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4 min

Hey man, I just need some space

Community groups can find free digs downtown

FILLED TO THE BRIM. The 519 Community Centre is a favourite queer meeting place, but is often full, especially with the ongoing expansion renovations.

Meeting and support spaces for cash-strapped community organizations and social groups are few and far in between.

But for creative group leaders, there are downtown facilities that offer a wide range of free or discounted spaces. Group members just need to plan months ahead, come up with proper documentation and fill out the forms that are sometimes needed. Meeting space is, of course, more easy to find than space to hold an event like a concert or a panel forum.

“A lot of the difficulties we’ve had in finding spaces is suitability for what you need it for,” says Pat Barry, who is the international rep for the sports organization Team Toronto. “It can be tough to try to find space, even booking a month in advance, to get a bigger room to accommodate up to 100 people.”

Barry’s group uses Church St’s 519 Community Centre — the place of choice for many downtown queer groups — for regular monthly meetings. It’s finding space for special events or when there is a change of date for meetings that can be particularly frustrating.

Philip Wong, executive director of the Lesbian Gay Bi Trans Youthline echoes Barry’s concerns.

“Getting meeting space in the community isn’t that hard if you know who to talk to. There are times in the year that it gets a bit harder but you can usually count on larger generous organizations to help out.”

Xtra checked out what is available for downtown meeting or event spaces for groups that need it free or on a budget. Here’s what we found. In most cases, the further in advance a group is able to book, the more likely it is that it will nab the space.

In addition to rules about groups not stealing stuff or making a mess, most facilities also have nondiscrimination policies.

AIDS Committee Of Toronto
399 Church St, (416) 340-2437, Actoronto.org
What they have: Meeting rooms
Cost: Free
Restrictions: None, though the majority of organizations which use the space are smaller AIDS organizations.

City Of Toronto
Locations at City Hall (100 Queen St W), Metro Hall (55 John St) and civic centres (various locations), (416) 338-0338, Toronto.ca/accesstoronto
What they have: Meeting rooms, public squares for performances, fairs and the like, rotundas and council chambers
Cost: Free
Restrictions: Spaces are only available to charitable and not-for-profit organizations, which are required to obtain a sponsorship letter from the local councillor. (Larger events are more complicated.) For City Hall, Metro Hall and Scarborough Civic Centre, no outside food is allowed; groups must order food from the in-house catering service.

The 519 Community Centre
519 Church St, (416) 392-6874, The519.org
What they have: Meeting rooms and an auditorium
Cost: Free
Restrictions: Registered charities, community groups and other organizations are welcome, though the space policy also states: “User groups shall not be formed to serve commercial or religious interests, and shall not exclusively provide healthcare or health education at this site. User groups may engage in religious activities only on an occasional and peripheral basis. Meetings of groups whose purpose is to further religious or spiritual education or practices are not permitted. Under no circumstances are user groups to be involved in religious proselytizing.”

Ryerson University Student Campus Centre & Oakham House
55 Gould St, (416) 979-5250, Ryerson.ca/conference
What they have: Pub, lounges, small auditorium and meeting rooms
Cost: Standard rate prices start at $75 daily for a meeting room, though not-for-profit groups get a 25 percent discount.
Restrictions: None stated in the brochure.

Starbucks
485 Church St, (416) 922-2440
What they have: The upstairs couch seating area, which seats as many as 10 people, can be reserved
Cost: Attendees are expected to buy something
Restrictions: Groups should talk to the manager about the nature of their activities and to make arrangements.

This Ain’t The Rosedale Library
483 Church St, (416) 999-9912
What they have: A third-floor multipurpose room
Cost: Price starts at $20 for the first hour and $10 thereafter. Special rate for not-for-profit organizations
Restrictions: Ideal uses include small-scale art shows, book launches, rehearsals, workshop, salons or spoken-word events.

Toronto District School Board
Public schools throughout the downtown, Tdsb.on.ca, click on “Permits” under “Community”
What they have: Gyms, cafeterias, auditoriums, pools, sports fields and classrooms
Cost: Varies. For example, classroom rental starts at $1.75 an hour for youth and seniors, $2.50 an hour for registered not-for-profits. A large auditorium goes for between $68 and $119 an hour, depending on the season and time of day
Restrictions: A permit is required. The guiding principle for community use does not list restrictions.

Toronto Reference Library
789 Yonge St, (416) 397-5969, Torontopubliclibrary.ca
What they have: Small boardrooms, meetings rooms, auditoriums and theatres to name a few
Cost: Prices starts at $10 per hour for not-for-profit organizations or registered charities; $90 per hour is the standard rate. Plus a $30 set-up fee. If booking space is outside office hours, a security cost of $20 an hour is added, minimum $40.
Restrictions: They require at least two weeks’ notice. They also do not permit games of chance, bingo, lotteries, fundraising (without special permission), birthday parties, receptions, weddings, social events or the sale of goods.

Trinity-St Paul’s United Church
427 Bloor St W, (416) 922-8435, Tspucc.org
What they have: Meeting rooms, dance studios, gymnasium and worship space
Cost: Anywhere from $11 to $30 an hour depending on the space. Various rates for special events, arts rehearsals, neighbourhood classes and peace and social justice programs
Restrictions: There are rules on food, drink and playing the piano and organ, and a prohibition on gambling.

Wellesley Community Centre
495 Sherbourne St, (416) 392-0227
What they have: Community and meeting rooms
Cost: Free if certain criteria are met (ask the centre for a permit form). Otherwise, meeting rooms start at $20 per hour
Restrictions: None, but preference is given to not-for-profit organizations and community-based groups.

YMCA
20 Grosvenor Ave, (416) 975-9168, Ymcatoronto.org
What they have: Auditorium, conference space and meeting rooms
Cost: Standard rates start at $90 per half day for a small meeting room, going up to $595 for the auditorium. There is a discounted rate for not-for-profits and registered charities, ranging from $72 per half day up to $428 for the auditorium
Restrictions: None stated.