Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A simply terrific Tim's

Sagkeeng's new doughnut destination a roaring success

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SAGKEENG FIRST NATION -- Treaty number, please.


Yes, a large coffee (double cream) goes for just $1.68 tax-free here with a treaty number, $1.88 without.

And, yes, this reporter was pleasantly surprised by the request for his treaty number despite his pink, bordering on blush-red pigment and bald pate.

"Put it in the paper that you were honoured that they asked you for a treaty number," said Sagkeeng band member Andrea Gerard, laughing over a cup of coffee as she sat at a table in what's being billed as possibly the biggest game-changer since the invention of the dream catcher -- a Tim Hortons in Sagkeeng First Nation.

People came from as far away as Hollow Water (an hour's drive) and Lac du Bonnet (a half-hour) for a coffee and Danish during a Thursday lunch hour. Alex and Marge Nyyssonen of Lac du Bonnet said it beats driving an hour to Selkirk. (Until now, there were only two Tim Hortons in all of eastern Manitoba -- in Steinbach and Selkirk.)

Customers will come from as far as Manigotagan and Bissett to the north. They will come from Pinawa. When the snow melts, cottagers will come from Victoria Beach, Albert Beach, Traverse Bay and Belair to the east, and from up and down the Winnipeg River to the south.

Bet on it, said Sagkeeng Chief Donovan Fontaine -- he has. The long-distance traffic will be in addition to the 5,600 people living in Sagkeeng, and 1,300 in Powerview-Pine Falls.

On the other side of the coin, 54 people who didn't have jobs before have them now. That's 30 jobs at the Tim Hortons kiosk and 24 new jobs at the new grocery store, the Sagkeeng Superstore (not that Superstore), which houses the coffee shop. Most of the new employees are young people, and for many, it's their first job. More than half these jobs are full-time.

"They're getting training, they're building resumés. From jobs comes better education; with better education comes health," Fontaine said. "You talk about self-esteem? They wear uniforms. It instils in people that it's important to be professional."

It's been a baptism of fire. The lineups at the Tim Hortons don't stop, certainly not during a two-hour visit. On opening day last Tuesday, the lineup was out the door, through the parking lot and dog-legged down Highway 11 in a giant L-shape. Vehicles were parked on both sides of the highway. A Tim Hortons transition team is on-site for the first week to oversee operations.

Local managers Brian and Sharon Bruyere spent seven weeks at the Tim Hortons University in Oakville, Ont., preparing for this.

"I never knew there was a Tim Hortons University," Brian said. Now he gets up at 3:45 a.m. every morning. "I have to get everything ready before 6 (a.m.)" when it opens. It closes at midnight.

Some people think Tim Hortons granted Sagkeeng a restaurant because Fontaine made a stink about the children's camp the Tim Hortons Foundation is building in the Whiteshell. Fontaine threatened blockades unless he was consulted, because the camp is on traditional territory.

Both sides deny that was a factor. The situation was settled when Fontaine learned Sagkeeng children would be welcomed at the camp.

What really happened, said Fontaine, is he first started applying for a Tim Hortons three years ago. A representative came out and wasn't impressed. He told Fontaine in no uncertain terms the company doesn't open stores only to close them in two or three years. That's not the Tim Hortons way. (Try to think of a Tim Hortons franchise that has closed.)

Fontaine persisted. A representative came out a second time but didn't like any of the buildings.

Then Sharon Bruyere approached the band. She had been running the band's convenience store for four years. She had done something no one else had ever done -- make it viable -- and had earned the respect of council. She believed the reserve could support a bigger store, a grocery store where residents could buy fresh fruit and vegetables and fresh meat cut by an on-site butcher.

Long story short, the new building cost just short of $2 million and the franchise cost about $250,000. Tim Hortons does not offer franchises to communities, so the kiosk is in the Bruyeres' names, backed financially by a band council resolution.

The Tims and Sagkeeng Superstore are signature projects rural communities sometimes take on, such as the state-of-the-art cineplex in Dauphin, the magnificent PCU Recreation Centre in Portage la Prairie and Altona's Gallery in the Park (art gallery and sculpture garden).

What's so great, says Fontaine, is the money doesn't go "whisht," as he put it, pointing to the horizon. Meaning the money doesn't just leave the reserve to pay for goods and services, as on most First Nations, but circulates within the community for a multiplier effect. Here, employees getting off work can stock up on groceries just a few steps away. Patrons buying groceries can buy a coffee on the way out.

"A lot of pride," said Todd Guimond, local DJ at 102.7 Wolf FM, summing up his feelings about the iconic Canadian coffee shop on his home reserve.

Sagkeeng's is not the first Tim Hortons on a First Nation. Opaskwayak Cree Nation, sister community to The Pas, has one, and there is a kiosk in the Northern Store in Oxford House, but it's owned and operated by Northern Store.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 9, 2013 A11

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