Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Posted: 09/29/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0
This place saves lives. Happy sounds of children fill it up: There are stories, family workshops, naps and playing. The Spirit Room at Makoonsag Intergenerational Learning Centre is where children get a solid start by learning from parents, staff and elders. As elder Stella Blackbird said early in the design process, "Everyone learns from each other." Many of the parents take courses at the Urban Circle Training Centre next door, allowing them to spend the day here and have lunch and breaks as a family.
Makoonsag means "little bears" in Cree. Blackbird's vision of the Spirit Room was a domed structure, inspired by the traditional sweat lodge. Curved wood beams form the ribs of the room, joined to a circular beam at the ceiling. In between these ribs are slats of wood to give the space a warm, comfortable feel. Small lights dot the curved ceiling like stars. My good friend and colleague, David Thomas, and his father put together the little-bear mosaic in the centre of the floor, spending many late nights laughing and tiling.
This daycare defied the odds. The neighbourhood of William Whyte is statistically the most troubled area in the city. However, there's a wealth of positive activity and a passion and hope for the future. In early planning meetings, we discussed how to deal with the project's location, at the time, right next door to the Merchants Hotel -- an infamous place that used to attract violence. Blackbird had faith that if the community reclaimed this place, things would change. Just before Makoonsag's grand opening on May 31, 2012, the Merchants Hotel closed its doors for good. A month earlier, Premier Greg Selinger announced plans for a new community development with housing, education and business. Thanks to the tireless work of people like Urban Circle's director of development Eleanor Thompson and organizations such as the North End Community Renewal Corporation, this space is now safe for kids, mainly because that is what the community itself demanded.
Small touches make this place my favourite spot in the whole city. The play yard, designed by McGowan Russell landscape architects, uses native plants to make a natural play-scape that mimics the same fun experiences of a natural meadow. The angled north-south line of the paths continues right through the building, honouring each of the four directions that have a meaning in First Nations teachings. Skylights along the north-south line bring daylight in from up high and define the open corridors that make the whole daycare feel like one space. The Spirit Room is the heart of the building. It sits independently -- a lodge within a lodge.
The building itself has a rich history on Selkirk Avenue. The original foundations from the small house on the north side of Selkirk Avenue are still there. In 1921, there was an addition to make a neighbourhood grocery store that stayed in business until the 1950s. In 1966, then-owner Misha Pollock expanded his children and menswear store. I can personally attest that with each part built differently, bringing them all together in one design wasn't easy. Prairie Architects Inc. worked closely with the steering committee and held collaborative design sessions and an open house to figure out what would work best in the new daycare. The final product was great, but my favourite part was listening to stories from all the people who lived and worked nearby.
My own involvement with this site started in 2004. My architectural thesis involved several years of community research on what were then vacant lots behind Makoonsag, where the natural play yard is now. I was designing student housing, but all the women said, "We need a daycare first." That's exactly what's happened. Many of the same team members who worked so hard on Makoonsag are now in the planning stages to convert the old Merchants Hotel into a positive community hub. The little Spirit Room and the children growing up inside it are just starting to weave their energy through the neighbourhood.
Eladia Smoke is millimetres away from being the first female First Nations architect in Canada (Lac Seul First Nation), and has 10 years' experience with Prairie Architects Inc.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 29, 2013 A1
Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories? Please use the form below and let us know.
Having problems with the form?Contact Us Directly
City to study how pipeline could affect Shoal Lake and aqueduct
Head of Winnipeg Regional Health Authority stepping down after five years at the helm
'Bannock Lady' faces $3,000 in tickets; vehicle seized
Manitoba Hydro to begin expropriating land for Bipole III hydro transmission line
Councillors growing weary of last-minute reports from the city administration
City endorses plan for 'Precinct E' while questions are raised about costs for services
Cab driver injured while trying to stop theft of his vehicle
CancerCare Manitoba setting up a virtual cancer hub to guide patients after diagnosis
Flin Flon RCMP looking for 40-year-old man who approached 11-year-old girl near school
City looking for ways to help residents with accessibility issues clear windrows
Jets start three-game road trip without defenceman Toby Enstrom
Donations sought as Christmas Cheer Board kicks off seasonal campaign
Zoo's harbour seal dies after getting caught in drain
City agrees to sell former Kenaston snow dump for $5.2m
Police make renewed call for help in locating Colten Pratt, 26, missing since Nov. 6
Court hears from Manitoba mom fighting parental abduction charge
CMHR's lady in red
Police bust North End grow-op and seize marijuana plants worth $292K
Pharma giant Valeant Canada makes major investment in Steinbach plant
K-3 class sizes must be capped by 2017
U of W students table petition decrying counselling services
Ottawa to build new research-council facility in city
North wind will see temps plunge by tonight
All eyes on our Métis mayor
Home invader handed 9 years
Students welcome break on loans
We still need answers, but of a different kind
Conservatives launch non-confidence motion
Judge's long ordeal finally over
Manitoba appeal court to review 27-year-old murder conviction