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Egbert Gaye (1955 – 2023): Founder of Montreal’s only Black newspaper helped shape a new generation of journalists

Editor of more than three decades was ‘on a mission to empower’
June 12, 2023
By Sandra Evoughlian

Man wearing black jacket and blue top, sitting at new desk across from newscaster, with TV screen in background Egbert Gaye being interviewed on MAtv's City Life | Credit: Corentin Hignoul Photography

Egbert Gaye, BA 89 (journalism and political science), Montreal journalist and community leader, passed away on June 4. He was 67.

As the founder and managing editor of Montreal Community Contact, Gaye was best known for establishing a platform to amplify stories about the city’s Black and Caribbean communities, and for highlighting narratives that were underrepresented in mainstream media. He launched the bi-weekly newspaper in 1992 and served as its editor for 31 years.

Beyond Community Contact, Gaye was also a regular contributing columnist at the Montreal Gazette and a commentator on CJAD. He is remembered for his community and media leadership and mentorship of young journalists.

‘He helped others shine’

The concept for Community Contact was born during his studies at Concordia, said Paul Gott, BA 95, lecturer in the Department of Journalism. Gott, who ran a typesetting shop and was classmates with Gaye at the time, recalls the moment — “Egbert had this great idea.”

The two remained in touch beyond their studies and, later, Gaye would frequently speak with students in Gott’s courses. “He would put as much effort into a first-year journalism student as he would into an interview with a major media outlet,” said Gott.

Gaye was committed to creating avenues for young Black writers to succeed and strongly believed in encouraging their potential. For many journalists, Community Contact was where they got their start.

Julian McKenzie, BA 16, a staff writer for The Athletic who interned at Community Contact before enrolling at Concordia, said that Gaye “gave a voice to people who were doing well, whether they were athletes or actors, and helped them shine.

Two men horsing around and laughing Good-natured Gaye is pictured horsing around with CJAD morning man Andrew Carter, BA 84. | Credit: Paul Gott

“Whenever I did something that was written about in the Contact, my parents would do everything they could to preserve those issues,” said McKenzie. “The Contact means a lot to a lot of people — especially to the Black community in Montreal.”

Richard Burnett, BA 88, who knew Egbert as a fellow panellist on CJAD, interviewed him over the years to commemorate Community Contact’s 10th and 15th anniversaries. “He championed young journalists, was a mentor and gave many their first jobs and assignments,” said Burnett.

Adds Andrea Hunter, chair and associate professor in the Department of Journalism: “He was always keen to give fellow Concordians an opportunity to write, intern or freelance for his beloved Community Contact.”

A ‘driving force’

With a staff of four part-time employees, in addition to several columnists, Community Contact was an important source of information for generations of Black Montrealers, and a way to unite people across the city. Gaye took a hands-on approach to all aspects of its operation, from concept to delivery.

“There was a reason that Community Contact worked, and it was because Egbert was the driving force,” said Gott.

In more recent years, Gaye’s son, Emar Mitchell, joined Community Contact as a graphic designer and layout specialist. Like his father, his dedication extended beyond the newsroom. Together, they delivered the paper to 70 distribution points across Montreal.

Recognized as a leader in community journalism, and a pivotal figure in Montreal’s Black community, Gaye’s passing marks a tremendous loss, said Burnett. “I think he was on a mission to empower the Black and Caribbean communities, and one of his strategies was to inspire with the power of positivity.”

Gaye is survived by his wife, son and daughter-in-law.

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