The Hudson’s Bay Company is transferring ownership of its historic flagship store in Winnipeg to First Nations leadership after the iconic building was shut down in November of 2020.
The Hudson’s Bay building, which opened its doors in 1926, will be taken over by the Southern Chiefs’ Organization (SCO) and redeveloped as a symbol of reconciliation.
“We can agree that reconciliation is not just a word, it is meant to have action, and this is an example of that action,” said SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels.
The project’s working title is Wehwehneh Bahgahkinahgohn, meaning it is visible.
Over one million hours of labour will turn the building into nearly 300 units of affordable housing and assisted living units for First Nation people in the city.
A child care centre, museum, art gallery, restaurants and a healing centre will also be on site.
“From one-bedroom to three-bedroom units and so you know we have assisted living which is very important for many of our elders, we have daycare space for hundreds of our children and for students who are going to university and for families who need that support,” Daniels said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was on hand for the announcement Friday morning and said the federal government will be pitching in $65 million to assist in the project.
“Today’s announcement is more than just about a building, it’s actually about rebuilding. Rebuilding trust, rebuilding landmarks, rebuilding relationships.
Winnipeg has the largest Indigenous population of any city in Canada and I know that today’s project will inspire people from coast to coast to coast,” said Trudeau.
The provincial government will add $10 million for the affordable housing component and another $25 million to preserve the historic parts of the building.
“This is just such an important day not only for our city, for our province, but for the entire country, this is about reconciliation and action and you heard Grand Chief talk about that, you heard the Prime Minister talk about that, I’m going to reiterate that again, this is reconciliation and action, true reconciliation,” said Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson.
This year marks 352 years since Hudson’s Bay Company was founded, with a focus on the fur trade before expanding into commercial retail.
Minister of Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu said this project will succeed because it is First Nations and community-driven.
“I think Indigenous-led projects including affordable housing developments like the one we’re standing here today is critically important for many many decades that governments of all different levels have told Indigenous people what needs to be done to support them and to support their populations,” she said.
“And many times, in fact most times governments have got it wrong. When communities are able to design projects that are meaningful for them, that are designed through the lens of culture and history, appropriate care, I think things go a lot better.”
Daniels hopes to start construction in the next few months and has a goal of project completion in 36 months.