal before losing to Austria 2-1 in Edmonton.

York-South Weston MPP Laura Albanese and the riding’s councilor Frances Nunziata made guest appearances and traditional kora player Salif Sussoko provided cultural entertainment at Saturday’s celebration.

The GCAC centre is located at 2011 Lawrence Ave. W. Unit 24.

Gambian nationals interested in joining the organization can call (416) 244-3969 or e-mail for additional details.

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